Missy Elliott’s ‘Iconology’ Puts a New Spin on Classic Missy

On Thursday afternoon, Missy Elliott tweeted, “At midnight tonight I’m dropping a collection of new songs! Let’s #ThrowItBack to a time when music just felt good and made us want to dance!” The collection of songs is a 5-track EP titled “Iconology,” and is a long-awaited follow-up to her last studio album, 2005’s “The Cookbook.” “Iconology” was released to coincide with the Video Vanguard award Elliott is set to receive from the MTV Video Music Awards this Monday.

It’s been almost 14 years since the last collection of music from Missy Elliott, but she’s certainly been poised for a comeback. She performed during the Katy Perry Super Bowl halftime show in 2015, and has released a number of singles since her last record. Most recently, she was featured on Lizzo’s “Tempo.” She’s also received a smattering of awards throughout the past decade. Elliott was the first female rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music. Now, she’ll be recognized for her legendary music videos at the VMAs.

Fittingly, a music video for “Throw it Back” was also released to accompany the surprise EP. It’s highly stylized, as one would expect, and features Teyana Taylor, as well as an array of background dancers. The video begins with a young girl stumbling into the “Hall of Missy,” where a woman explains the story of Missy Elliott as “the innovator of all innovators,” and “the game-changing sensation,” among other grandiose (yet appropriate) titles. It’s a heavily choreographed video that features Double Dutch jump rope, cheerleading, and a moon vignette with dancers in space suits. There’s an old-school style to both the song and visual, but both manage to feel fresh and loaded with personality.

To be clear, “Iconology” is a 5-track collection of songs. It isn’t the full-length album project Elliott teased in previous months. That being said, it’s a solid compilation which features production from Timbaland and Wili Hendrix. A direct interpretation of the title would be fitting — “Iconology” is a study in why Elliott is such a revered emcee and musical legend, simultaneously proving that she still has something special.

Instrumentally, “Throw it Back” is mostly percussion, with pop trap hats and snare, cash register dings, airhorns, yelped background vocals, and various other drum machine-styled one-hit tones. It’s full of braggadocious bars about lambos and jewelry, with references to her acclaim, “So many VMAs that I could live on the moon.” Other lines describe making records “before y’all could even tweet,” or shout outs to other songs: “Watch me flip, reverse it / Flip it and reverse it, stupid with the verses.” “Cool Off” follows in the same vein as an authoritative old-school classic, repurposed for modern context. 

“DripDemeanor” includes the only vocal feature on the EP from Sum1 (not to be confused with Sum41). It’s a smoother, R&B-influenced song — a slow jam packed with sex and sensuality that’s on Elliott’s terms. “Why I Still Love You” is a vocal-driven track about a cheating lover. Elliott says, “I keep comin’ back to you / And I ask myself why… You don’t care how I be feelin’ inside / You gon’ make me tell you, ‘Kiss my ass goodbye.’” The outro drives the point home as she tells her partner, “I don’t need you,” and not to “come back,” before finally stating, “Stay out my face, I’m gon’ be alright.” The final track is an a capella version of “Why I Still Love You,” which nicely drives home Elliott’s proficiency for sung vocals, but it ultimately adds little to an already short EP.

After a long wait, Missy Elliott fans, old and new, should have a lot of fun with “Iconology.” It resolidifies Elliott’s place as a musical icon: a triple threat who can rap, sing, and dance. Even for its brevity, it encompasses everything there is to love about the artist in the first place. It’s strong, braggadocious, and danceable. It’s also one of the better collections of songs that have come from classic artists in recent years. As Elliot preps to receive her Video Vanguard award, “Iconology” is a reminder of why it’s so rightfully deserved.

Iconology” is available Aug. 23 on Apple Music.