You can grow up wearing your Missy Elliott CDs into the ground from over-listen. Her groundbreaking music videos could have forever expanded your own aesthetic horizon. Sometimes, late at night, you still pull up some of her legendary MTV VMA performances on YouTube (the one where Nelly Furtado slid out on the tongue of a giant recreation of Missy’s own head is particularly underrated). Yet nothing can quite prepare you for Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott herself running through the nightclub VIP booth you’re currently standing in during the middle of a performance, her face underneath a sparkly Prada bucket hat, just inches from your own while she raps her 2015 hit “WTF (Where They From).”
Earlier this month the hip-hop legend took the stage at Zouk Nightclub inside Resorts World Las Vegas both to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her third album, Under Construction, and the launch of Patrón El Alto, the new premium offering from the high-end Tequila staple. As if proof of Elliott’s wide appeal, the VIP section was populated with a wide cross-section from current pop culture. Musicians Miguel, Evan Ross and Faith Ross were in attendance. Insecure’s Kendrick Sampson and Broderick Hunter, Spider-man’s Bryan Tyree-Hill, Emily in Paris’s Lucien Laviscount, celebrity stylist duo Wayman + Micah, and P-Valley’s Brandee Evans mixed with reality TV royalty like The Bachelor’s Tayshia Adams, Vanderpump Rules’s Katie Maloney, and various member of the Selling Sunset crew.
It was the centerpiece of a busy weekend for Elliott. A day earlier her wax figure at Madam Tussaud’s Vegas outpost had been unveiled. It’s not only masterfully accurate, but also features a Missy-appropriate flair of hip-hop surrealism: The figure’s braids extend to spell out the singer’s name. “I had my makeup artist fly up and they said never in the history of doing wax figures had a makeup artist come and paint on the wax figure,” says Elliott. The night after her performance, Patrón hosted an intimate dinner, during which Lil’ Wayne stopped by.
In between, we talked to Missy about her lasting impact and how she gets 28,000 steps a day.
It’s the 20th anniversary of Under Construction. Yet, it still sounds so timeless and so singular. What’s your advice for creatives to help hone in on that kind of uniqueness?
Be the truest form of yourself. If you go with what everybody else is doing you may risk falling into the crevices and the cracks, because there's so many people doing the same thing. I always say if there was a party and it was an all black party and somebody came in with turquoise, what are you gonna do? You're going to wonder who is that person in the turquoise because they're gonna stand out.
The music videos from this album are so iconic. They came out during TRL era, when the rock kids and the boy band kids were always arguing at school over who was number one. But when a Missy video dropped, that's what everyone was talking about the next day. Is it important for you to make sure your creativity and your music has wide appeal?
My music was so different, so I felt like I had to tell the story visually. To the ear, you might not have understood it. Of course people understand it now because it already worked, but back then when I was coming out, me and Timbaland’s cadence was different—the way we were flowing, the content—so I felt like, if I show you what I see when I create music, you’d get it. When I create music, it's not just about the song. I have to visually see something in my head too. When I’m creating, I'm thinking about the video. Everything has to be a puzzle. Once you have that puzzle, then people get it.
I've always wondered if you've ever had an idea for a music video you just couldn't use.
Well, I can’t tell it, because I’m using it. I’ve had plenty of ideas where I’ve said, “I should give this to somebody, or tell somebody about it.” But then I said, “No, I’m going to use it.”
I remember you once said you never listen to new music when you’re recording. What you do listen to?
Now I’m more familiar with people’s music. Like Kodak Black’s “Spin.” I’m constantly playing the song over and over again. But a lot of times when you get in my car, I'm playing some eighties music, I'm playing some nineties music sprinkled in with now, but it’s a lot of those songs from before I became an artist. They make me feel happy. It’s the nostalgia, and I just like listening to eighties stuff. It’s probably the most experimental era, musically. Every genre of music was just popping. The other day I listened to Devo, a song called “Whip It” and I was just like, ‘Wow.’ Just remembering them with those Devo glasses on and they had these plant pots on their head.
You recently did your first TikTok dance.
I went into rehearsal and my dancers were like, “Hey Missy, do a TikTok dance with us.” The craziest thing is they’re like, “Okay, this is what you do. We’re ready, let's go.” And I'm like, “Y'all don’t rehearse no more? We don't get 10 or 15 minutes?”
I’m wondering what’s on your For You Page?
It probably would be dances or dogs. I love seeing people and their dogs doing funny stuff. People probably think I have all these new rappers on my page you have to check out, but it’s really just people and their dogs in little outfits doing funny stuff.
If people don’t have dogs on their For Your Page, there’s probably something wrong with them.
This was your first time on stage since the VMAs in 2019. What was it like to be back performing live and running through the crowd?
Oh, amazing. The funny thing is, I hike every morning so I get up to 28,000 steps. For me it was actually great because I was telling my team, those steps really work because I felt like I could keep running. If I had the room to go further, I would've kept running and I wasn't tired at all. They said they were tired watching me.
I try to get my 10,000 steps, but I guess now I’ve got to make sure to get 28,000.
Well, walking around this hotel trying to find your room, you’re going to get your 28,000 steps.