When Missy Elliott smirks, "I'm so far ahead of y'all," you have no choice but to agree.
Elliott, one of the biggest influences on rap and pop music for 20 years and counting, just dropped "WTF (Where They From)," her first new single since 2012 — and it is electrifying.
The artist has been teasing her return ever since her showstopping cameo in Katy Perry's 2015 Super Bowl halftime show, which made millions of people ask where she had been. "When I create something, it’s gotta be special," she told Yahoo's The Yo Show afterward. "I gotta feel like what I’m giving the fans is 100 percent and that it’s game-changing. I don’t just throw out microwave records."
While some featured verses on a recent Janet Jackson single was enough to tide us over, "WTF (Where They From)" is the pure, unadulterated Missy we've been waiting for.
Not only did she release a new track, she also dropped a video to match. "WTF (Where They From)" features Pharrell Williams, puppets, Elliott's signature futuristic vibe (let's talk about that disco sweatshirt), and the unabashed celebration of unapologetic black women. Elliott and her backup (including Comfort Fedoke, an incredible So You Think You Can Dance alum) dance and shake, joyful and casually cocky. It's a combination Elliott has owned since she was 25 years old, staring down the camera for 1997's "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)."
Missy Elliott's musical reach is widespread and undeniable
As a producer, Elliott has had her hand in the tracks and careers of artists like Aaliyah, Whitney Houston, Ciara, and No Doubt. She's frequently cited as a major influence on works you might not expect. For example: British singer Florence Welch admitting that the trumpet lines on Florence and the Machine's newest album were born from her love for Elliott's brass on "Sock It 2 Me."
As the video for "WTF (Where They From)" makes its way around the internet, I've seen more than a few people linking back to Hilton Als's 1997 profile of Elliott for the New Yorker. While Elliott's influence is now ubiquitous, Als caught the then-25-year-old right as her career was about to blow up. His look into her meticulous production process and sharp eye for satire also makes clear just how long Elliott has been so good, so focused, and so talented, and explains why her beats have blazed hot for years after they dropped. "She is the biggest and blackest female rap star that Middle America has ever seen," Als wrote in awe. "She is the latest incarnation of the New Negro."
As Elliott prepared to make her mark in music, she didn't question her success; she'd worked hard for it. "I don’t feel limited in any way," Elliott told Als. "There’s that saying ‘God gave you talent, and if you don’t use it He’ll take it away from you.’ And I always said, ‘I don’t want God to come down and take my talents away.’ So, by using all these talents and being successful in all of them, I’ve always got something to fall back on."
Lucky for us — and as "WTF (Where They From)" proves yet again — Elliott has a habit of distilling her many talents into one relentless beat, and it's always worth the wait.