Missy Elliott, Hammersmith Apollo, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

No matter that Missy Elliott's current album failed to reach her most pioneering heights; the Queen of Hip-Hop's live shows remained unconventional. On her last UK appearance, in 2000, she performed a mere five songs before turning over the rest of the gig to a talent contest.

Last year's double header with Kelis, the pretender to the throne, was cancelled because of - wait for it - lack of tour buses. This date itself was postponed from October because of an operation on Elliott's heel. Still, this theatre was packed to greet the rap game's most successful female artist.

Elliott is a music icon of substance; her dazzling collaborations with the producer Timbaland have transformed the genre. A majority female contingent also appreciated an uncompromising attitude that allowed her to be sexually frank without sounding submissive. Her sixth album, The Cookbook, may not achieve the classic status of her debut, Supa Dupa Fly, or the house-tinged So Addictive, but it still offers the key party anthem "Lose Control" and the luscious ballad "Teary Eyed".

On the night, Elliott stuck to the more exuberant end of her output. She emerged from under a giant revolving turntable, then journeyed to stage edge on a child's motorised scooter. Her wide smile lit up both tiers of the auditorium.

Less impressive was her vocal performance. She was soon breathless and overpowered by her hypeman, the rapper with whom she swapped lines from snippets of tunes clumped together in dizzying bursts. You could not fall under the spell of the dance tune "Get Ur Freak On" or the soulful feel of "Rain", nor appreciate the sonic trickery that made those tracks so special. The sound was sludgy, though at least with backing tracks you could make out one hit from another.

Most pleasing of the new material was the break-up song "Meltdown", in which she mused on pleasuring herself with toy or hand. Then she made way for the winner of her own TV competition and a portion of the 20-strong dance troupe. They performed in groups of four or five to keep up with the relentless pace.

Thanks to the star's rambling interludes there was no room for the house beats of "4 My People" or standout lyric "She's a Bitch" in what amounted to a 50-minute set. Still, Elliott's playful penchant for improvisation showed a way to combat hip-hop's usual crotch-grabbing and R&B's emotive hectoring.

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