by Dom Jones
The stylish emcee/producer who brought us hits in the 90s and early 2000s such as “Sock It To Me” and “Work It” has returned after a six year hiatus to bring us the track “WTF (Where They From).” Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott has always been unique, unusual, and unbothered by following trends. She sets them. From fingerwaves and robots to insects and epic dance routines, Missy has always been the rapper from whom we could expect something unseen and unheard before she brought it to fruition. Her genesis to the music industry was during a different time in the music industry, where MTV still played primarily music videos, reality television was new, and social media was almost non-existent. In that environment, she thrived with her debut album going platinum and her sophomore album going triple platinum worldwide. The production sound was clearly marked by her production and writing partner, Timbaland. When you heard a Missy Elliott song, you knew immediately, before she even uttered a word. Something else to note was that she came to stardom in an era where all women emcees did not have to be overly vulgar in their lyrics and overtly sexual in their appearance and demeanor. For all intents and purposes, Elliott was someone young girls could look up to. I know I did.
So what happens after an artist all but disappears for over half a decade? If you and your music are as untouched by time as Missy Elliott, you show up at the Superbowl halftime show, steal the spotlight from the headliner, and have young people think said headliner (Katy Perry) put you on the map as a new artist! Taking it all in stride, Missy entered the studio to work on new music and once again, show herself as the all powerful and odd wizard of hip-hop’s Oz. She partnered up with mega-producer, Pharrell, and what came of the collaboration was her new single, “WTF (Where They From).” Before the single was even released, there was anticipation and buzz on social media, regarding how the veteran artist would sonically return and how old fans and new listeners would respond to her new song. Lots of consistent Missy fans posted her single art (pictured above) with excited captions. Finally, the single dropped.
What’s amazing about “Where They From” is that the sound doesn’t drastically differentiate from Missy’s earlier music, yet it altogether avoids sounding dated. It’s that childhood ice cream treat that you haven’t had for years, and you assume your palette has matured too much to enjoy its adolescent sweetness, but the first bite in adulthood is just as amazing as you remember from childhood. This song proves, against all odds, that contemporary music can be fun, silly, and party-driven without being mindless and ignorant. That’s Missy Elliott’s legacy and what she has consistently brought to hip-hop for almost three decades. Her image and styling, while upgraded, stay true to the uniqueness that many of us have come to appreciate and expect from Elliott over the years. While often returning artists try to finagle their way back into relevance by acquiescing to current sonic trends, she simply reignited her own lane and took off full speed.
An important lesson to learn from her music and style is that it pays to just be yourself. We’re all searching for that sweet spot as an artist where we create our identity. While it may evolve and grow over time, we should never abandon who we are as artists and, ultimately, as people. Just as the song says, “that’s how they do it where they from,” artists should never forget the root of their passion, the core of their sound, and their humble (or arrogant) beginnings. How do you do it where you’re from?