Missy Elliott must hold some secret patent for what she does, always teetering on pop culture's precarious ledge - always wanting to surprise us with another mystifying delivery from her endless arsenal of musical weapons. She easily reigns as one of music's top ten influential talents. But what exactly is she? What will they inscribe on that lifetime Grammy she's no doubt going to receive one day:
Not to worry. The important thing is she continues to astound fans and critics with her futuristic alterations of hip hop's landscape, all the while - as British pop bible NME put it - "reinventing pop music," along the way.
Her new album Miss E...So Addictive plows right over any preconceived notion you may have about the current hip hop grind, as it seamlessly fuses pop, hip hop and hyper-kinetic R&B with its delirious passages of electro-inspired beats and sexy/salacious rhyme schemes. About halfway into it, you begin to realize that Missy's third solo album is first truly hallucinatory work in hip hop by a female. Or, as NME continued: "Missy still sounds peerlessly adventurous, with backward sitars, Hawaiian guitars elaborate clicking beats, beautifully organized riots of ideas crowding every track."
Rumor has it Missy stopped listening to the radio before going into the studio so she could "clear the head." The resulting effort is nothing short of 'head-spinning,' with memorable guest-turns from admiring superstars such as Redman and Method Man on "Dog In Heat," Ginuwine on the majestic "Take Away," Eve - Missy's comrade-in-Divahood - spitting over "4 My People," and two versions of the album's most contagious track "One Minute Man," featuring Ludacris and Jay-Z respectively. Not to mention this year's party anthem, the hyperbolic "Get Ur Freak On."
"I was more relaxed this time around," said Missy. "I went for some warm weather, recorded in L.A.. I didn't want any pressure on me."
Missy admits to feeling "up against the wall" when she went to record 1999's Da Real World, the follow-up to her acclaimed 1997 debut Supa Dupa Fly. "You know, you worry about the sophomore jinx and all." Never the less, Da Real World went platinum, and landed Missy her most successful single ever with "Hot Boyz," but she was determined to "exhale deeply" before entering the studio for her third effort.
"I took a look around," says Missy. "I realized we went through years of 'I Hate You' records, and then we went through the 'Gimme My Money Records,' and we went through the 'Taking Care Of Business Records.' It was time to do some sexual healing music. You know, some Marvin-type stuff. I wanted to cross all boundaries. Not put any limits on myself. Where everybody else was being 'mad at their man' I wanted to do a sexy record. I didn't want to get up into what everyone else was singing about."
Up-tempo tracks like "Lick Shots" and the funked-up "Dog In Heat" abound. "I love the way Redman comes in on that one," says Missy. "He's got that party voice and that's why I wanted him. He's the ice cream on the cake." Missy also envisioned both Jay-Z and Ludacris on the luminous "One Minute Man." "I knew what was out there - 'Bills, Bills, Bills' and 'No Scrubs' and all that. I knew I needed a record where females knew I was representing but not by 'just being mad at the man.' I know how females never want a one-minute man. Nuh-uh. So I twisted it, and said 'Let me get Jay-Z and Ludacris to represent right here.'" The dual versions dazzle, with critics already pointing to the epic song as "the sheezy of the album."
Missy constantly switches leads on the new album, calling the loopy "Whatcha Gon' Do" "my alternative hip hop cut on the album." Flanked by only Timbaland on that one, Missy says "It was one of the first tracks we worked on for the project and really set off the tone for the new direction we're moving in."
The tag-team of Missy and Timbaland has become one of hip hop's legendary duos, with Missy's hitmaker rep' making her one of music's most sought after producers. Born in Portsmouth VA, Missy dreamed of a music career from those very first days when she would sing and play-act for relatives.
She was first signed to Elektra, as part of the group Sista, in 1991 by Devante (of Jodeci) but the album was never released. It was one of those bizarre twists of fate, however, that would give Missy an opportunity to flourish behind the scenes as a producer and writer - and even sometimes guest-star. She graced platinum tracks for Jodeci and Aaliyah, landing a breakthrough rap stint on Gina Thompson's "The Things you Do." Her infectious rhyme garnered her the nickname the "hee haw girl", with Missy landing a production/label deal with Elektra soon after.
The launch of Missy's very own imprint, The Goldmind Inc., was ignited by the release of the groundbreaking Supa Dupa Fly in June of 1997. A genre-defying work that blurred your typical suppositions about black music, the album still reigns as one of the highest debuting discs from a female hip hop star on Billboard's Album chart, notching an incredible #3 in its first week of release. The mind-bending single "The Rain" was nominated for three MTV awards. Soon, Missy copycats were cropping up all over the music world.
But Missy kept 'em guessing. She began carefully constructing her empire around Gold Mind Inc., releasing the gold-plus effort from soulful vocalist Nicole, as well as continuing to produce and write a slew of diverse hits for other superstars, including Whitney Houston, Paula Cole, Destiny's Child, and Christina Aguilera. Missy Elliott also became the first female hip hop artist to perform on the renowned Lilith Fair tour.
In 1999, she released the much-anticipated Da Real World. Not content with the industry's follow-the-leader mentality, Missy tricked everyone again with the darker, in-your-face-stomp of "She's A Bitch." It threw out all the previous ideas about Missy, dicing up provocative lyrics and razor-sharp beats designed to directly challenge hip hop fans.
By the time critics had stopped scratching their heads, Missy released the album's third single "Hot Boyz," re-writing the rules about the kind of impact one single could have on a hip hop audience. The single went platinum, remaining on the Billboard Rap Singles chart for almost an entire year, snagging the #1 spot for a mind boggling 18 weeks in a row, easily breaking the 11 week record held by Puff Daddy, Coolio, and Da Brat. In typical Missy 'genre defying' style, the single was also the #1 song on Billboard's R&B Singles chart for six weeks in a row. The platinum-plus Da Real World would eventually be nominated for a Soul Train Award and a Grammy.
A year later we find Missy happily poised on that ledge again, kicking off the all-important third album at the top of her game, both in body and spirit. "I'm feeling very positive about things," she smiles. "I feel blessed and I've learned so much. I just wanted to make a record where people can forget their troubles and go buckwild." But Missy also saved space for a gospel track to be put on the disc. "Moving On" finds her singing with gospel vocal sensation Yolanda Adams, members of the legendary Clark Sisters, and newcomers Mary Mary. "I had a friend that passed and before she went she always asked me if I would do a gospel record. I wanted to show my appreciation for her always being there for me." Missy pauses. "But if you listen to all my records, you know I always take time out to give thanks. In this business you're always going to have to engage in a lot of things you might not want to, but it never takes away from my spirituality. No matter what happens, that will always be there."