“I’m so futuristic,” Missy Elliott raps on her new Pharrell Williams produced single "WTF (Where They From)." With a funky video that dropped today, Missy teamed with director Dave Myers to deliver a soul sonic return to form that reminds me of a cross Wong-Kar Wai and Spike Jonze. “I’m so far ahead of ya’ll man, I’m on top of the stars.” Known for being a perfectionist, Missy’s last announced album The Block Party was supposed to be released in 2008, but was shelved. Missy has known “W.T.F.” producer/rapper (“Ni**a, I think like a spaceship”) Pharrell since they were teenagers growing-up in Virginia Beach and their collaboration is a seamless funky club banger that brings the electro-funk sweat as she has done so well since the beginning of her storied career.
Years before Afro-Futurism began a household phrase, Missy Elliott introduced her futuristic sound on Supa Dupa Fly changed the sound of Black music in 1997. With the release of her first single “The Rain,” Missy seemingly became an “overnight” sensation. Yet, contrary what many fans might’ve known at the time, Miss E put in much work behind the scenes before becoming a visible success. She has released six top-selling solo discs (including 2002’s double platinum Under Construction), won numerous awards and worked with various artists including Madonna, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, the Pussycat Dolls, Jazmine Sullivan, Keyshia Cole and Ciara.
“Since day one I’ve always did the kind of music that I wanted to do,” Missy told me in 2005 when her last album The Cookbook was released. “Of course, when I told my mother that I was going to be a superstar, she thought that I was crazy. She wanted me to join the Army or the Navy, like my father. I met Timbaland in 1988 soon after his group SBI (Surrounded By Idiots) with Magoo and Pharrell had broken-up. We tried to get Teddy Riley’s attention, but he wasn’t checking’ for us.”
Nevertheless, after a chance meeting with Donald “DeVante Swing” DeGrate of platinum group Jodeci (Forever My Lady, Diary of a Mad Band) in 1992, she and Tim were invited to join his budding production team Swing Mob in Rochester, New York.
Serving as the Jodeci’s main songwriter and producer, DeVante was like a ‘90s Sly Stone, full of musical genius. Dubbed “Da Bassment,” DeVante’s house was where the future of electro-funk lived, worked and dipped dry baloney sandwiches into steaming bowls of Ooodles of Noodles. But, after four years of Black pop and poverty, Missy left well versed in the art of rapping, production and the business of music. Shortly after leaving, Missy and Tim worked on various projects with Adina Howard, SWV and Gina Thompson. Luckily, all of that changed when Missy and Tim were introduced to the late pop star Aaliyah in 1996. “Craig Kallman from Atlantic Records flew us to Detroit and Aaliyah just embraced us,” Missy says. “Me and Tim were so nervous, but the three of us totally clicked.”
Creating the seductive first single “If Your Girl Only Knew” during their first session, Kallman was impressed enough to ask the pair to produce six more tracks for Aaliyah’s forthcoming One in a Million (1996) album. “At first, some DJs refused to play the single, because they just wasn’t feeling it. Puff was the popular producer then, and one DJ said he wouldn’t play the track because it, ‘Didn’t mix well with Puffy’s records.’ Thank goodness they got over that!”
Since then, Missy has had much success, but it’s still been ten years since we’ve gotten any long-form (her last solo single was 2012's double release, "9th Inning" and "Triple Threat," both Timbaland productions) cyberfunk rap from her. The fan in me is hoping that, much like D’Angelo last year, Missy gives us the surprise album we’ve all been waiting for. “You have to respect her, because she always knows what she wants,” says her sound engineer Jimmy Douglass, “and she’s willing to make the needed sacrifices to get it done.”
In 2005, Missy said, “Sometimes I’m conscious of what the audience will think, but that’s a monkey I shake off my back. At the end of the road, if I fail, at least I won’t regret it, because I still made something I loved and a piece of art that I wanted to do, instead of trying to please everyone else.”