The Decade Missy Elliott Waited to Release a New Album May Have Saved Her Career
It’s been ten years since Missy Elliott released an album, and in the years since, many Heads have argued that her absence was noticeable. The endlessly creative MC, producer, and visual artist has always been the front-runner when it comes to game-changing music videos, and her unabashedly brave sense of personal and musical styles make her one of this generation’s most provocative and skilled performers. But despite an artist’s level of talent, fame, and acclaim, there is after a human being at the center of it all, one who self-doubts, suffers emotional trauma, and struggles in ways we all do. While her name may have been absent on the charts in recent memory, her influence was omnipresent, with Missy hard at work expanding her songwriting credits for artists like Fantasia and Keyshia Cole. Also being paid attention to is Missy herself, without whom the world of music would be a much blander, quieter place.
In a new cover story and interview with Billboard, Missy shares why she spent the decade after 2005’s The Cookbook behind the scenes, taking time to focus on her artistry as well as her own well-being. “People hadn’t realized that I haven’t just been an artist, I’ve been a writer and a producer for other artists. When you’re writing that much, your brain is like a computer. You have refresh it,” she tells Jonathan Ringen. The word “busy” would be an understatement in defining Missy’s workload in the early ’00s; with 5 Top-Ten albums under her belt, she has been on a tear since releasing her 1997 debut, Supa Dupa Fly, which led her to neglect herself in many ways. As Ringen writes, “she believes that the grueling schedule took a serious toll on her health. After she began losing an alarming amount of weight in 2008, she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid.” Added to the effects of life in the limelight, Missy’s symptoms became exacerbated, and her lifelong battle with anxiety only kicked into high gear after the diagnosis. “I got more shy as I got older and realized people could be laughing at me, or judging me,” she tells Ringen.
As many of her fans know, Missy dealt with violence in her childhood and adolescence, both physical and sexual in nature. For her, music’s ability to become a portal into another world would be the inevitable draw Missy would herself feel, the effects of which are apparent in her music videos, including her latest, the Pharrell-produced “WTF (Where They From).” “My room would become a whole other world once I shut that door…That’s why I believe my videos are so important to me. It was Alice in Wonderland: my bed, my closet — it would all turn into something else. And I would write and sing and block out whatever was going on,” she says. And yet, it wouldn’t be until 2014 that she began to fully reconsider a full-fledged return to her solo career. Her triumphant re-emergence to the stage came in February of this year, when she performed with Katy Perry at the Super Bowl Halftime Show but it wasn’t without its hurdles in the form of overwhelming anxiety. As Ringen explains, “The night before the game, it metastasized into a full-blown panic attack.” “Like, IVs in my arm, everything,” Missy tells him. Gladly, her strength proved more overwhelming and the incredibly positive reaction the world had to her performance that night may very well be continuing to feed her energy as she sets her sights on her forthcoming album.
As of now, the arrival date for her next LP is sometime in 2016, and it will surely prove to be one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. Until then, fans have an arsenal of her classic material to revisit, with each rewind reminding listeners of her indelible influence in the sounds and sights we see today.