Living Legends: Missy Elliott

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“Me, I’m supa fly!” With those 4 words, Missy Elliott changed the landscape of Hip-Hop, particularly its depiction of women, forever. In 1997, Missy burst onto the scene with her single The Rain and brought a new sing-songy flow, effortlessly shifting from singing to rhyming then back again, as well as a futuristic space-age look for videos that was a radical departure from anything in any genre. This had all the more impact because it was in an era (pre-solo Lauryn Hill) where rap’s most popular artists were often cast as hyper-sexualized vixens who freely rhymed about their bedroom skills and were regularly scantily clad. Missy was THICK and she didn’t hide from it. In fact, she embellished it by wearing inflated suits that would have made the Michelin man proud. She ushered in an era where women were able to define their own image and their own sound.

The story didn’t begin in 1997 though. Prior to that, Missy had been toiling away in the background quietly shaping the sound of urban music to set the stage for her entrance. She achieved immense songwriting and production success working with groups like SWV, 702 and New Edition, and solo artists like Aaliyah. To understand just how important Missy was/is to music, consider that it was she who launched the careers of both Timbaland, one of the most successful producers ever, and Hype Williams, one of the most acclaimed and forward-thinking video directors ever. Those things in themselves would be an incredible legacy for most. But, the solo career that Missy began in 1997 would speak for itself over the years and continues even now. Today, we celebrate the storied career of singer, songwriter, producer, rapper…artist, Missy Elliott, as part of our Living Legends series. Below you will find videos, a documentary and music all chronicling 15+ years of the legendary Missy Elliott.

New Edition – You Don’t Have to Worry (1996): For many, this was the first time Missy landed on their radar. Her addition to the remix took the record to the next level and her trademark “hee hee hee hee ha!” made her featured verse distinctive and unforgettable. If you blink, you will miss Missy in the video (literally) but it was a glimpse of what was to come.

The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly): The world was not ready. Missy’s unconventional flow and Hype Williams’ super-stylized visuals launched a new superstar.

Sock it to Me ft Da Brat: Thought Missy was a 1-hit wonder after The Rain? Think again.

Beep Me 911 ft 702 & Magoo: If there was any doubt about the influence of Missy on Aaliyah’s One in a Million sound, this song left no question.

All N My Grill: Da Real World, Missy’s 2nd album, introduced a darker sound for her. There were still club bangers, but they had a more baroque feel, as evidenced by this single. This sound would also serve as a harbinger for Timbaland going all the way in with the heavy orchestral sound on songs like Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me a River.

Hot Boyz: Hot Boyz was another dark banger and allowed Missy to further solidify her Hip-Hop credibility with a verse from Nas.

Get Ur Freak On ft Ludacris: Missy once again broke new ground on this track. She and Timbaland were among the first to infuse the Indian music style Bhangra with Hip-Hop and expose it to the mainstream world.

One Minute Man: Though Missy was never overly sexual, she was also not one to shy away from the topic. As with most of her music, however, she did so from a perspective of female empowerment and entitlement. This collabo with Luda was a perfect example. Missy called out any and all lovers not up to the task of satisfying her needs.

Work It: This single introduced yet another new sound courtesy of Missy and Timbaland. They put together another hit, this time built on the type of beeping, buzzing and whirring that you might hear when trying to find a channel on an old school radio. The video featured swarming bees and reinforced the old school throwback theme with Kangols and breakdancing.

Ciara – 1,2 Step ft Missy Elliott: Missy took a bit of a break from her solo career in 2004, but her impact was still very much felt with the role she played in breaking Ciara. Ciara’s song 1,2 Step contained trademark Missy signatures like Afrika Bambataa-esque drums and keys, and the video was a tour de force.

Lose Control: This marked a return to form for Missy after a (comparatively) lukewarm reception to her 2003 album This is Not a Test and a brief hiatus to work on launching new acts like Ciara in 2004. Lose Control was a dream for b-boys and b-girls, both for the dancing showcased in the video and the Cybotron sample that anchored the track. And, of course, the video was trendsetting with its combination of modern and traditional dancing by dancers dressed in fashion from the 1800s.

Missy has not released an album since 2005’s The Cookbook but her influence has been felt over the years with some celebrated cameos in songs by J. Cole and, most recently, Fantasia. Be on the lookout for a new solo album from Missy later this year…

J. Cole – Nobody’s Perfect ft Missy Elliott

Fantasia – Without Me ft Missy Elliott & Kelly Rowland

Missy’s life story was well-documented in Vh1’s Behind the Music, which you can watch below.

And, if you need more Missy in your life, here’s a video playlist. Just press play and let it ride.

Related: Check out the AFH Living Legends Series

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