How Missy Elliott Redefined Creativity

How Missy Elliott Redefined Creativity

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The following is a transcript of Season 1, Episode 9, of the Hot Girls Podcast Series. Celebrating icons in the music industry. It is available on all major platforms. 

We recommend listening on Podbean

Hello Guys, as I record this many of us are living in a Global lockdown. I hope you’re all finding peace and also some pleasure amongst it. For the next 15/20mins I will be taking you through the life of someone really, really, really special! When I create these kinda potted histories, I always get a bit obsessed with the artist but I was already quite enamoured by Missy Elliott. So, I didn’t think that was gonna change massively. However there’s something about tracking through her life and the number of different ways she challenged the system and what was “normal” and what she’s had to face as a human being, that has made me an absolute superfan. Not only is she a remarkable musical artist but also a remarkable visual artist and an incredible producer. She really encompasses every trait that can make someone great. She’s a true icon of femininity and all the different ways you can push yourself as a creative and as a woman. I’m very glad to have been alive at the same time as Missy Elliott and if I’ve done my job well you will feel the same way at the end of this. 

 

Before I get into the detail of Missy, I just wanted to let you know a couple of other ways we’re bigging up the women in rap. So if you go over to my soundcloud which is soundcloud.com/lexonthedecks there is a mix series there and it’s pinned to the top of my account so you’ll see it as soon as you land. There, I have some amazing DJS from all over the world who have created mixes of predominantly female artists. Some of the mixes, like the ones from Sophie and Rosegawd are very hip/hop-rap turn up vibes and then there’s some more house funky house mixes as well. The thing they have in common is quality and yeah head over and check them out. As I can’t actually play music on most Podcasting platforms, because of the licensing, that’s just a way for you to discover new music and more MCs.

 

On a summer Thursday, in 1971, Patricia Elliott, from Virginia on the East Coast of America, gave birth to a baby girl, who she named Melissa. For Melissa’s early life, first half of primary school roughly her dad was in the marines and for that period of time, her life was great. Her and her mum lived together in Jacksonville, in North Carolina. Missy was at school in the days, enjoying it. She was quite notably above average intelligence for people her age which meant she got accelerated not just one but two years above the rest of her class. Apparently, the acceleration made her feel very isolated and she didn’t like it so she deliberately failed until they moved her back down. Early signs of Missy finding ways to tell the system to get fucked. 

Her dad left the marines and the three of them – Missy was an only child – moved back to Virginia. Some of the things Missy had to go through in this next period of her life were pretty horrendous. The family lived in very real poverty often without running water. She remembers waking up one night with her dad beating her with a newspaper because he was trying to kill mice on her. The bigger issue though was that her dad was violent towards her mum, so much so that Missy wouldn’t stay at friends’ because she was worried if she did she would come back to find her mum dead. The culmination but also eventual freedom for Missy and her mum came when her dad actually pulled a gun on her during an argument and Missy escaped and ran to her Uncle’s house who came round and wrestled the gun off her dad. It was very bad. 

 

She also suffered sexual abuse for a year when she was only 8years old, by a cousin. So 8, you really don’t even know what you’re experiencing at that age which is why it went on for such a long time. 

 

With all the things she went through, listening to music was a powerful outlet for her and a way to escape. She had a big imagination and big dreams and these she held on to to transport her beyond her current situation. 

 

When she won an award recently, by the Songwriter’s hall of fame, she did shout out Virginia as her home town and so she definitely has processed what she went through very well and doesn’t look at her childhood with horror. 

 

In 1991, so when Missy was about 20 and had graduated high school, she formed an all female r&b group called Fayze. She became very focused on them getting a record deal and believed in their ability to do so. SO she hatched a little plan – they’d obviously been practising and crafting a lot and then when her favourite band came into town, which was an all male rnb group but who’s leader extended into signing bands. Fayze went to the gig dressed as Jodeci – used that and their charm to get backstage and perform for the group and it worked. They got signed and started recording under Devante Swing’s label. Devante who was part of Jodeci. 

 

So you know how most first jobs are rubbish. Like, you work so hard and try so hard in the interview to get in and then you finally land it and it’s just horrible. You’re treated badly, you end up spending 50% of your time making coffee, people are unwelcoming etc etc. It can be exactly the same way in for artists in the music business. Their first shot, their first record deal is actually not good in so many ways. For Fayze, who were renamed Sista, they were relocated to New York, where they lived in a single two-story house in New York with 16 other artists signed to Devante’s label. Fun lil fact for ya – one of those artists was Ginuwine who sang Pony.. if you want it… that song was produced by someone who also was in that house in New York who we will talk about shortly… 

 

And this all culminated in a moment when they were in the studio – they’d all been called in for an urgent meeting because tension was escalating. And the leader, Devante, came in ranting and throwing chairs around. His bodyguards were apparently getting right in the faces of the male artists encouraging them to start something, it was straight up aggression. That would not be a good situation for most people but for Missy who had gone through years of seeing the violence done to her mother it was too much. So after about 3years of trying to move her group forward, she walked out and went back home to her mums. 

 

But she didn’t walk out on music. She walked towards one of the other people she’d taken with her to Devante’s squad. A DJ and Producer she’d met, in high school and during her time with the group – someone called Tim Mosley

 

INSERT Timberland Intro… 3:10 of downloaded

 

You may not know who Tim Moseley was but you’d have to have been living under a rock to not know who he became. And that is Timbaland. Missy and Timbaland met and she describes them having a very natural and very special chemistry. Both as people and as creatives it was a completely harmonic relationship. With Timbaland, in the studio, Missy came back to music, away from the group.

 

So while you may know Missy as an artist, you may not know that she was really a producer for much of her career as well. When she left the group, her and Timbaland were signed as a production duo essentially and, I mean the number of influential names will only grow from this point by the way, the up and coming artist they were sent to work with on her second Album, was Aaliyah. 

 

Timbaland, alongside Missy herself, has produced the vast majority of Missy’s work and I don’t know if you listened to last week’s episode with Shireen but she raised that point about the importance of finding the right producer as an artist. Look at the career of J-Hus right now. Pretty much all his work has been produced by Jae5… What working with Timbaland meant for missy was that she was always working with beats that were infectious and she vibed off. It was creatively very enriching – she wasn’t being forced to work with sounds she didn’t want to- they got each other. And Missy is such a visionary that they both create in this very freeing way where they just make sounds and see if it’s moving them. It’s an art not a science. 

 

INSERT: “It was definitely god’s gift to put us together”

 

Before going down down deeper and down through Missy’s artist discography, I thought you may be interested to know she’s done a hell of a lot of work as a writer or producer for other artists. I already mentioned Aaliyah other artists, and i need to breath for this, include”, Diddy, Mariah Carey, MC Lyte, Raven of thats so Raven, Whitney Housten, the Soundtrack for Why do fools fall in love, Mary J Blige, TLC, Beyonce, she worked on the Honey soundtrack, co-wrote Ciara’s 1, 2 step, Fantasia, Lizzo, Monica, Keyshia Cole, Jennifer Hudson, Normani, Eminem, Janet Jackson and the Lady Marmalade cover with Pink, Mya, Christina Aguileraa and Lil Kim. 

 

OK, it’s time to talk about what Missy is most known for – her work as an artist and MC. While Lauryn Hill who we looked at last week, really created most of her most revered work on one album, Missy’s is really spread out. She’s released 6 studio albums in total, with singles and other work sitting around and outside of that. But we’ll start with number 1, Supa Dupa Fly. 

 

Missy’s experience in the group and this early dip into success came with a lot of negative stuff, so when she first returned to music, she was ready to just focus on production. There was the craziness of Jodeci and the aggression that I mentioned. But it was more than that. She was told essentially that she didn’t look like a star. That to be successful she needed to fit a certain package and she didn’t come in that package. She didn’t have a washboard stomach and she was only 5ft 1. And she said it was Mary J Blige who actually said to her screw em you don’t need to be anything different than what you are because you are very special. 

 

So when she released her first solo single, The Rain, off her first studio album, supa dupa fly, co-written and produced of course by timbaland she was so ready to show the world what mary j blige had said was true. Firstly in the lyrics she saying “Me I’m Supa Fly, supa dupa fly”, so confident, and then in the video she wears a giant bin bag! To make herself physically even bigger than what she was. And this was Missy arriving. In full confidence and power as a performer, and as an artist in all senses. If you haven’t seen that video and you dont know that song please go and listen to it because it was the launch of Missy as he fullest self. The other big MCs at that time were Lil Kim and Foxy Brown – both very credible rappers but they were also both very sexy, very raunchy. Missy was different, she was cooler, more casual. And there was something kinda fun in that.

 

This album was released in 1997 when missy was 26 and essentially she then had a very consistent stream of albums – releasing 5more over about 7 years or so. Because her discography is so expansive, I’ll call out some of the the highlights but obviously encourage having a dig yourself. 

 

Album Number 2: Da Real World (1999) – all songs produced by timbaland. The album also features Beyoncé, Eve, Eminem, Lady Saw, Da Brat, Aaliyah, Big Boi of OutKast, Lil’ Kim, MC Solaar, and Redman. So she was pro inviting other artists onto her records to level them up. This album was kinda sexyyy and you see more of rnb Missy ability. If you wanna check out 2x songs from the album I’d call out Hot Boyz which features Nas.. not the make-up brand as some of my friends thought i was talking about recently but the nasty notorious Nas, Evie eve, and Lil Mo, She’s a Bitch – the song, not lil mo and I’d also shout out the track with Lady Saw because she’s a dancehall artist and I love that vibe. The video for she’s a bitch is also a treat.  

 

Album Number 3: Miss E… So Addictive (2001)

Yooo so we’re onto album number 3. I am sorry by the way that I cannot play you these tunes – alas. Licensing. So this third album was the one that brought us Get Ur Freak on. Missy’s second Platinum selling single. It didn’t actually get to number 1 in the US or UK but its still played all the time so she still making money from that track. As Missy tells it, it was actually the last song on the album to get made and Timbo was convinced the album was done and ready and was frustrated at missy not letting go of the niggly feeling something was missing… He was messing around and ended up playing out do-dddd-do and it went from there. As always with Missy there was an epic video which had cameos from Nate Dogg, Eve, Busta Rhymes and Ja Rule. 

 

Album Number 4 are you still with me? Good, I’m gonna speed up a bit now. This next selection, Under Construction was the album that delivered Work It- another Platinum selling single. Album Number 5, released in 2003 was called This is not a Test and it included Pass that dutch and I’m really hot – pass that dutch is the song that features in the mean girls scene where lindsey lohan falls in a bin. 

 

Album Number 6, The Cookbook. Released in 2005, Missy is about 34 at this point and at time of release she said  “I really do think this is my best album. I was in a really great space with this album. I wasn’t in a great space with some of the other albums I’ve done.” The two stand out singles, in terms of fame and lastability from that album are We Run This and Lose Control ft. fatman scoop and ciara. This album was the first Timbaland wasn’t really heavily involved with but she did say she played him 8 songs when she was at the right place and he kinda resteered her so he was still a bestie and confidente in her process. 

 

So then what happened? After having these consecutive albums and releasing so much music, Missy went pretty quiet from a public facing artists perspective. In reality, there were, I guess a few things going on. ! was that she got really sick. Connected to that was that she got pretty exhausted from the relentlessness of that release promotion create release promote cycle. 

“You can be respected forever but you won’t be hot always”

 

Lessons from Missy

 

  1. Protect your energy when you’re creating 

She records alone, she spoke on Angie Martinez’ show about how you do weird things when your experimenting and creating and it just takes 1 person in the studio not to got it or to be like eh what’s that and you might scrap something BRILLIANT. She would be affected by this so rather than giving a weaker recording that’s her workaround.

 

2. Thank God first

3. Maintain your relationships – her relationships with Timbaland, with Mary J Blige, with Janet Jackson, they have served her her whole life. 

4. “Me and tim even … we didn’t listen to radio, we didn’t watch tv so you dont see, you dont hear, you don’t mimic” – Missy Elliott

Don’t mimic

5. Go beyond the music – visuals in video 

6. Be humble – she is still confused by her success and i am confused as to why she’s confused cos she’s a legend.

7. When you’re performing – keep your energy up the whole time

I think part of why Missy went quiet is because Missy couldn’t be FULL Missy Misdemeanor Elliott. She really believed she was blessed with gifts and it was her duty to deliver them to the world. To make her visions reality and share what she could create. 

 

Missy Elliott. Thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do, if any artists listening could vow to be more missy then we’ve got good music coming.

 

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