“There’s a harsh reality – nothing lasts forever. You have to be ready to grow, and grow fast.”
Recently I found this quote while preparing for another post. The sentence is powerful because it is applicable to us all, regardless our age and place in life. I found it interesting that the statement above was by hip hop artist Pras Michel of The Fugees. Pras had first hand knowledge of how quickly things can change in the music industry. He also understood the need to grow and be flexible to survive the volatile world of entertainment. In the early stages of rap and hip hop music, I wondered about the longevity of the music. Why? Much of the music created came from samples of earlier hit records. The lyrics were fresh, many times powerful. Nevertheless, would hip hop songs and artists stand the test of time?
At this time it is good if we look at the career of hip hop recording super star Missy Elliott. However, to answer any question about her career longevity, we need to start February 2015 and work backwards. Missy Elliott performed at the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show with Katy Perry. Elliott performed a medley of “Get Ur Freak On”, “Work It”, and “Lose Control”. The performance was well-received, and boosted digital sales of Elliott’s work that week, with a twenty-five-fold increase in album sales (to 2,000 units) and a ten-fold increase in sales of the three songs she performed (to 71,000 units) compared to the week before. I’m not surprised by the boost in sales after the performance. I was very surprised that many young hip hop fans took to social media not knowing about Missy Elliott or her music. How is it possible that fans of hip hop would not recognize such a major star? Perhaps now we should go back to the beginning.
Melissa Arnette Elliott was born on July 1, 1971, in Portsmouth, Virginia. Elliott embarked on her music career with all-female R&B group Sista in the early 1990s and later became a member of the Swing Mob collective along with childhood friend and producer Timbaland with whom she worked on projects for Aaliyah, 702, Total, and SWV. Following several guest collaborative work, in 1997, she launched her solo career with the release of her début album Supa Dupa Fly, which spawned the hit single “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and “Sock It 2 Me”. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, the highest-charting début for a female rapper up to that the time. Her following album Da Real World (1999), produced the singles “She’s a Bitch”, “All n My Grill”, and the top five hit “Hot Boyz”. Elliott’s second album was just as successful as the first, selling 1.5 million copies and 3 million copies worldwide. She remarked, “I can’t even explain the pressure. The last album took me a week to record. This one took almost two months…I couldn’t rush it the second time because people expect more.”
Missy Elliott next released Miss E… So Addictive in 2001. The album spawned the massive pop and urban hits “One Minute Man”, featuring Ludacris and Trina, and “Get Ur Freak On”, as well as the international club hit “4 My People”. The album garnered two Grammy Awards for “Get Ur Freak On” and the non-single “Scream a.k.a. Itchin'” for Best Rap Solo Performance and Best Female Rap Solo Performance, respectively. The album was certified Platinum by the RIAA. The album received praise from both music critics and fans. John Bush from AllMusic felt that Elliott was “sounding more assured of her various strengths than at any time since her startling début” and called “her best album so far.” He wrote that it’s “a tribute to her incredible songwriting skills and Timbaland’s continuing production excellence that she can have it any way she wants it and still come away with a full-length that hangs together brilliantly.”
Missy Elliott would release three more studio albums during a five-year period which propelled her toward superstar status. She became a mainstay at the Grammy award ceremonies and continued to collect an array of other awards. Record sales of the albums and later singles made her one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Since 2007, Elliott’s seventh studio album has had several different forms with extensive delays. During this period Missy Elliott released a few singles that flirted the coming of the new album to fans, only to witness another false alarm. in an interview with Yahoo’s The Yo Show, Missy talked about her hiatus from making records: “Your brain needs time to refresh! Things happen in your life where you can then write something else instead of the same three topics. Like, how many times we gonna talk about the club? 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.”
In between the recording of her seventh album, Missy Elliott found success behind the scenes. Elliott’s writing and production helped her reach #1 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs with Keyshia Cole’s “Let It Go” (2007), Jazmine Sullivan’s “Need U Bad” (2008), and Monica’s “Everything to Me” (2010). Since 2008, songs written and/or produced by Elliott for Fantasia (“Free Yourself”), Jennifer Hudson (“I’m His Only Woman”), Monica (“Everything to Me”), Keyshia Cole (“Let It Go”), and Jazmine Sullivan (“Need U Bad” and “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles)”) have all received Grammy nominations. Even though Elliott still had not released solo album number seven, she truly was influential upon the top music and artists of our time. Throughout 2013, Missy Elliott was featured on Eve’s album cut “Wanna Be,” as well as international artists’ singles, Little Mix’s “How Ya Doin’?” and “NiLiria” with K-pop musician G-Dragon, which was named by Complex magazine as one of the “50 Best Songs of 2013”.
On April 2, 2015, Pharrell Williams confirmed that he was working on Elliott’s comeback album during an episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. On November 12, 2015, “WTF (Where They From)” and its music video were simultaneously released to digital outlets. By November 19, the song and its video had been streamed 6.1 million times in the US alone.
Will there be a seventh solo studio album on the market sometime soon? I believe the album will drop later in 2016 or right at the beginning of 2017. Too many fans are in expectation of Missy Elliott music to live with more delays. This time, fans old and new will easily recognize one of the greatest hip hop artists of all time.