Here’s why Missy Elliott is hip-hop’s GOAT￼
OPINION: As the music legend's debut album ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ turns 25 next month, here’s proof that Missy Elliott is the best hip-hop artist ever.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott is the greatest hip-hop artist of all time.
Now that you’ve let that statement sink in, allow me to elaborate.
Pay close attention to the word I’m choosing to use: “artist.” I am not, I repeat, I am not saying that Missy Elliott is the greatest rapper of all time. That is an altogether different thing and issue to deal with.
When I say hip-hop artist, I’m not just talking about the art of being an MC. Being an MC, a great one certainly takes a tremendous amount of artistry and virtuosity. Look at Rakim, Lauryn Hill, The Roots’ Black Thought, Queen Latifah and many others.
What I’m speaking of is a force of all-encompassing greatness. Someone adept at rapping, singing, writing, producing, performing, creating and releasing outstanding records and albums, and doing each at a high level over an extended period.
With this in mind, I contend that Missy Elliott is the GOAT hip-hop artist. Allow me to make my case.
As alluded to before, Missy checks many boxes. She can do almost everything and do them all well. The Black musical polymath is notorious in the history of American culture. Sammy Davis Jr. was a dancer, singer, percussionist, actor, and comedian. Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Lenny Kravitz are among those who sang, wrote, produced, arranged, and played all the instruments on their records.
Hip-hop also has its fair share of multi-hyphenates. Kanye West became the most polarizing artist today thanks to his ability to rap and produce records, following the lineage of Pete Rock, J Dilla, and the RZA. Missy Elliott is the ultimate queen of all trades.
While not as lyrical a rapper as a Hill or an MC Lyte, Missy is a singular force as an MC. Her basket of flows is severely mixed, going from the unorthodox stop-and-stop flow of “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” to a more rapid-fire approach employed on songs like “Lick Shots.” Her idiosyncratic usage of onomatopoeias, best exemplified in her verse on Gina Thompson’s “The Things You Do Bad Boy remix,” illustrates how she uses her voice as an instrument.
Many people give Drake and Kanye West a lot of credit for inspiring many rappers to sing or incorporate melody into their rhyming. But Missy was making hits rapping and singing more than a decade before. When you listen to “Hot Boyz” and “One Minute Man,” for instance, it’s evident that her singing isn’t used as a mechanism to smooth out the track to make it more palatable. It contributes to making these hip-hop records as edgy as they are.
Missy’s ability as a writer is inarguable. Her pen game for her solo material is vast and impeccable, and I’m not just talking about her verses. Her uncanny knack for writing hooks like Jay-Z’s “Is That Your Chick,” as well as songs like Aaliyah’s “One in a Million” and 702’s “Where My Girls At” brought R&B to the pop charts. She became the first female rapper and third rapper overall to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Missy’s collaboration with producer Timbaland has been prodigious, to say the least. While Timbaland has created most of the beats for her, Missy’s acumen as a producer is also well documented. She’s behind the boards, making hit records for 702, Keyshia Cole, Jazmine Sullivan and SWV.
When hip-hop phased out the idea of rappers dancing, Missy stepped out of the convention. Her reintroduction of rappers dancing in videos like “Gossip Folks,” “Work It,” and “She’s a B—h” proved to be a radical change that has now manifested itself as an inspiring agent for Megan Thee Stallion and Latto to bring choreography back to rap.
What sets Missy Elliott apart from her peers is that she embodies both the traditional and the futuristic. Her sense of style in her clothing and rap delivery harkens back to the golden age of hip-hop. She uses breakdancers in her videos. When she dons outfits with airbrushed images of Aaliyah, it’s a call back to acts like LL Cool J and Bell Biv DeVoe’s wardrobe from the Shirt Kings, as well as a homage to graffiti writers.
Missy’s rap cadence, schemes and lyricism is an evolution of the slick-talking forefather MCs like Busy Bee and Grandmaster Caz.
Her artistry utilizes Afrofuturism, evident in her progressive music videos. The imagery she incorporates in the visuals for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” “She’s a Bitch,” “Get Ur Freak On,” “Sock it to Me,” and so on, carries on the lineage of visionaries like Sun Ra, George Clinton, and Afrika Bambaataa.
Longevity is what separates great artists from legends. Missy became the first female rapper to have six platinum-certified albums. Commercial success aside, Missy achieved longevity because she mastered the art of reinvention. With each new album, Missy restarts and comes back with a new image and sound, from the quirkiness of Supa Dupa Fly to the brooding darkness of Da Real World, to the worldly influences of Miss E…So Addictive, and so on.
She stands shoulder to shoulder with artists like Michael and Janet Jackson, Prince, David Bowie, Madonna, Kanye West, and Miles Davis. They use themselves as a canvas for change within themselves and, thus, everyone else.
Missy’s impact on hip hop is immeasurable. Fat Joe said she was an inspiring agent for his biggest hit, Terror Squad’s “Lean Back.” The Lox confirmed that she was an uncredited co-producer and A&R for the 1997 smash, “All About the Benjamins.” She was able to own and express sensuality without making herself an object.
She took the negative connotation of Black women being called a “b—h” and turned it on its head. She made it commonplace to have multiple eclectic artists as album guests. She could have Redman, Juvenile, Eminem, Nas, Big Boi and Lady Saw on the same album, paving the way for artists like Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Kanye West and others to get dynamic with their features.
No more needs to be said. Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott’s is the GOAT hip-hop artist.
Matthew Allen is a Brooklyn-based TV producer, director and award-winning music journalist. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.
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