Few artists in rap and R&B have attained as much commercial success as Missy Elliott. No one else has achieved such prominence while simultaneously reshaping two genres as a hired gun and headliner, defying stereotypes, and combining style, sex, and humor into a cartoonishly outsized image.
After she broke through with partner Timbaland as the co-writer of Aaliyah's number one R&B/hip-hop hits "One in a Million" and "If Your Girl Only Knew," Elliott went on an extraordinary run for herself, beginning with the certified gold single "Sock It to Me"/"The Rain." Her albums consistently went multi-platinum, promoted with singles and accompanying videos that combined to stimulate multiple senses. Even if her solo output was disregarded, Elliott's work as a songwriter, producer, arranger, and featured artist would be enough to place her in the top tier of '90s and 2000s pop figures. Additional hits she has written and/or produced for Nicole, Total, 702, Tweet, Monica, Ciara, and Keyshia Cole invalidate the argument that soul left commercial R&B after new jack swing. Elliott's solo smashes, scattered across the same period, disprove the theory that gangsta rap stole the fun from hip-hop.
Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1971, Melissa Arnette Elliott began her professional career when Jodeci's DeVante Swing signed her group Sista (previously Fayze) to his Elektra-affiliated Swing Mob label. Elliott, who was also part of the Swing Mob collective behind the scenes, subsequently left her first Billboard chart impression in 1993 as the co-writer, co-producer, and featured vocalist on Raven-Symoné's number 68 pop hit "That's What Little Girls Are Made Of." The following year, "Brand New," a Sista single written and fronted by Elliott, touched number 84 on the R&B/hip-hop chart. Its parent, 4 All the Sistas Around da World, was shelved in the U.S., but Elliott shrewdly remained beside fellow Swing Mob member Timbaland and worked extensively with him on Aaliyah's 1996 album, One in a Million. The move proved to be key, as the album racked up enormous sales and led to sessions with other artists and a recording contract with Elektra. Her debut as Missy Misdemeanor Elliott, Supa Dupa Fly, hit the streets in 1997 and went platinum within two months. Along with its radio-ready singles, it contained an astounding crop of album tracks that naturally emphasized Elliott's versatility.
Into the mid-2000s, as a steady succession of emerging and established artists was boosted by her songwriting and production, Elliott released five additional albums that, like Supa Dupa Fly, went double platinum. Da Real World, her much-awaited second album, was even more ambitious than her debut, featured appearances from Aaliyah, Eminem, and Beyoncé, and included her first headlining Top Ten pop hit, "Hot Boyz." Around this time, her mainstream status was further affirmed with appearances in television ads for clothing and soft drink brands. The cycle repeated itself in 2001 with Miss E...So Addictive, powered by the nutty "Get Ur Freak On," another Top Ten smash. Elliott's winning streak continued a year later with album four, Under Construction, and its hits "Work It" and "Gossip Folks," which were somehow old-school reminiscent and alien-futuristic at once. Elliott's music machine continued to pummel the charts with This Is Not a Test! in 2003 and The Cookbook in 2005, full-lengths that didn't require event-level singles to sell over two million copies each. Respect M.E., a straightforward anthology, was released in 2006 in several territories outside the U.S.
The seventh Missy Elliott studio album, tentatively titled Block Party, remained elusive for over a decade. From the mid-2000s well into the late 2010s, she worked primarily in the background with Keyshia Cole, Jazmine Sullivan, and Monica, among others. Elliott's own releases were sporadic, limited to a handful of tracks highlighted by the gold-certified Pharrell Williams collaboration "WTF (Where They From)." ~ Andy Kellman & Jason Birchmeier