Who else has as strong a claim to the title of coolest person in the world? What other superstar is so associated with the idea of the future? Missy Elliott hee-howed new phrases into the lexicon. She brought breakdance to bhangra. She pioneered the music video as a freaky channel-surf of unlikely gyration and unlikelier clothes before anyone else so whacked the world. “Just make sure you ahead of the game,” she once rapped, and she led by example.
So there’s something odd about the way she’s marketed Iconology, a five-song EP that represents her first collection of new work since her 2005 album, The Cookbook. “Let’s #ThrowItBack to a time when music just felt good and made us want to dance!” she tweeted when announcing the project. “Throw It Back” is the name of the lead song, in which Elliott works over the phrase in such a way that it’s clear it means multiple things. But one of those meanings is, literally, throwback. The song’s video begins in a museum. Very not future.
After helping reshape the look, sound, and gender dynamics of pop and rap from the early ’90s to the mid ’00s, Elliott now ranks in the D’Angelo Hall of Fame for Legendary Absences. Since 2005, she’s rapped on other people’s songs, popped into Katy Perry’s 2015 Super Bowl show, and fired off occasional singles of her own. But mostly she’s been teasing fans. A planned album in 2008 was scrapped. In 2015, she said that a new record was imminent and explained her hiatus as a result of battling the autoimmune disorder Graves’ disease, needing to recover from how hard she worked in the first phase of her career, and the tyranny of her own high standards. This year, Pharrell Williams, one of her two primary production collaborators (the other is Timbaland), told the New York Post, “Missy will play you the hottest song and you will be so hype and then she won’t put it out … You will be looking at her like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But Missy is a perfectionist. She wants the best results.”