Those iconic backward vocals helped make “Work It” the highest-charting U.S. single of Elliott’s career — but the song didn’t come easy, according to Elliott’s partner in crime. In an interview with EW earlier this month, Timbaland recalled coaching the rapper through several iterations of the track. We cut the song at least five times before it was right, She had different lyrics, different [flows], but I just didn’t care for it, That’s not it, it’s still not there yet.” He told her over and over again 

It was on her last attempt that Elliott played around with the reversed lyrics. “That’s something that she did creatively, When she came back and played it for me [backward], I was like, ‘That’s the one.' She found the sweet spot in the [groove] to seal the deal” — the backward segments were just “the icing on the cake.” 

Timbaland didn’t actually witness Elliott’s eureka moment firsthand, however. Though the two have been collaborating for decades, Elliott usually records her vocals away from Timbaland with just her engineer. We don’t ever work together in a room, Sometimes when I’m doing the music, we’ll be in there vibing, but after that, she takes it with her to another room, to her space. I’m not there.”