Elliott, Missy “Misdemeanor” 1971
Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott 1971–
Singer, composer, producer
As a singer/rapper, songwriter, arranger, and producer with three successful albums under her belt, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott has taken the recording industry by storm. The head of her own record label, Elliott has become known for her versatility and originality. “Missy is one of those talented artists who always finds a way to reinvent herself,” Sean R. Taylor, music director for WQHT in New York, told Billboard. “Her music is always pounding, moving, vibrant.”
Melissa Elliott was born in Portsmouth, Virginia. Her earliest musical experiences were with a church choir. Elliott knew at an early age that she was going to be a star, and 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 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.
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 Interview. “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 accumulated in the recording industry, Elliott remained a little star-struck by the artists who used to be just voices on records. Whitney Houston once called her, and, she told Interview, “when I got off the phone I screamed so loud.” Elliott’s feet remained firmly planted on the ground, however, and often signed autographs patiently for the fans who recognize her on the streets of Manhattan. More significantly, Elliott has courageously made public her father’s physical abuse of her mother and her own sexual abuse at the hands of a cousin. For her, speaking out publicly was a way of taking control of a past that had previously controlled her, as
Born Melissa Elliott in 1971, in Portsmouth, VA.
Career: Auditioned with group Sista for Devante Swing of Jodeci, 1991; with partner Timbaland, began writing and producing 1992; Sista cut first and only album, Brand New, 1995; wrote seven tracks for Aaliyah’s One In A Million, 1996; received major songwriting, recording and production deal, including a label of her own from Elektra Entertainment, 1996; worked with Jodeci, Raven-Symone, 702, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Paula Cole, Scary Spice, and Nicole; released debut solo album, Supa Dupa Fly, 1997; Da Real Life, 1999; Missy E…. So Addictive, 2001.
Addresses: Record company—East-West Records, Elektra Entertainment Group, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, NY 10019. Fan club-Missy Elliott Fan Club, c/o Gejel Enterprise, P.O. Box 923, Temple Hills, MD 20757.
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.com. “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 then formed a production team at the company with Timbaland, a childhood friend, and began writing songs for artists such as Jodeci, Raven-Symone, and 702. Timbaland produced the records. It was a combination that worked. “When we come together, we are able to be a lot more creative because there are no bars,” Elliott told the New York Times Upfront. “We’re just, ‘Let’s do it,’ instead of worrying about what people might say.”
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.com. One call came from the late 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-year-old, 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 Essence.
Elliott has since worked with a number of other superstar singers, including Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Paula Cole, and Scary Spice. In addition to writing, arranging and producing, Elliott began making guest appearances, notably on Gina Thompson’s “The Things You Do,” in which she displayed her infectious laughter and did a one-of-a-kind slide. “That one caused people to start coming up to me on the street and say ‘Ain’t you the ‘Hee Ha’ girl?,’” she told Imusic.com. “They don’t even know my name and they’ll say, ‘Hee Ha girl, do that slide across the floor.’”
Michael Musto asked Elliott in Interview 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.”
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.com. “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.com, “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 Interview. “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.
Elliott stepped back out of the spotlight in 2000, concentrating on her record label. With releases from Gold Mind artists T.C., Mocha, and Nicole slated for release that year, Elliott found herself busy overseeing these new projects. “These are my babies,” Elliott said in Billboard. “I’m very proud of the work they’re doing; they’re kicking it hard.”
For the 2001 film Moulin Rouge, Elliott produced and was briefly featured in a cover of Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade.” Performed by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, and Pink, the song was an instant hit. The video for the song went into heavy rotation, and won both the Best Video from a Film and Video of the Year awards at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Also in 2001, Elliott released her third album, Missy E…. So Addictive. Dimitri Ehrlich, Interview’s Music Editor at Large, said that the album served “up frenetic, freaky soundscapes that seem to have no precedent anywhere.” The album’s first single, “Get Ur Freak On,” featured, according to Gareth Thomas of Music & Media, “a hypnotic, looped riff that sticks in your head.” Pop singer Nelly Fertado appeared on the remixed version, much to Elliott’s delight. “People are going to bug out when they hear it,” Elliott enthused in Billboard.
Produced by Timbaland, the album also included several collaborations. “One Minute Man,” the album’s second single featured Jay-Z and Ludacris on two separate versions. On “This Is for My People,” rising rap star Eve added, according to Billboard’s Marci Kenon, “an out of character flow on the hot techno number.” R&B singer Ginuwine appeared on “Take Away” and gospel singers Kim Burrell, Yolanda Adams, and Mary Mary joined Elliott on the inspirational “I’m Moving On.” Elliott was accompanied by Redman and Method Man on “Dog in Heat.” “They can always add party to a track,” Elliott told Billboard. “There’s something about both their voices that gives energy to a track.”
Elliott’s artistic success was reflected in the prices she has been able to command for her services. Earning six-figure checks for single tracks, Elliott has used her wealth to buy three Mercedes Benzes, a Cadillac SUV, a Lexus, and a Jaguar XK8. She has also lavished gifts, including flowers, minks, and cash, on her mother with whom she remained very close. She was even building a small mansion in Portsmouth for the two of them. She has invested part of her fortune in her own lipstick brand, Misdemeanor Lipstick, produced by a cosmetic company headed by former super-model Iman. Part of the profits from the product go to Break the Cycle, a group that helps victims of domestic violence.
While already spending mornings in meetings at her label and afternoons and evenings in the studio, Elliott intended to continue expanding her activities. She has done ads for Gap and Sprite, made television appearances, and hoped to break into movies. “It ain’t easy but I’ve got goals in life. And I’m going to step forth and do all of them,” she told Essence. But with her music, Elliott remained committed to creating something fresh and new. “Once you make an impact on the world you kinda gotta come back and make sure your new music don’t really sound like the last time,” Elliott told Interview. “I’m never scared to try whatever,” she later added, “and I feel that’s what people like me for, for doing something different.”
Brand New, Elektra, 1995.
Supa Dupa Fly, East-West, 1997.
Da Real World, East-West, 1999.
Miss E… So Addictive, 2001.
Contemporary Musicians, Volume 30. Gale Group, 2001.
Billboard, March 11, 2000; April 14, 2001.
Dallas Morning News, September 7, 2001.
Essence, March, 2000.
Interview, June, 1999; May 2001.
Music & Media, April 28, 2001.
New York Times Upfront, May 14, 2001.
All Music Guide, http://allmusicguide.com (September 21, 2001).
Biography Resource Center, Gale, 2001, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC.
Elektra Records, http://missy-elliott.com (September 18, 2000).
Imusic, http://imusic.com/showcase/urban/missy.html (September 18, 2000).
MTV Online, http://www.mtv.com/sendme.tin?page=/news/gallery/m/missyfeature99.html (September 18, 2000).
—Evelyn Hauser and Jennifer M. York
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