Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot is back, and right in time to continue her indelible overhaul to black women’s contributions to and representation in popular culture. Missy’s last album, The Cookbook, was released 14 years ago. After a handful of singles and a Super Bowl halftime show cameo, Missy has finally dropped long-awaited new music. With the release of the five-song EP Iconology, she reminds her fans she is still relevant and just as revolutionary as ever. Enlisting the production prowess of Timbaland, Wili Hendrix, and Missy herself, Iconology is both a signifier of Missy’s role in contemporary popular music while ushering in a welcomed opportunity to #throwitback.
Before Iconology‘s release, Missy tweeted “…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! Sincerely, Dr. Melissa “Missy” Elliott #ICONOLOGY“. Indeed, the opening “Throw It Back” does exactly that. The track picks up Missy’s audacious aesthetic and sound from the apogee of her career in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Imbued with bright colors, energized choreography, and humor, “Throw It Back” centralizes Missy’s penchant for bravado and confidence. Iconology maintains the assurance Missy made so appealing when she first broke through.
In case anyone did question her fortitude, she lets the haters know that she’ll “show you how I do it (Do it) / Show you how it’s done (Done) / Don’t look for another Missy / ‘Cause there’ll be no ‘nother one.” Missy always has and continues to revel in her power in a way many women are socially conditioned to avoid. Without question, she wants listeners to share in her empowerment. It is certainly unavoidable with the lyrics “Missy make up her own rules / Not many can do what I do / So many VMAs that I could live on the moon.” Here she’s strategically nodding to her 2019 VMA performance where she was awarded MTV’s Video Vanguard Award and her June induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Iconology is an adulterated reminder of Missy’s membership in hip-hop’s masterclass.
Missy has used her role in the music industry to create a pathway for contemporary black female performances. Moreover, Missy’s role as a mentor for aspiring female musicians has always been inspiring. Whether it was her collaborations with Da Brat, Aaliyah, Ciara, or Lizzo, Missy uses her celebrity to make space for other women and Iconology continues the tradition. In “Throw It Back”‘, Missy is emboldened about her influence.
The video opens with a young woman who resides in a world where Missy is unknown. Luckily, the young woman meets up with Teyana Taylor, the “hood fairy godmother”. In disbelief about her Missy-blindness, Taylor asks the young woman, “Missy Misdemeanor? Missy Elliott, the innovator of all innovators? The avant-garde? The game-changing sensation?” as they tour a museum composed of Missy ephemera. Missy has never shied away from relaying commentary on her role in exalting the representation of black women in popular music. “Throwback” is the tool she wields to reclaim popular culture as a space dignifying black women.
The juxtaposition between “DripDemeanor” and “Why I Still Love You” is a testament to fierce sexuality balanced with poignant vulnerability. The former is as raunchy, as it is empowered. Missy’s sexuality is assertive while also demonstrating her desire for sustained commitment. She exemplifies intimacy’s physical and mental draw without compromising her identity. “Why I Still Love You” taps into her gospel and R&B roots, as the track finds her singing instead of rapping. Missy’s vocalization shows a sliver of musical weakness, but it’s likely she doesn’t care if her crooning is not as dominant as her rapping. In fact, she frankly tells us so: “I don’t / I don’t / I don’t give a damn, I don’t give a damn.”
It is this ability to celebrate her individuality fully and defy expectations that have made Missy an authoritative and ingenious figure in the music industry. Iconology is Missy’s welcomed returned and a hopeful teaser for upcoming projects.