Missy Elliott Says 'I'm Blessed to Be Here' After Struggles with Graves' Disease, Anxiety (Exclusive)

The hip-hop icon opens up in this week's issue of PEOPLE about overcoming health issues before embarking on her first-ever headlining tour this summer

<p>Derek Blanks</p>

Derek Blanks

Missy Elliott is still working it — and working hard. “I’m hanging in there,” the hip-hop icon, 52, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, opening up after a long rehearsal for her upcoming tour. “It’s full days, then I go home, and the work continues. But I feel good," she adds. "I’m super excited.”

As she should be. Her upcoming Out of This World - The Missy Elliott Experience tour kicks off on July 4 and will also feature the four-time Grammy winner’s close friends and longtime collaborators Ciara and Busta Rhymes.

Ciara had been asking me and asking me,” Elliott says of touring together. “I’d be like, ‘Okay,’ but then I’d always find myself in the studio doing something else.” The outing marks the first time the “Get Ur Freak On” and “Work It” rapper-producer has hit the road since 2004 — and, surprisingly, is her first headlining show.

<p>Derek Blanks with crowdMGMT</p> Ciara, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes

Derek Blanks with crowdMGMT

Ciara, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes

The prolonged break was partly because of Elliott’s difficult battle with Graves’ disease that led to severe weight loss and a period of depression. But Elliott also says she’s spent time out of the spotlight because “I’m most definitely an introvert.”

Related: Missy Elliott Announces First-Ever Headlining Tour with Ciara, Timbaland and Busta Rhymes — See the Dates!

Despite her larger-than-life persona and groundbreaking music, “I’m shy,” adds Elliott, who has also suffered from severe anxiety over the years. How she reconciles all that with music stardom is still beyond her. “I don’t know,” she says. “It’s one of those things I can’t really explain.”

Through it all, her legendary creativity never waned, even as she struggled with both her mental and physical health in the late 2000s because of her Graves’ diagnosis. (The autoimmune disorder can cause anxiety, fatigue and weight loss.)

Photo by Joseph Okpako / Getty Images Missy Elliott
Photo by Joseph Okpako / Getty Images Missy Elliott

As she stepped back from the public eye, she focused on producing other stars’ hits behind the scenes. But now Elliott — who last year became the first female hip-hop artist inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — is back and ready for her victory lap.

“Missy has always been one of my greatest inspirations and like a big sister to me," Ciara tells PEOPLE. "She is the definition of a true artist. She has always raised the bar to the highest level, and I feel so blessed that we have been able to share some of our biggest hits together.”

With the upcoming tour, "I have no doubt we are going to give the fans an out of this world experience," Ciara adds."

Related: Missy Elliott Says 'It's OK to Say' I'm 'Not OK': 'We All Go Through S—'

Elliott is planning on making sure of that. “Listen, every morning my regimen is I get up, wash my face, brush my teeth and walk,” she says. “I say my prayers as I’m walking, and then all of these ideas start coming to mind. I’ll call everybody like, ‘I want to swing from this,’ and they’re like, ‘Do you know how much that costs?’ ” she says of her over-the-top tour-production plans.

<p>Derek Blanks</p> Missy Elliott

Derek Blanks

Missy Elliott

All that said, the star is just happy to be alive and able to do what she does. "Every day I wake, I'm blessed to be here and in good health," she says, reflecting on a time when her health had taken a turn for the worse.

“I’m feeling so much better now,” says Elliott, who manages her Graves’ disease with medication. "That was a run. Every now and then you get a little ache in the leg or the knee, but outside of that, I feel good."

For more on Missy Elliott and her triumphant return to the stage, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, available Friday.

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