Missy Elliott - Biography
By Joanna Ricco
Missy Elliott is one of the most prolific female rappers to emerge from the American music industry. With six RIAA platinum certified albums to her credit, the rapper, producer, singer, songwriter, dancer, and actress has shown no lack of ambition and creativity since her debut into the entertainment arena.
Born Melissa Arnette Elliott on July 1, 1971 to Patricia and Ronnie Elliott in Portsmouth, Virginia, Missy enjoyed an active academic life and skipped ahead two grades in her elementary school. She soon felt out of place among the older kids in her class and took it upon herself to underachieve so as to be put back with classmates of her own age. School was the least of young Elliott’s troubles, though. As a young girl, she was raped repeatedly by an older cousin until a family member discovered the abuse nearly a year later. To make home life even more difficult, Elliott’s father Ronnie was physically abusive to her and her mother Patricia. When Elliott was 14-years-old, Patricia finally made the decision that they would leave Ronnie. Elliott has often referenced her mother’s decision to leave her father as a point of pride and motivation in her own adult life.
Elliott’s first foray into the music industry was in 1990 when she formed her first R&B group, Sista, along with three other girls. They soon brought in Elliott’s childhood friend Timothy Mosley, better known as Timbaland, as the group’s producer. Sista caught an opportunity to perform for DeVante Swing of Jodeci, which led to a deal with Elektra Records via the Swing Mob imprint. Melvin “Magoo” Barcliff joined the Sista crew and the whole outfit moved to New York to write, record, and produce with other Swing Mob artists including Ginuwine and Tweet. By 1995, Swing Mob folded and Elliott and Timbaland ventured out on their own, writing and producing for other artists including Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, and SWV.
After working in collaboration with other artists as a writer, producer, and guest vocalist, Elliott signed with East West Records, a division of Elektra, and then created her own imprint, Goldmind Inc., under which she recorded her first solo album, Supa Dupa Fly (EastWest) in 1997. The first single from the album, “The Rain,” was an immediate hit and Supa Dupa Fly was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 1998 Grammy Awards. The album did not take the award, but it did still garner platinum certification from the RIAA.
1999’s Da Real World (EastWest) found great success as well, selling three million copies worldwide. The album included the single “All N My Grill” with Nicole Wray and Outkast’s Big Boi. Her most major commercial radio success during this time came with the release of 2001’s Miss E...So Addictive (Elektra), which would established Elliott’s prowess as a solo artist and cultural icon. The singles to come from Miss E...So Addictive have become pop culture pillars, including “One Minute Man,” “Get Ur Freak On,” “4 My People,” and “Take Away.” Though not as commercially successful as the other singles, “Take Away” was the most personal for Elliott as it was a tribute to her late friend Aaliyah who had passed away shortly before its release. Singer Tweet also appeared on “Take Away” and Elliott later helped craft Tweet’s breakout single, “Oops (Oh My).” The collaboration between the two women led to a significant amount of speculation about their possible lesbian relationship. No confirmation was ever made by either woman.
Next, Elliott co-produced the hugely successful remake of “Lady Marmalade” (2001 Interscope) by Pink, Mya, Lil’ Kim, and Christina Aguilera for the Moulin Rouge! Soundtrack. The track went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2001. By 2002 Elliott was ready to try something a little bit different in the studio. She once again teamed up with Timbaland to create an album that was heavy on the old school and funk. Under Construction (2002 Elektra) was released with the singles “Work It” and “Gossip Folks,” which sampled Run DMC’s “Peter Piper” and Frankie Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus.” Under Construction currently holds its place as the best selling rap album by a woman, having sold over two million copies in the United States alone, and has been certified double platinum by the RIAA.
In 2003, Elliott released This Is Not a Test! (Elektra), but it did not fare as well as her prior work. She has often credited its lackluster reception to the fact that the album was not given enough time to be developed before release. The singles “Pass That Dutch” and “I'm Really Hot,” did get good airplay, but just could not shine as brightly as her previous work. In 2004, Elliott lent her vocals to Ciara’s hit single, “1, 2 Step,” and then moved on to creating a reality show for the UPN Network called The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott. She show only lasted one season and then Elliott was back in the studio to create a new album.
Following the paltry sales of This Is Not a Test!, Elliott decided to take a major risk and streamline her sound without the help of Timbaland on The Cookbook (Atlantic). Released in the summer of 2005, the single “Lose Control” became a summer jam and hit the Billboard Hot 100 at number three. “Lose Control” was nominated for six MTV VMA Awards that year, and took home two – one for Best Dance Video and one for Best Hip Hop Video. The song was also nominated for two Grammy Awards, winning the award for Best Short Form Video.
In 2006, Elliott put out her first greatest hits album, Respect M.E. (Atlantic), and followed up just over a year later with the release of the single “Ching-a-Ling” (2008 Atlantic) off of her forthcoming release Block Party (2010 Atlantic).