This re-edit is the Missy comeback we deserve.
The two best Missy Elliott albums aren’t on Spotify. Respect M.E., a UK-only compilation, gives us so many of the best and most fearless songs in Elliott’s catalog—which, rare for a pop star, tend to be the hits; her penchant for filler is why she doesn’t have a true front-to back masterpiece to her name. Then there’s Block Party, a fan-made album on YouTube that compiles the music she left in her wake after wrapping her original run of albums with 2005’s The Cookbook. It’s slim pickings, and it peters out as it devolves into live snippets of unreleased work. But it’s amazing hearing songs like “Ching-a-Ling” and “Best, Best” and knowing they’re not attached to anything, floating in space, largely unknown to those who weren’t there to hear them when they came out.
Missy Elliott doesn’t seem to have much interest in making music anymore. Her 2017 FYF performance featured dazzling choreography and was as weird as you’d hope, but she spent much time offstage as interviews with her collaborators played on the giant screen behind her, all of them extolling her genius. As a pop star, a black female rapper, and an artist less interested in sweeping statements of intent than making the best possible party music, she’s been passed over in a lot of canon discussions. That she’s making her way there has a lot to do with her own efforts to shoehorn herself in. It’s a great approach for someone content to retire and live on a cloud of fame. Except she hasn’t.
This year’s Iconology EP is her first album of new music since The Cookbook, and it’s paltry: four new tracks, most of whose lyrics are devoted to how famous she is (“I did records for Tweet/ Before y’all could even tweet”). It seems to suggest that we should listen to her music because of her past achievements and that the quality of the music she makes now doesn’t, or shouldn’t, particularly matter. And she missed the chance to give those great Block Party tracks the home they deserve. If she’s so obsessed with the past, she might as well pull from it.
This re-edit is the Missy comeback we deserve. It’s unlikely she’ll make a great record ever again, so a great compilation is the least we can ask for. Call this the Iconology LP. It contains most of the Block Party fanmade album and is ordered chronologically, with the original Iconology at the end. It exists more so these post-Cookbook tracks have a place to live and be appreciated by newer fans who might not have grown up with her and need reminding how great she is. Some of these tracks are doss, but at least they have a home.
2. Shake your Pom Pom
3. Best, Best
4. Talk That Shit
5. Touch My Body
6. All 4 U
8. Put It On Ya
9. Swat Dat Fly
10. Take Ur Clothes Off
12. I’m Better
13. Throw It Back
14. Cool Off
16. Why I Still Love You
17. Why I Still Love You (Acapella)
18. I’m Better (Remix)
19. Ching-a-Ling (Remix)
Songs added: “Ching-a-Ling,” “Shake your Pom Pom,” “Best, Best,” “Talk That Shit,” “Touch My Body,” “All 4 U,” “Rather,” “Put It On Ya,” “Swat Dat Fly,” “Take Ur Clothes Off,” “WTF (Where They From),” “I’m Better,” “I’m Better (Remix)”
Songs omitted: None
“The party is ending at 2 a.m.… so whatever you must do, do it now!” This could’ve been the intro to Block Party, so much do the tracks Elliott left behind post-Cookbook sound like the kind of thing that’d blast from trashy, overdriven speakers at an actual block party. “Ching-A-Ling” is just amazing, its intro of sirens and vaguely Asian flutes yielding to a floor of bass that’s as close a musical approximation of gyrating ass-flesh as I’ve ever heard.
2. “Shake Your Pom Pom”
With its 2D synth-horns and cheer-squad pomp and circumstance, “Shake Your Pom Pom” would’ve been a great addition to Beyoncé’s Homecoming salute to black colleges. This is Missy at her best: declaring “there is no escape when I shake it in your face,” making mincemeat out of a man foolish enough to make a pass at her in the club. God, she was good.
3. “Best, Best”
Elliott is an MC in the original sense—a master of ceremonies—and her ABC-simple lyrics about how great her man is are as convincingly erotic as any graphic CupcakKe narrative. What a great synth sound, too—“yyyew-dewww!”
4. “Talk That Shit”
I was tempted to shoehorn the Iconology tracks in the middle of the Block Party tracks. But there’s really no way the newer material would make sense when you factor in a track that not only features T-Pain but references Donald Trump as a rich guy rather than a fascist-sympatico president. A rather obscure Rembrandt reference reminds us how brainy MCs get when they feature on Missy tracks; recall Lil’ Kim’s Finnegans Wake reference on “Hit ‘em wit da Hee.”
5. “Touch My Body”
Late-‘00s Eurosleaze before it discovered melody. If you’re looking for the missing link between the era that gave us FutureSex/LoveSounds and the one that gave us Taio Cruz, this is it.
6. “All 4 U”
This short-but-sweet slow jam features Lil Wayne, a charmer as usual (“beat that thing up then kiss it ’til it’s better”), and the mere fact that he’s not fumbling for his next line dates this track to last decade.
A funny little song about a woman who insists she isn’t being controlling, even as she forbids you from hanging out with your friends.
8. “Put It On Ya”
Pig Latin! Teyana Taylor appeared on this long before her K.T.S.E. certified her as a torch-bearer for the kind of sly, brainy funk Elliott mastered on Supa Dupa Fly. It also has some nice jazz chords that might endear it to today’s fans of Anderson .Paak and Tyler, the Creator.
9. “Swat Dat Fly”
If someone is imitating a buzzing insect in a song, you know their brain’s on another level. “Swat Dat Fly” belongs in the pantheon with Seun Kuti’s “Mosquito Song” and the Japanese footwork producer Foodman’s “Mosquito & Clap” (which consists of those elements and nothing else).
10. “Take Your Clothes Off”
Missy released three singles with Timbaland between the Block Party era and “WTF,” and they’re pretty awful. The other two are on streaming services, so you can find them there if you’re so inclined. “Take Your Clothes Off,” as luck would have it, is the best of the three by a few degrees of magnitude and the only one not available to stream.
11. “WTF (Where They From)”
Elliott’s best single of the 2010s is the last Elliott track that leans into the fast and frenzied style of her great work, but it’s still a bit of a time capsule. She’s talking about Miley Cyrus, who had only just then emerged in her molly-popping final form, and though no one is more qualified than Missy to teach Miley how to act outrageous, the song’s still a time capsule.
12. “I’m Better”
The sinking feeling that accompanied this molasses-slow attempt at trap let us know that even if Elliott made another album it probably wouldn’t be all that much to fuss over. The Denver band Wheelchair Sports Camp does a superior version at some of their shows.
13. “Throw It Back”
The first of the tracks from the actual Iconology. A minimal sound works better for Missy here than it did on “I’m Better,” but why is she singing about stuff she did 20 years ago?
14. “Cool Off”
“Cool Off” is a little better than “Throw It Back,” leaning into the left-field club shit artists like Kelela and Jessy Lanza embraced this decade in part by way of Missy, and if its lyrics are just mindless I’m-awesome shit, that’s a lot better than I-was-awesome shit.
This is where Missy hits us with the hee. “DripDemeanor” is a little more crudely made than her slow-jam classics like “Beep Me 911” and “Friendly Skies”—that little “bleep” noise is a Roland Juno preset, barely changed. But it’s a reminder that even when she’s baring her soul, her swagger remains untouched.
16. “Why I Still Love You”/“Why I Still Love You (Acapella)”
Missy sounds distressingly on this track like Lizzo, one of her more irritating collaborators and acolytes, but the acapella originally bundled with Iconology makes clear how impressive the vocal arrangement is. I’m only allowing myself to add existing tracks to Iconology, but maybe Missy could give out the acapella and feature the winner of a remix competition somewhere in the tracklist. I wouldn’t mind seeing one of the Portuguese batida cats take on “Put It On Ya,” either.
17. “I’m Better (Remix)/Ching-a-Ling (Remix)”
Bonus tracks! The “I’m Better” remix improves on the original just by virtue of having a few more rappers on it to make things interesting. I prefer the original “Ching-a-Ling” to the remix, if only because it features Busta Rhymes, a world-class homophobe whose presence makes me a bit uneasy. But the remix should be on here for two reasons. First, it’s hard to find elsewhere. Second, Busta Rhymes appeared on the first track on Missy’s first album. Having him appear on the last track on her last makes for a nice symmetry.
Check out Daniel’s version of the album here: