Missy Elliott won't let battle with Graves' disease halt comeback: 'It’s time to concentrate on Missy'
Missy Elliott knows people are constantly talking and asking questions. Where has she been? Why does she look so different? Is she sick? These are just a few of the long list of queries that have circulated about the Grammy winner over the last few years.
It’s been nearly six years since her last album, “The Cookbook,” and the hitmaker all but vanished from the pop landscape. Yes, she made appearances, but Elliott slid into the background and mostly produced, lending her voice to singles from Monica, Jazmine Sullivan, Jennifer Hudson, Ciara and Fantasia.
The rapper, who once playfully made jabs at the online rumor mill in her hit “Gossip Folks,” answered each of those questions in the season premiere of VH1’s “Behind the Music.”
Naturally, her recent admission that for the last few years she has been battling Graves' disease, an autoimmune illness that affects the thyroid, has made headlines. She was diagnosed in 2008, and the disease has affected her motor skills, as well as afflicted her with some of the illness' other symptoms, including mood swings, hair loss and dizzy spells. After being treated with radiation and medication, Elliott says she is able to manage the disease.
When the 39-year-old called into Pop & Hiss, we discussed her new album, set for release this year, her health, reuinting with Timbaland and the 10-year anniversary of Aaliyah's passing.
I work behind the scenes. I’ve been writing and producing, which I’ve been doing since the early '90s. Because I’m not out there talking about it, a lot of people don’t know the stuff I’m doing. I’m doing the same ol' thing. Even without a Missy album out.
What’s the latest on the album?
Me and Tim are back in there. We’re having fun. I was telling somebody that we have been so far left in trying to stay creative and being different; we had to go back to the drawing board and just do it the way we loved to do it, and not be concerned with trying to outdo ourselves. We are creating some good stuff.
Is it still titled "Block Party"?
I think right now I’m still going with [the title] “Block Party.” You just never know. I’m forever changing something. But I feel good about “Block Party” because I can go to everybody’s block and have fun.
Did anything prompt your absence?
Well I had gotten sick, that was one thing. A lot of people don’t know that before the artist, I wanted to be a writer and producer. That’s always been a love of mine. Its easy for me to do it on myself, but it's fun to create for someone else. I got caught up in doing records for other artists. I just stayed behind the scenes, and time just kinda passed. And then I had to deal with an illness that took up some time. Now it’s time to concentrate on Missy.
Fans were ecstatic to hear you and Tim together on “Take Your Clothes Off,” and the song trended on Twitter. Because you two are so close, people naturally assume when you don’t work together there is disharmony. Have you two been in the studio together?
It’s never disharmony between me and Tim. That’s my brother. We’ve been broke together and we’ve made money together. Beyond this music thing, we’re family. Tim was doing a lot of pop artists and I was writing and producing, but at the same time he was still very involved. It was weird -- I didn’t even know he leaked the track. When [fans] heard that one track -- which isn’t even on the album -- they went crazy. I can only imagine how they are going to feel when they hear more of us. We know where our chemistry lies. We created our own style of music, so when I’m not there people definitely miss it.
You’ve been very private your entire career. Why do something like “Behind the Music”?
I’ve done "E True Hollywood Story," I’ve done "[VH1's] Driven." I’ve done this before. It wasn’t too different. But there is a new generation who may not be familiar with Missy. So I thought, "Let me reintroduce myself."
Talking about your battle with Graves' disease, something people might not know affects you, had to have been tough. And plenty of rumors circulated about it. Was there anything you were hesitant to discuss?
Even to the childhood abuse and things that have happened in my life, there are things that you don’t want to revisit. I just gave Missy. I think people will enjoy, for those who do love Missy. It is defining who Missy is. All of the trials and tribulations from personal to the artist. It shows that I’m human. People see the glamorous stuff, but they don’t see the background. I didn’t have a problem [doing it].
You’ve always been vocal about female empowerment, and your success as a rapper has been laregly unmatched. Why do you think there remains so few women in rap?
Its funny, because for females in general, not just in music, but the corporate ladder as well, anything we do has always been harder for us. When it comes to music, the industry wants you to conform, to look like this and to sound like this and do this or that. It makes it harder. It's harder for us to come out and be bosses and lead the pack. Things will change. There was a time period where there were a lot of females out there. And there really isn’t now. You get asked that question, and I don’t think anybody knows the answer.
It’s very hard to believe it’s about to be 10 years since Aaliyah has passed. Any plans on releasing something?
It doesn’t feel like 10 years, and I’m quite sure for her family or fans it doesn’t feel like it either. The pain of her not being here affects us everyday. I don’t get caught up in the years because each day, something always reminds me of her. I don’t wait until five years or 10 years to elaborate. I'm constantly talking about her. I still watch her videos and listen to her music. This is constant, all the time. Everyday is something that brings us together. She's a major part in our lives, and in music.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Missy Elliott performs onstage at the MTV Europe Awards in Edinburgh in 2003. Credit: Jeff J. Mitchell / Rueters