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.
The composer, producer, singer, and rapper broke through with partner Timbaland as the co-writer of Aaliyah's 1996 number one R&B/hip-hop hits "One in a Million" and "If Your Girl Only Knew," then went on an extraordinary run for herself, beginning with the 1997 gold-certified single "Sock It to Me"/"The Rain." Elliott's full-lengths, beginning with the 1997 debut Supa Dupa Fly and continuing through 2005 with The Cookbook, consistently went gold or platinum and were often Grammy-nominated. These albums have been promoted with hit singles and accompanying videos that have combined to stimulate multiple senses, exemplified by Grammy winners "Get Ur Freak On" and "Work It," that have consequently disproved the theory that gangsta rap stole the fun from hip-hop. Even without her solo output, Elliott's non-headlining work would be enough to place her in the top tier of modern pop figures. The dozens of hits she has written and/or produced, including "Make It Hot" (Nicole), "Where My Girls At?" (702), "Oops (Oh My)" (Tweet), "Free Yourself" (Fantasia), "Need U Bad" (Jazmine Sullivan), and "Everything to Me" (Monica), invalidate the argument that soul left commercial R&B after new jack swing. An autoimmune disease held Elliott back during the late 2000s and into the 2010s, but she continued to make strides toward a seventh solo album with 2015's "WTF (Where They From)" -- her fourth platinum solo single -- and more collaborative work.
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 album, 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 source of the chart-topping singles "One in a Million" and "If Your Girl Only Knew." 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 name-making tracks such as "Sock It 2 Me," "The Rain," and "Beep Me 911," it contained an astounding crop of album tracks that naturally emphasized Elliott's versatility. By the end of the '90s, Elliott added to her list of production and songwriting feats with the likes of Nicole's "Make It Hot," Total's "Trippin," and 702's "Where My Girls At?"
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," also her first solo platinum single. 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, the song was a Grammy winner in the category of Best Rap Solo Performance, the same year Elliott's work on a cover of Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" was acknowledged with the award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. 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. The former hit made Elliott a repeat Best Rap Solo Performance winner. Her 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. Multiple discs showcasing her songwriting and production work could have been assembled around the same time. By the end of the 2000s, in fact, she had added Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)," Ciara's "1, 2 Step," Fantasia's "Free Yourself," and Jazmine Sullivan's "Need U Bad" to her ever-lengthening list of hits.
The seventh Missy Elliott studio album, tentatively titled Block Party, remained elusive for over a decade. Elliott revealed in 2011 that she had been living with Graves disease, a thyroid disorder that kept her from the studio. Into the late 2010s, she worked primarily in the background with Keyshia Cole, Jazmine Sullivan, and Monica. Her own releases were sporadic, limited to a handful of tracks highlighted in 2015 by the platinum-certified Pharrell Williams collaboration "WTF (Where They From)." Meanwhile, Elliott performed at some high-profile events, including the halftime show of Super Bowl XLIX and the 2018 Essence Music Festival. ~ Andy Kellman & Jason Birchmeier, Rovi