Published Mar 19, 2019Missy Elliott is a creative firestarter. To date, the award-winning rapper, singer, dancer, producer and tastemaker born Melissa Arnette Elliott is the only female rapper to have six albums with platinum sales — and in 2019, the Virginia native became the first female rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The polymath artist has defined the look, sound and energy of modern musical genre over the course of nearly three decades, and next week, our full Timeline of her career will hit Exclaim.ca.
Until then, here are five noteworthy facts you might not know about the tastemaker, pulled from the pages of the magazine.
1. She got her start as part of '90s R&B group Sista with now longtime friend/collaborator Timbaland as their producer.
Missy's penchant for singing would blossom in the later years of high school, where she formed an R&B group. The group would be named Fayze, later changed to Sista, and featured three school friends — La'Shawn Shellman, Chonita Coleman and Radiah Scott — and a childhood friend and emerging producer named Timothy Mosley, also known as Timbaland. "Missy would come over to the house to see Tim when they were teenagers," Timbaland's mother, Leatrice Pierre tells VIBE in 2004. "They were working diligently on their music upstairs, every weekend, sometimes in the evenings. Missy used to say to me, "We're going to keep working on it until we get to the top."
2. Standing at 5'2" and being a fuller-figured woman meant that industry execs preferred that Elliott stuck to songwriting and producing instead of rapping. She almost quit trying to be a star as a result.
In 1993, "That's What Little Girls Are Made Of," the debut mainstream single from Raven-Symoné is released. Written and produced by Elliott — credited as Melissa Elliott — the song features a rap verse performed by her, but the music video features a thinner and lighter skinned actress who lip-syncs the part.
On VH1's "Behind the Music," Elliott recalls she was not informed of the video shoot; it was later explained she "didn't quite fit the image that we were looking for." According to a 2017 feature with Elle, the rejection was so painful that Elliott temporarily gave up on trying to be a star and devoted herself to songwriting: "It was hard, because at the time it was all about females who were half-clothed," Elliott says in a 2003 interview with the New York Daily News. Elliott notes in the interview that she ultimately decided to lose some weight, but for personal and health reasons; not industry conformity.
3. She claims to have gotten her trademark rapping style and "hee-hee-hee-hee-how" rap flow from watching cartoons as a child.
"I get my style from cartoons on TV. Like, if I'm watching The Flintstones, I listen to how they stop the car with their feet — and I'll make the same noise," she tells VIBE in 1996.
4. Elliott's 1999 Album Da Real World was originally titled She's a Bitch.
Despite an innovative look and style that transcends genre and gender, detractors note her lyrical content — which contains liberal amounts of profanity, including use of the word "bitch" — mark her as a negative force in hip-hop.
"A bitch is what the call a woman who knows what she wants," Elliott counters in a 1999 interview with Ebony. "Females in this business aren't taken as seriously as we should be."
5. According to Elliott, producing music is an intensely personal process, one that she would rather do alone.
As a producer, Elliott tells Billboard in 2015 that she takes a personal and insular approach to making music: I never record in front of anybody…[even Timbaland] has never seen me record a day in his life."