Missy Elliott opens up about writing for Aaliyah, Beyoncé and more
“When I heard Bey singing the verses, I was like, ‘Oh they finna go far,’” she told Billboard during a recent interview about working with Destiny's Child.
Missy Elliott built a hip hop and R&B empire by singing and rapping catchy tunes, but she also wrote and produced some of pop’s most memorable tunes, thus earning her a nomination for the 2019 Songwriters Hall of Fame—a prestigious organization which honors and inducts a slate of songwriters each year who are voted on by the membership and unveiled at an awards gala, according to Billboard.
Recently, she sat down with Billboard to discuss some of her greatest hits and the experience she had writing for big names in the business, including Aaliyah’s One in a Million, the song and the album, and Destiny Child’s “Confessions,” on the group’s sophomore album The Writing’s on the Wall, which catapulted them into pop stars. Elliott also wrote “Where My Girls At?” for the group 702 and “Hot Boyz,” one of Elliott’s hits featuring Nas, Eve and Q-Tip.
Below is how the award-winning artist dissects a few of her hit songs, according to Billboard:
AALIYAH, “ONE IN A MILLION”
After Aaliyah’s hit 1994 debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, Missy and Timbaland were chosen to work on one song with the R&B songstress. Instead, they ended up working on eight and One In a Million — the song and the album — were created.
“I was scared. I don’t know if Tim was scared when we first played it because it was a different sound. It was a different way to attack records because people were really singing then; that world of rap-singing didn’t really exist,” Elliott explained to Billboard. “Because I wasn’t really a singer like that, that’s why I wrote like that, because I was a rapper, but I didn’t know how to do a bunch of runs, so every record that I would attack, I would attack it like I’m rap-singing it.”
Aaliyah loved the duo’s unique style and would form a close bond with the writers/producers.
Elliott and Timbaland followed up One In a Million with Aaliyah, the album released a month before the artist died in 2001.
In retrospect, Elliott told Billboard that although One In a Million would prove to be a hit, initially radio stations weren’t feeling the song.
″(Radio) said they couldn’t blend it in, they couldn’t mix it in with records before it or after it because the cadence hadn’t been done before,” Elliott said. “And so somehow, I think her uncle spoke to some people and they end up playing it. I know (Funkmaster) Flex was one of the first people to break that record in New York. …It was a headache at first.”
DESTINY’S CHILD, “CONFESSIONS”
When Elliott worked on Destiny’s Child’s song, “Confessions,” from The Writing’s on the Wall album, she instantly knew she was working with a pop superstar.
“They all had something special. And Beyoncé, she knew exactly how to attack a record,” Elliott told Billboard. “When I heard Bey singing the verses, I was like, ‘Oh they finna go far.’”
Additionally, the song about a woman cheating on her partner and confessing the truth was before its time. “… when I think back on it … you rarely get women having to confess. It’s always the guy who ends up having to confess,” Elliott explained. “That was a different kind of twist for a female to be like, ‘Look, I basically kicked it with Mike when you was gone, this went down and that went down.’”
MISSY ELLIOTT featuring NAS, EVE and Q-TIP, “Hot Boyz”
Another catchy tune that Elliott said radio didn’t want to play at first was the hit, “Hot Boyz.”
Although the song set a record after spending 18 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s rap songs chart, Elliott said she remembers “one of the stations in L.A. was the first to pull it,” she said. “And something happened, I can’t tell you what happened, but whatever happened, it ended up back at the stations … and it ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records.”
Elliott told Billboard that the edgy song, which featured rappers Nas, Eve and Q-Tip, was one that she wanted to be a bit for male fans as well as her die-hard female followers.
“I want guys to feel like they could ride around and listen to this because the beat was so hard. This beat feel like all the male rappers would want to get on this joint right here,” she said.
702, “WHERE MY GIRLS AT?”
702′s female empowerment anthem, “Where My Girls At?” reached No. 4 on the Hot 100 chart in 1999, although Elliott initially wrote the anthem for TLC.
“Lisa (“Left Eye” Lopes) really wanted it, she really wanted that record, but I guess, if it’s two against one (what can you do?)” Elliott said. “So I ended up giving that record to 702, which was cool because they were a group. I knew whoever had it, I wanted it to be going to a group.”
It ended up being one of the biggest songs of 1999, ranking No. 11 by Billboard.
MISSY ELLIOTT, “GET UR FREAK ON”
And who could ever forget Elliott’s hit “Get Ur Freak On,” on her third album, “Miss E… So Addictive,” an album in which Elliott created most of the music. Still, before creating the memorable tune, Elliott felt like something was missing something.
Timbaland thought the album was complete and was getting frustrated.
“By this time, he’s annoyed,” Elliott told Billboard. “He just happened to be in front of the keyboard and he starts just pressing the buttons on the keyboard but he when was doing it, he was mad. He begins to create around this sound.”
That high energy vibe would later become “Get Ur Freak On,” the album’s first single and an incredible hit for Elliott. It even won the best rap solo performance Grammy, beating out Jay-Z, DMX and Nelly.
“I’m always a headache to Timbaland. He has to take vacations after we’re done with my album because I stress him out,” Elliott told the magazine.
The amped out music video matched the song’s energy, featuring cameos by Ludacris, LL Cool J, Eve, Busta Rhymes, Master P, Ja Rule and the late Nate Dogg.
MISSY ELLIOTT, “THE RAIN (SUPA DUPA FLY)”
“I can’t stand the rain … in my window,” Elliott sings in her debut single, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” which continues to hold a spot as one of the most unique and creative songs of all-time.
Elliott said she only wrote and performed the song, along with her first album, as an agreement to get her own label so she could sign and produce artists of her choosing.
“Of course, those were my smoke days, you can tell by the first line. I just went in and I just said whatever I felt,” Elliott told Billboard.
“Back then, there was no expectation, so it wasn’t like I had to really think and say, ’OK, I have to make something better than what I did the last time. This was my first time going in, so it was like, whatever the music made me feel, I said it,” she said.
Elliott and Timbaland wrapped up 1997’s platinum-selling album in two weeks.