We take a look at 3 of the best from one of hip-hop’s biggest female stars and one of the most inventive video artists of her time.
Back in the days when MTV still played, y’know, actual music videos and not an endless stream of vacuous reality shows some artists managed to create a ‘buzz’ reputation around their videos, and Missy Elliott was definitely one of those. For a while in the late 90’s and early 2000’s many conversations around the world began with “Have you seen the new Missy Elliott video?” or words to that effect.
Of course it wasn’t just about the visuals. At the time Elliott and producer/lifelong friend Timbaland were turning out some of the hottest and most inventive hip-hop around, pulling in influences from R&B in the days just before the lines between the two styles became irrevocably blurred. Indeed, they were pioneers of a crossover style that everyone from M.I.A. to Lady Gaga would later imitate to some degree.
Melissa Arnette Elliott was born in 1971 in Portsmouth, Virginia, the only child of Ronnie and Patricia. Always a natural show-off she was known as the class clown at school more interested in her social life than lessons. Despite this she was tested as being well above average intelligence. Her father was very abusive and violent and she spent much of her childhood living in constant fear as well as poverty before at the age of 14 her mother and her managed to escape.
It was sometime after this that Elliott’s blossoming passion for music took hold. Around about 1990 she formed her first band Fayze, a 4-piece R&B group with Timothy Mosley producing. Fayze would soon sign to Elektra and be re-christened Sista (with Mosley becoming Timbaland). Although Sista had moderate success it was Elliott and Timbaland who began to make a name for themselves becoming the writing and production team behind the likes of TLC, Aaliyah and Jodeci. It was only after this that she decided to strike out as a solo artist releasing her acclaimed debut lp Supa Dupa Fly in 1997. For the next ten years she would ever-present on singles and album charts worldwide as well as releasing a string of visually inventive and exciting videos.
The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) – 1997
This is where it all began, the debut single from her debut album Supa Dupa Fly and a legendary video by the equally legendary video director Hype Williams. memorable for the use of a fish-eye lens and Missy’s fabulous inflatable costume the whole thing oozes laid-back, low-riding cool, and the track itself – which samples the Ann Peebles hit of not quite the same name – served as a great example of the slightly murky, lo-fi(ish) deeply funky sound on Supa Dupa Fly, an album which remains a favourite amongst many hip-hop fans.
Get Ur Freak On – 2001
With its exotic sounding (to western ears anyway) Indian bhangra influences and insistent irresistible groove this was pretty much the track of 2001 and could be heard pumping out of cars, bars, clubs, and parties everywhere that year. And TV sets of course with the video garnering huge acclaim. Directed by Dave Meyers who made a trilogy of videos with Elliott that year it features super-cool choreography, Missy swinging from a chandelier and that spitting moment at about 2.06 which had everyone laughing and going “ewww” at the same time. Taken from her third album Miss E… So Addictive the whole thing ends with a verse from the fellow album track ‘Lick Shots’ which would shortly after be released as a single in its own right. The video also features cameos from fellow hip-hop stars LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, and Ja Rule.
Work It – 2002
Maybe still the most famous track in Elliott’s back catalogue, this was just as much of a buzz record in this year as Get Ur Freak on had been the previous one, and came at a time when she was riding the crest of a considerable creative and commercial wave. Once again the video, directed again by Meyers, was a triumph and major talking point full of dazzling choreography and hip-hop dance moves. The young girl dancer is called Alyson Stoner and she would go on to appear in the next few Missy Elliott videos as well as working with Eminem and Outkast before going on to become a TV actress. The track itself is famous for it’s sexual lyrics in which Elliott nicely turns hip-hop’s misogyny back in on itself, and the hilarious elephant sample. The whole thing is ridiculously infectious and super stylish and shows Missy at her peak.
In recent years things have been very quiet from Missy Elliott, largely due to the illness Grave’s disease which affected her to the point where she claims she couldn’t even hold a pen to write a song. However in February this year she appeared with Katy Perry during the halftime celebrations for Superbowl XLIX. There is apparently a new album in the making, her first since 2005’s The Cookbook. As one of the most inventive and singular artists in hip-hop it would be fabulous to have her back, and as always we’ll look forward to the videos too.