Missy Elliott’s new single “I’m Better” doesn’t sound like anything she’s done before — not “Work It”, not her last single “WTF (Where They From)”, not the songs she’s written for Aaliyah and Tweet. What it does sound like is Nicki Minaj’s “Only”, Desiigner’s “Panda”, Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles”, and just about every other trap banger to climb the charts in the last two years.
It also sounds oddly unfinished. Producer Lamb serves ersatz-Future duties, mumbling hooks for nearly as much time as Missy spends rapping. But the breaks between takes are obvious, the end of Lamb’s syllables mysteriously disappearing into thin air; the editing would embarrass the good people at Dingo Pictures. The song shudders to a stop after three minutes, slowing down and fizzling out; there’s no sense of linear motion. Another rapper would have worked wonders here; as far as Missy’s fallen from her throne, she probably can still afford Quavo or Young Thug or another recognizable “feat.” to nudge the tune a few notches up the pop charts.
Something’s fishy in the land of Missy. Elliott’s attributed her 12-year absence since her last album The Cookbook to a lack of inspiration, which is easy to believe because: 1) The Cookbook was a bit flat; 2) Elliott is one of pop’s truest auteurs, exactly the kind of artist you might expect to call off a show-stopping run to perfect her product; 3) “WTF” was so jubilant and joyous it sounded like it could only have been cooked up during a fit of divine possession. “WTF” sank like a brick on the charts. Small wonder “I’m Better” feels like a calculated hit, small wonder it sounds so half-assed, and small wonder Missy sounds half-asleep on her verses.
The bigger question is why she decided to release it. Maybe she lost money on “WTF” and needed more cash than she could get hopping on a Fall Out Boy remix. Maybe she needed to remodel her kitchen. Or maybe she’s actually about to drop a new, trappy album. A trend-chasing Missy Elliott trap album isn’t a terrible prospect. She’s worn hats before, most obviously on the real-rap New York odyssey Under Construction and the dancehall This Is Not A Test. If her heart was in it, she could deliver a wall-to-wall album of the bangers she’s known for. “I’m Better” suggests it’d be worth it to wait longer for lightning to strike than to settle for this slush.