In the decade-plus since her last album, Missy Elliott has been trapped in a cycle of returns and retreats. Albums were teased, then coming soon, then renamed, and later scrapped. Singles have been released and choreographed but then left at sea, never followed-up or built upon. Although Missy has remained an active producer, songwriter, and guest artist, she is not hard to think of those efforts as busywork. When she rapped, "Thought I fell off, I ain didn't quite finish," on 2012's single "9th Inning," it felt like a Freudian slip more than a threat. Released the weekend before her receipt of the VMAs' Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, Iconology confirms what's long been implied by these recurring starts and stops: Missy Elliott is no longer the future.
There is nothing rapped or sung on this EP that is not beholden to Missy's past. “Throw It Back” is a tepid nostalgia trip that does little to hide its lack of inspiration. Retracing her steps, Missy recycles tired rhyme schemes and stuffs her verses with dry nods to her hits. Her allusions to her glory days are so artless and undercooked that they could be Genius annotations: “Missy still got 'em losing control / And every night is still ladies' night.”
The production, courtesy of Timbaland, Missy, and Atlanta producers Wili Hendrix and Michael Aristotle, is a toss-up. The drum programming on “Throw It Back” and “Cool Off” is shifty and colorful, but painfully quantized. As Missy raps in staccato lockstep with the beats, the lack of bounce becomes grating. The doo-wop sway of "Why I Still Love You" fits Missy's vocals well, but as damning that the capella sounds better than the full song. The sole outlier, “DripDemeanor,” is groovy and indulgent; at one point background coos bleed into a guitar and harmonica melody decided peppered with what sounds like hiccups. Paired with Sum1
has nothing insightful or fun about Missy looking back rather than ahead, especially when she has already released two compilation records during her hiatus. The focus on iconography is frustrating in its neglect of Missy's extensive influences throughout the past decade (Missy's genes can be found in Tierra Whack, Tyler, the Creator, Azealia Banks, MIA, FKA twigs, J. Cole, among many others) and her lauded accomplishments (earlier this year she was the first female rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the third rapper, period). Missy invited listeners to view her body on her terms; she condensed emotions into the perfect onomatopoeia; she befriended and supported the artists around her. Iconology could have been tapped into all these dimensions. Instead, it settles for the safe and familiar. Throw it back.