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Music

Missy Elliott’s ‘Iconology’ marks the triumphant return of a hip-hop visionary

Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott makes her long-awaited return with a new EP, “Iconology.”
(Los Angeles Times)

Early into the video for “Throw It Back,” '90s hip-hop icon Missy Elliott is surrounded by a team of dancers playing Double Dutch, using her braids as jump ropes as the rapper pops her gum in unbothered fashion.

The visual is a typical Elliott affair — eye-popping, zany, vibrant and packed with moments that make you wonder how she’s still conjuring out of box ideas more than two decades after she won us over by wearing a giant inflated trash bag. “Throw It Back” is Elliott’s first new single in two years — but more important, it leads “Iconology,” her first collection of tunes in 14 years.

Released on Friday with just a few hours’ notice, the EP marks the long-awaited return of hip-hop’s most innovative, eccentric voice.

Produced by Elliott, now 48, her longtime collaborator and friend Timbaland and Wili Hendrix, “Iconology” is a brief reminder of the performer’s genius.

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Across the five tracks here — four new cuts plus an alternate, a cappella take on one, “Why I Still Love You” — Elliott offers a crash course on what has made her a vital voice in hip-hop and R&B and an in-demand collaborator in the years since she delivered her last project, 2005’s “The Cookbook” (Ariana Grande, Ciara and Lizzo are just some of the artists who have called on Elliott in the past year).

“Throw It Back” and “Cool Off” are woozy, futuristic romps that are core to Elliott and Timbaland’s sonic aesthetic with their distorted bass lines and frenetic production. That these records sound like both an outtake from her 20-year-old gem “Da Real World” and any of the heady trap records dominating Rap Caviar speaks to her uncanny ability to be both ahead of curve and of the moment.

“Missy make up her own rules / Not many can do what I do … I did records for Tweet before y’all could even tweet,” she raps, a wink to her longevity and an outright acknowledgment of the absence that’s been so frustrating.

She merges her gospel roots with doo-wop on “Why I Still Love You” and explores her sensuous side on “DripDemeanor” — because this is a family paper, we can’t explain the brilliance of the latter’s title.

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The intent behind the EP, Elliott explains, is to celebrate the “tremendous” year she’s had, including induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music, but the new release also sets the stage for her honor at the MTV Video Music Awards on Monday, where she will become the first female rapper to receive the Video Vanguard Award for her groundbreaking visuals.

On “Iconology,” the party is over far too soon, but this will whet appetites for whenever Elliott decides she’s ready to drop a full-length project.


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