Missy “misdemeanor” Elliott is a Grammy Award-winning singer, rapper, songwriter and producer who has achieved great success while breaking boundaries in the male-dominated world of hip-hop.
Missy Elliott was born Melissa Arnette Elliott in 1971 in Portsmouth, Virginia. She was the only child of Patricia, a power-company dispatcher, and father Ronnie, a U.S. Marine. She had a difficult childhood, and lived in both Virginia and North Carolina. At the age of 4, Elliott knew that she wanted to be a performer, but no one would take her seriously because she was always the class clown. Elliott lived in fear of her father, who was physically abusive towards her mother. She would refuse to stay over at friend’s houses as she was afraid that on her return home, she would find her mother dead. Elliott would write letters to stars like Michael and Janet Jackson pleading for them to come to her school and take her home with them. At the age of 14,, she and her mother fled. She lived in fear that her father would find them and kill them for leaving. Her mother found her strength in leaving and the event changed Elliott’s life, making her feel stronger too.
Elliott and her mother struggled through the next few years, and she would often skip school. She continued her interest in music, and would write song lyrics all over her bedroom walls. In 1990, Elliott graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School and formed a vocal group with La’Shawn Shellman, Chonita Coleman, and Radiah Scott called Sista. A year later, after meeting Jodeci member DeVante Swing after a concert and performing for him, the band were signed to Swing Mob Records. While signed to Swing Mob, the members of Sista lived in a single two-story house in New York with the other 20+ members of the label. Many of them, like Ginuwine would later become stars and Elliott would collaborate with many of the members in her later, solo work. Sista recorded their debut album, but the label folded before it was able to be released and the group split up.
Elliott began to work with her childhood friend, Timbaland writing and producing songs for R&B artists like Jodeci and Aaliyah. Elliott contributed background vocals or gust raps to nearly all of the tracks she worked on with Timbaland. Elliott began her career as a featured rapper on Sean “Puffy” Combs’s Bad Boy remixes to Gina Thompson’s “The Things That You Do”. She caught the attention of major record companies and signed a deal with East West Records, a division of Elektra Entertainment Group at that time, in 1996 to create her own imprint, The Goldmind Inc for which she was able to write, produce, and record music. She was only 25.
In mid-1997, Elliott’s debut album, Supa Dupa Fly was released with guest spots by rappers Busta Rhymes, Lil’ Kim, and Da Brat. The album went platinum and was nominated for a Grammy Award. Elliott was named rap artist of the year by Rolling Stone. She was then able to work with her idols, Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson before releasing her next solo album, ‘Da Real World’. The album contained the hit single, “She’s a Bitch”, in the lyrics, she expresses her frustration that if a man stands up for himself it’s seen as positive and respected, while a woman in the same situation will be seen negatively and called derogatory terms. She reclaims the word ‘Bitch’ in the lyrics to refer to a strong woman. ‘Da Real World’ was followed by Miss E… So Addictive, which was massively successful, and featured the crossover dance track ““Get Ur Freak On,” and”Scream a.k.a. Itchin’,” both of which earned Elliott Grammy Awards for best female solo rap performance.
In 2002, Elliott’s album ‘Under Construction’ set sales records for a female-headed rap album, selling 2.1 million copies in the United States alone. That same year, she won a third Grammy for the single ’Work It’. In 2005, her sixth solo album, The Cookbook was released and debuted at number two on the U.S. charts. She received 5 Grammy nominations in 2005, including one for Best Rap Album for The Cookbook and ultimately winning a Grammy for Best Short Form Video for ‘Lose Control’. ‘Lose Control’ also gained her six 2005 MTV VMA award nominations and she won the
Best Dance Video and Best Hip-Hop Video awards. She also won Best Female Hip Hop Artist at the 2005 American Music Awards, and was nominated for Best International Female Artist at the 2006 BRIT Awards. Elliott was honoured at the 2007 VH1 Hip Hop Honors, with many artists performing some of her biggest hits including, .Timbaland and Tweet performed “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and Eve and Keyshia Cole performed “Hot Boyz” and “Work It”.
Between 2007 and 2014, Elliott focused on her writing and production work. She worked with many artists, and reached number 1 on Billboard ’ s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs with Keyshia Cole’s “Let It Go” (2007), Jazmine Sullivan’s “Need U Bad” (2008), and Monica’s “Everything to Me” (2010). A number of songs written by Elliott have received Grammy nominations, including Fantasia (“Free Yourself”), Jennifer Hudson (“I’m His Only Woman”), Monica (“Everything to Me”), Keyshia Cole (“Let It Go”), and Jazmine Sullivan (“Need U Bad” and “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles)”). She also embarked on a two part tour in 2010 and performed at VH1’s “Hip Hop Honors: The Dirty South” in a tribute to Timbaland, performing “Get Ur Freak On” and “Work It”.
In 2015, Elliott performed a medley of “Get Ur Freak On”, “Work It”, and “Lose Control”. at the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show with Katy Perry. It was the most watched Super Bowl halftime show in NFL history, receiving 118.5 million viewers in the United States. In November 2015, Elliott’s single WTF (Where They From” was released, gaining 10 million views on Youtube in three days.
Elliott is the only female rapper to have six albums certified platinum by the RIAA, including one double platinum for her 2002 album Under Construction. She has overcome early rejections from the music industry due to her appearance to achieve great success in the male-dominated world of hip-hop. She introduced the idea of fun, and fantasy to urban black music and blazed a trail for artists who came after her, like Destiny’s Child, Eve and Macy Gray. Her decision to hold out for her own label, Gold Mind Inc, which gave her 100% of the creative control for both her, and the artists she signed made her America’s first black female entertainment mogul. She continues to innovate and succeed in the music industry, both in creating songs and videos for herself, and producing and songwriting for others.