Born Melissa Elliott in 1971 in Portsmouth, VA. Addresses: Record company-- Atlantic Records, 1290 Ave. of Americas, 27th Fl., New York, NY 10104. Website----Missy Elliott Official Website: http:/www.missyelliott.com.
Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott is a phenomenon. She did not merely take the traditionally male-dominated recording industry by storm as a singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, and head of her own label, she did so in one of the most macho, testosterone-laden of all genres, hip-hop--and, remarkably, she achieved all this in only six years time, by the time she was 28 years of age. Besides Elliott's work writing for and producing the cream of hip-hop and R&B, she has released six CDs to critical and popular acclaim. She was the first hip-hop artist to perform on the Lilith Fair tour. Elliott has been featured in a major ad campaign for the Gap, but she has not hesitated to have fun at the expense of her image in her videos. Elliott has "established herself as a singer-rapper-writer with a welcome penchant for humor and positivity," wrote Michael Musto in Interview. "And with her unconventional approach and severe distaste for BS, she's probably da realest girl in da biz right now."
Melissa Elliott was born in Portsmouth, Virginia. Her earliest musical experiences were with a church choir. Elliott seems to have known from an early age that she was going to be a star--she told her mother so repeatedly. She began playing the part of the star singer early too. Elliott would sing in her room with a broomstick microphone to an audience of her dolls. "In my mind I pictured them screaming for me. I would go into a whole other zone," she told Joan Morgan of Essence. Elliott wrote her own songs about butterflies, birds, whatever happened to be around. She sang them to passing cars from overturned trash cans, or to her family from atop picnic tables in the park.
Dreams of Stardom
Elliott not only vividly imagined herself on stage, she could see her heroes coming to take her to music stardom. "I remember in school writing Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson and asking them to come get me out of class," she told Michael Musto. "I would imagine them running down the hall and asking my teacher, 'Ms. Daniels, can we get Missy out of class? We're here to see Missy.' My imagination was always wild like that. So when I got a call from Janet, just to hear her say she loved my music, it was like a blessing. It was a dream come true to get a call from Mariah [Carey] ... and now I'm just waiting for Michael Jackson to call."
Despite the fact that many of her dreams came true and the impressive power she has in the recording industry, Elliott remains a little star struck by the artists who used to be just voices on records. Whitney Houston called her, she told Musto, and "when I got off the phone I screamed so loud." Elliott's feet are still planted firmly on the ground, however, and she signs autographs patiently for the fans who recognize her on the streets of Manhattan. More significantly, Elliott courageously made public her father's physical abuse of her mother and her own sexual abuse at the hands of a cousin. It was for her a way of taking control of a past that had previously controlled her, as well as drawing attention to a serious social problem that frequently gets swept under the rug.
Elliott got her first musical break in 1991 when the group Jodeci, came to Portsmouth. She took her group, Sista, made up of some of her friends from junior high, to the hotel where Devante Swing, one of the members of Jodeci was staying. He was so impressed by their performance--a set of original tunes written by Elliott--that he signed them to his production company. "We thought we were too hot," Elliott told imusic. "We tried to look just like Jodeci during that audition. We had our pants tucked in our boots. We had begged our mothers to get us these outfits. We even had our canes. We thought we were four hot Devantes."
Sista cut their first album in 1995, and broke up when it became clear that Elektra Records could not afford to release it. Elliott had formed a production team at the company with Timbaland, a childhood friend. Elliott wrote the songs for artists such as Jodeci, Raven-Symone, and 702, and Timbaland produced the records. It was a combination that worked. The two were still working together in late 2000. Despite Sista's apparent failure, Elliott had gotten noticed. "People started to call for songs, or ask me to rap or something, she told imusic.
Led Aaliyah to Fame
One call came from singer Aaliyah, who was looking for a new producer. Elliott and Timbaland entered the picture and the result was four big singles from Aaliyah's CD One In A Million: "4 Page Letter," "Hot Like Fire," "If Your Girl Only Knew" and the title track. Sylvia Rhone, the chairman and CEO of the Elektra Entertainment Group, took notice. She offered Elliott, then a mere 22 years of age, a deal that included writing and producing opportunities, her own recording label (The Gold Mind, Inc.), and eventually a contract as an artist. "You could recognize instantly that Missy possessed star potential," Rhone told Morgan.
Elliott has since worked with a number of other superstar singers, including Houston, Janet Jackson, Carey, and Paula Cole.
Musto asked Elliott if she ever worried that her work as a label executive, songwriter and producer would distract her from making her own music. "No," she replied, "because I really enjoy writing and producing for other artists. Some people save their best songs for their own albums. I'd rather give another artist one of my songs. At the end of the day, it still represents me."
An Innovative Debut
Despite the fact that the world seemed to be waiting with baited breath, it took Elliott some time before she finally released the first CD of her own. "I was not going to make a record just to make one, if you know what I mean," she told imusic. "I wasn't going to do a record if I couldn't mix it up." The result was 1997's Supa Dupa Fly, a record critically praised as forging an innovative new direction for hip-hop. John Bartleson wrote that "open-minded hip-hop heads may find Elliott's intelligent yet indulgent, anesthetized electro-funk flow a persuasive argument for the unification of rap and R&B." In "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," for example, she deliberately distanced herself from the violent themes that run through so much other hip-hop. "I don't knock nobody's hustle," she told imusic, "but everybody don't want to hear that. You get that on the news and it depresses you enough." Supa Dupa Fly ended up going platinum and receiving a Grammy nomination.
Her second album, Da Real World, had more of a street feel. It produced a controversial single, "She's a B****," a song which addressed her power--and attitude--as a woman. "Music is a male-dominated field," Elliott explained to Musto. "Women are not always taken as seriously as we should be, so sometimes we have to put our foot down. To other people, that may come across as being a b****, but it's just knowing what we want and being confident." Da Real World also went platinum, and garnered both a Grammy nomination and three MTV Video Music awards.
One Hot Single after Another
2001 was the year Elliott became a mainstream artist that never left the radio. With the release of Miss E... So Addictive, Elliott scored two smash hits including "one Minute Man" and "Get Ur Freak On," which NME described as, "one of the greatest singles ever .... The sort of song that parts waters, causes planets to collide and pretty much obliterates the batty notion that music should somehow be divided into 'genres' that some people are allowed to like and others not." The track won Elliott her first Grammy Award for Best Female Rap Solo Performance in 2001. On the album, she strut her stuff along with guests like Jay-Z, Redman, Eve, and Ludacris. Miss E... had more of a dance/club feel than her past albums as Elliott described to MTV.com. "I think dance does play a [bigger role] in hip-hop now. People wanna go in a club and they just wanna have fun, instead of it being so violent."
Elliott continued her chart-topping success with 2002's quick follow up, Under Construction. The catchy track "Work It" won her another Grammy for Best Female Rap Solo Performance at the 2003 Grammy Awards. That same year, she returned with the new album This Is Not A Test! The popular song "Pass That Dutch" was a hit, and while voices like R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Nelly, and Jay-Z graced the album, it wasn't Elliott's best or most popular record. Elliott was now in a cycle of releasing albums almost every year as Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield noted, "...the star who drops the bomb of the year, every damn year."
After a short cameo in the 2003 film Honey, and becoming a spokesperson for clothing giant the Gap, Elliott set her eyes on reality TV. In early 2004, Elliott stepped aside from the beats to create a reality TV show with UPN. On The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott 13 aspiring performers traveled with Elliott on her tour competing to be the Next Big Superstar. And like many hip-hop stars of the day, Elliott moved into the fashion world when she created a sneaker line with Adidas called Respect Me. In the spring, she got back on stage and went on a cross-country tour with Alicia Keys and Beyonce Knowles.
In the summer of 2005, Elliott released The Cookbook, which debuted at number two on the Billboard charts. Preluded by the single "Lose Control"--a manic track featuring hot singer Ciara--The Cookbook marked a change in Elliott's usual recording style. Where Timbaland had been clearly present on albums in the past, on The Cookbook, the producer only appeared on two. In an interview with MTV.com, Elliott explained Timbaland's absence. "Me and Tim, this like our six album, so if we go any further left, we gonna be on Mars somewhere," she said. "We've done everything it is to do. I think both of us came to a spot where we didn't know where to go with each other. But Tim is very involved, he said 'nay' or 'yay' to [certain] producers. I was eight songs deep and I let Tim listen and he was like, 'Nah, you're going in the wrong direction.'" Instead of strictly Timbaland, Elliott brought in producers like the Neptunes, Rich Harrison and Scott Storch.
by Evelyn Hauser and Shannon McCarthy
Missy Elliott's Career
Auditioned with group Sista for Devante Swing of Jodeci, 1991; with partner Timbaland, began writing and producing acts such as Jodeci, Raven-Symone and 702, 1992; Sista cut first and only album, Brand New, 1995; wrote seven tracks for Aaliyah's CD, One In A Million, 1996; received major songwriting, recording and production deal, and label of her own from Elektra Entertainment, 1996; worked with superstars such as Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Paula Cole, and the Spice Girls, 1996-1999; released debut solo album, Supa Dupa Fly, 1997; made follow-up CD, Da Real World, 1999; released This is Not a Test!, 2003; won Grammy for Best Female Rap Solo Performance, 2004; starred in reality show The Road to Stardom, 2004; released The Cookbook, 2005.
Missy Elliott's Awards
Grammy Award, Best Female Rap Solo Performance for "Get Ur Freak On," 2001. Grammy Award, Best Female Rap Solo Performance for "Scream," 2001. American Music Award, Favorite Female Rap/Hip-Hop Artist, 2003. Grammy Award, Best Female Rap Solo Performance for "Work It," 2004.
- Selected discography
- With Sista
- Brand New Elektra, 1995.
- Solo albums
- Supa Dupa Fly East-West, 1997.
- Da Real World East-West, 1999.
- Miss E... So Addictive Elektra, 2001.
- Under Construction Elektra, 2002.
- This is Not a Test! Elektra, 2003.
- The Cookbook Goldmind/Atlantic, 2005.
November 22, 2005: Elliott won the American Music Award for favorite female rap/hip-hop artist. Source: 2005 American Music Awards, http://abc.go.com/primetime/ama05/index.html, November 27, 2005.
June 27, 2006: Elliott won the BET award for best female hip-hop artist. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, June 30, 2006.
- Essence, March, 2000.
- Interview, June 1999.
- Rolling Stone, December 25, 2003.
- MTV Online, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1505732/07142005/elliott_missy.jhtml (September 1, 2005).
- NME, http://www.nme.com/reviews/11454.htm (September 1, 2005).