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Weeks after Missy Elliott tweeted advice to young artists on how to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump on their second album, the Grammy Award-winning artist is getting introspective on the legacy of her own work for her new Patrón partnership. It’s a year full of both anniversaries and firsts for Elliott — anniversaries for both Under Construction and Supa Dupa Fly, a brand new Madame Tussaud’s wax figure, and a recent hometown honor with a street being named after her in Portsmouth, VA. There’s a lot to celebrate, so the music superstar teamed up with the tequila brand for her first live performance since the start of the pandemic, and popped a few bottles of Patrón’s latest expression.
Launching in the U.S., the collaboration saw the release of Patrón El Alto, packaged in elegant and distinctive bottle that match the azure hues of the agave fields in the Jalisco Highlands, where the 100% Weber Blue Agave is grown. Made available for $179, the brand aims to “reach new heights” with their first step into the prestige tequila world with its blend of Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo tequilas, just as Elliott says she’s reflecting on the creative heights she’s reached in her career over the past 25 years.
“I’ve done so many things out of the box, and I try to stay as true to myself as I can, even if ‘myself’ seems a bit crazy,” Elliott told Rolling Stone. “I continuously push the envelope just to do something that’s greater than the last. And it just keeps getting higher, the expectations for myself. Not just from what I think the people expect, but from myself.”
The new Patrón collaboration also helps to mark the 20th anniversary of Elliott’s seminal 2002 album, Under Construction. The artist, who got on stage in Las Vegas to perform hits like “Work It” and “Get Ur Freak On”, says that while it may be a challenge for some artists to experiment with a new sound, over her career she has always preferred to take risks on things that she believes in, even at the risk of them not working out.
“I’ll never forget when I did “Lose Control”, [the label] told me it was never gonna play. Because it was too fast, right?,” she says. “The popular music tempos were changing at the time. And I was like, “man, I don’t care. I’m gonna try.” I always say I’d rather it don’t work out, but I believed in it. As opposed to you doing something somebody else felt like you should do, and then it don’t work out. Because then you’re just kicking yourself. You have to stay true to yourself.”
But even though the Patrón El Alto launch weekend was a celebration of her own legacy, Elliott says she’s always listening to underground music and looking out for what she calls the next great “superstars”. “Nowadays, there’s a lot of artists, but not a lot of superstars. When you think of those, you think Michael [Jackson], and Mariah, and Janet, and, Madonna, and Whitney Houston. I can go on and on. They’re harder to find because there’s so, so many artists now. But I still believe that there are superstars out there. The newer ones I’d like to see are the ones that make that impact. Impact is not about how many records you release, but about how you make the people feel. Because when you leave this world, your records will outlive you, you know.”
Elliott sat down with Rolling Stone to discuss the Under Construction, how TikTok and the internet are influencing music, and what she’s listening to right now.
You’ve said before that when you and Timbaland were putting together Under Construction, you didn’t listen to the radio, or watch any other music videos to get inspired. Do you think it’s a challenge to go experimental right out of the gate as opposed to expanding on an already popular sound?
I think it would be a challenge for a lot of people. But I’ll say that it wasn’t a challenge for me, because there were no expectations for the first album. For one, I feel like the time and the era that we came up in was still experimental, so it allowed for a lot of people to try different things. [The label] was willing to take a listen more than once before they, you know, started chopping it down. Now, I think it’s maybe a little harder. It might not be as experimental as it once was, and I always say the 80s and 90s were very experimental. People tend to latch on to a certain sound, so when you come out with a song nowadays, it better connect, or it fizzles. It feels like the time that you’ve got to catch people’s attention is just 24 hours for people to talk about whatever your song is.
I think about all these songs where only the chorus gets popular because of TikTok, or the abundance of under-three minute singles right now.
It’s just constantly getting faster. We used to have to do three verses. And in those three verses, you had bridges, B-sections, outros — those songs were going on five minutes long! Now it’s like as soon as you start, you’re moving on to the next song. [laughs]
One of the things you’ve said you tried to do with Under Construction was reintroduce the new generation to the older influences of hip-hop. Do you think the internet has made finding those old school sounds more accessible?
I think that the internet has made it assessable, but it’s not about you being able to find this information out, it’s whether you want to. The information is there, but it was very important for us to incorporate that into the album at the time because they were the foundation. I always say that a roof can’t stand on its own, there’s a foundation that holds it up, and those ones that came before us are the foundation. So if you’re on top, and you’re the hottest artist, you gotta thank those ones and make sure that your fans and your generation know about them. If it hadn’t been for a lot of those older hip-hop artists saying, “hey, this is what we have to have at the Grammys”, we never would’ve been there. And now, hip-hop is there, dominating in a lot of these categories.
But you’ve got to be willing to seek them out. For my generation, we didn’t have phones, right? When we got in the car, our parents were playing the music that came before them. Now a lot of the kids have their own phones, so when they hop in the car, they listen to whatever they want to listen to. I doubt very seriously they’re going back to the Seventies and Eighties [laughs]. That’s the generational difference.
A lot of the ways that you pay homage to those older artists is through sampling. So what is your personal favorite sample from Under Construction?
Most definitely “Work It”. Run D.M.C.’s “Peter Piper”. I was so thankful that they cleared it, but that is one that sticks out for me.
So what are you personally listening to right now?
I have a lot of Kodak Black songs on rotation. I throw on his song “Spin”, and that’s my warm-up record, or whenever I’m going out and getting dressed. Doja Cat, obviously, Summer Walker, Little Brother. But I listen to so many underground artists. There’s so many new people out there, that when I get in the car I just start playing stations. I used to not listen to anything unless it was Sixties, Seventies, or Eighties. Now, I try to listen out for who’s hot out there.