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Rap Biographies: Missy Elliott

Missy Elliott
No female rap artist paralleled the success of Missy Elliott, neither during her reign nor before, and none was more deserving. Unlike most of urban music's female superstars, Missy writes her own songs as well as performs them, and her creative wit in on a par with her stylish demeanor. In addition to her talent and showmanship, though, she established herself as a genuine hitmaker alongside her longtime producer, Timbaland.

Missy's amazing story really begins and ends with the music. And Missy wouldn't have it any other way. Missy Elliott has courageously been willing to stake her reputation on every beat, every scorching R&B groove, on every one of her albums.

What makes her accomplishments truly amazing is that Missy Elliott the superstar is, at the heart of it all, still just the shy little girl from Portsmouth, VA - a survivor of a childhood of domestic violence. Particularly, her father was abusive towards her mother. Missy has not shied away from talking about those painful memories. In fact, she was named spokesperson for Break The Cycle in 2003, an organization dedicated to helping young people break the chain of domestic abuse.

Missy Elliott (born Melissa Arnette Elliott on July 1, 1971) is an African-American singer, rapper, songwriter, and record producer. Elliott was originally known by as Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott. She dropped the "Misdemeanor" from her stage name in 2003, and now simply goes by "Missy Elliott".

Elliott was born in Portsmouth, Virginia. In the late-1980s, Elliott, LaShawn Shellman, Chonita Coleman and Radiah Scott formed an R&B group called Sista, for which Elliott served as a singer and songwriter. She recruited her neighborhood friend Timothy "DJ Timmy Tim" Mosley as the group's producer and began making demo tracks. In 1991, Sista caught the attention of Jodeci member/producer DeVante Swing by performing Jodeci songs acapella for him backstage after one of his group's concerts. In short order, Sista moved to New York City, now signed to Elektra Records through DeVante's Swing Mob imprint. Elliott took along with her Mosley, whom DeVante re-christened Timbaland, and their friend Melvin "Magoo" Barcliff.

All 100-plus members of the Swing Mob, among them future stars such as Ginuwine, Playa, and Tweet, lived in a single two-storey house in New York and were often at work on material both for Jodeci and for their own projects. Elliott contributed songwriting duties, both credited and uncredited, to the final two Jodeci albums: 1993's Diary of a Mad Band and 1995's The Show, The After Party, The Hotel. Timbaland and DeVante produced a Sista LP, 4 All the Sistas Around the World, which was completed in 1994 but was shelved and never released. By 1995, Swing Mob had folded and many of its members dispersed; Elliott, Timbaland, Magoo, Ginuwine, and Playa remained together, and would collaborate on each others' records for the rest of the decade.

After leaving Swing Mob, Elliott and Timbaland began working together as an independent songwriting/production team, and the two of them crafted hit singles for a number of artists between 1995 to 1997. Among these acts were SWV ("Can We?") and 702 ("Steelo" and its remix), but the most notable of them was Aaliyah. Elliott and Timbaland wrote and produced nine tracks for Aaliyah's second album, One in a Million (1996), among them the hit singles "If Your Girl Only Knew", "One in a Million", "Hot Like Fire", and "4 Page Letter". Elliott also contributed background vocals and/or guest raps to nearly all of the tracks on which she and Timbaland worked. One in a Million went double-platinum and made stars out of the production duo. Elliott and Timbaland continued to work together for other artists, later creating hits for artists such as Total ("What About Us", 1997), Nicole Wray ("Make It Hot", 1998), and Destiny's Child ("Get on the Bus", 1998), as well as one final hit for Aaliyah, "I Care 4 U", before her 2001 death.

As an ensemble rapper, Elliott began her career as a featured vocalist on Gina Thompson's, "The Things You Do" and MC Lyte's 1996 single "Cold Rock a Party", both of which were produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs; Combs had hoped to sign Elliott to Bad Boy Records. She instead signed a deal with Elektra Records in 1996 to create her own imprint, The Goldmind Inc., for which she would record as a solo artist. Timbaland was again recruited as her production partner, a role he would hold for every Elliott solo release.

Over a decade after she first began offering songwriting and production services, Missy Elliott is still as widely recognized and respected by her peers, mainstream and underground, as ever. Most recently, Elliott provided production work to Ciara and was a featured rapper on Ciara's second single, a Jazze Pha production, "1, 2 Step".

With UPN, Missy started her own reality show, The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott. Although the series never made impressive ratings, it did maintain a solid audience. The winner, Jessica Betts, plans to release her album in 2006.

Her debut album, released in mid-1997, was Supa Dupa Fly, which included "Da Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)", a blockbuster hit that established Missy as a major force in popular music. Other singles included "Beep Me 911," which featured 702, Timbaland, and Magoo; "Hit 'Em wit da Hee," featuring rapper Mocha and Lil' Kim and Timbaland; and "Sock It 2 Me," a moderate hit which featured rhymes from Da Brat and a cameo by Lil' Kim in the Mega Man-inspired music video. The critical acceptance of Supa Dupa Fly was mixed, though generally positive; many critics commented that the album tracks, some of which sampled Missy / Mosley hits such as "Can We" and "One in a Million", were far inferior to the singles. 1997 also saw Elliott perform on Lil Kim's girl-power anthem, a hit remix of her song, "Not Tonight". The song's remix also featured Da Brat, Angie Martinez and Left Eye, in addition to Lil Kim and Elliott; the five women performed it live at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards show.

In 1998, Elliott continued her successful music career by writing and producing Total's single "Trippin'", as well as working with several others in the hip-hop and R&B communities. The same year, Elliott produced and contributed background vocals and some rhymes to former Spice Girl Mel B's, debut single, "I Want You Back".

Elliott's second album was just as successful as the first. Da Real World (1999, see 1999 in music) included the singles "All N My Grill," a collaboration with Nicole Wray and Big Boi (from OutKast), "Hot Boyz" and "She's a Bitch".

Elliott next released Miss E... So Addictive in 2001 (see 2001 in music). That album produced the massive pop and urban hits "One Minute Man," featuring Ludacris and Trina, and "Get Ur Freak On", as well as the international club hit "4 My People" and the less commercially-successful single "Take Away," which featured soulful melodies from Ginuwine and a then-unknown Tweet, who was Elliott's most recent protege and labelmate at the time.

For "Get Ur Freak On", an unusual remix was released to radio in addition to the original version of the song. The remix combined scat-singing from Nelly Furtado with Elliott's original rapping. The remix performed just as successfully as the original and was the version which was heard both in the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider that year and on its soundtrack.

The double music video for "Take Away/4 My People" was released in the fall of 2001, shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the tragic death of Elliott's good friend Aaliyah. The "Take Away" part of the video, which was its majority, contained images of and words about Aaliyah, and the slow ballad acted as a tribute to her memory. The remainder of the video, the more upbeat "4 My People", contained scenes of people dancing happily in front of American flags and Elliott dressed in red, white and blue. Though "Take Away" flopped at radio, "4 My People" went on to become an American and European club hit due to a popular techno Basement Jaxx remix in 2002.

Tweet's appearance on Elliott's "Take Away" as well as her cameo at Elliott's house on MTV Cribs helped to create a buzz about the new R&B singer. Tweet's own debut single, "Oops (Oh My)", was co-written by Elliott and released through Goldmind in February 2002. The single was a top ten hit, thanks partially to Elliott's songwriting and guest rap, and to Timbaland's unusual production on the track. Tweet and Elliott's numerous collaborations and public appearances together during this time also began to fuel media rumors that the two were having a secret lesbian tryst, one of many media rumors about Elliott that she herself would address in her subsequent work.

Elliott's fourth album, 2002's Under Construction (see 2002 in music), included the singles "Work It", Elliott's biggest hit to date, and the successful duet with Ludacris, "Gossip Folks." In the latter, Elliott let her critics know what she thought of recent media rumors about her, including her rapid weight loss that had taken place during 2002 and her alleged affairs with Timbaland, Tweet, and Trina. As the "Work It" video had done during 2002, "Gossip Folks" became one of the most-played music videos on MTV, MTV2, MTV Jams, and BET in 2003. Both videos were also incredibly successful relative to other rap videos on both VH1 and VH1 Soul, which tend to play Hot AC videos and R&B videos respectively. "Gossip Folks" received significantly less attention than "Work It" at urban radio, but was embraced by the dance community, as well as the mainstream, due to a Fatboy Slim remix. Although not released as single and with no video, "Pussycat", peaked at #77 on the Hot 100. Interestingly, the song's title did cause considerable controversy so that Billboard was forced to list the song in its charts as "P***ycat."

Under Construction also included a track called "Back In The Day", a nostalgic ode to old school hip hop music and fashion that featured guest vocals from Jay-Z and Tweet. A video was shot and an article on MTV.com was posted, but the video was never released.

Early 2003, Elliott produced the "American Dream Remix" (featuring Tweet's additional vocals) of Madonna's single "American Life". In the summer of 2003, Elliott was the featured rapper on Timbaland & Magoo's long-awaited return single, "Cop That Disc"; the song was a modest hit at urban radio.

Elliott's singles, "Pass That Dutch" and "I'm Really Hot", from her fifth album, This Is Not A Test! (released November 2003), both rose the urban charts. However, both were not as successful at pop radio in comparison to many of her previous efforts. Also in 2003, Elliott was featured on Wyclef Jean's "Party To Damascus" and Ghostface Killah's "Tush" singles, the latter of which became a minor 2004 dance hit, and had a pivotal role in the motion picture Honey, starring Jessica Alba. The Gap approached Elliott later in the year to co-star in a commercial with Madonna, which received much media attention GAP Advert. Elliott furthered her relationship with the Material Girl by performing the controversial 2003 MTV Video Music Awards show opening alongside Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

In 2004, Elliot was featured on Ciara's smash single "1,2 Step" with her verse interpolating Teena Marie 's smash hit, "Square Biz". The two soon became close friends and rumors began to spread of a lesbian relationship between the duo and also between Elliot and America's Next Top Model winner Eva Pigford, which all denied.

For Missy, music was the escape hatch, her path to achieving the kind of dreams not even she imagined. Ironically, the approach to her fifth album, This Is Not A Test, was to set aside all prior achievements, and free herself of any pre-conceived notions as to what the album should sound like. Her goal, as always, was to make a 'home' in the only place where, as she says, all those trophies and accolades don't matter: the recording studio. I'm grateful for every award I have received. They really are like a dream. But the studio is where I feel most comfortable. I realized you can't worry about what you did last year. I said to Timbaland 'Let's just do it.' You have to get in the mind frame where you're not trying to out-do yourself. But I really felt most comfortable approaching this album. The studio is where I find my peace.

It's also no secret that Missy has paid a considerable amount of homage in her career to the 'old school' hip hop that she feels has sometimes been neglected by the younger generation. One of the main reasons Missy has remained compelling all these years is that she's brave enough to keep her audience guessing.

Her sixth solo album, The Cookbook was released in July 2005 and debuted at number two on the US charts. Its first single, "Lose Control", which featured Ciara and Fatman Scoop, became a Top 10 hit in the early summer (peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 100), and the other album tracks featured guest appearances from Mike Jones, Fantasia, M.I.A, Slick Rick, Mary J. Blige, and Pharrell Williams. The video for "Lose Control" garnered Elliott six 2005 MTV VMA award nominations, ultimately winning two awards in the categories Best Dance Video and Best Hip-Hop Video in August. After the VMA's, Missy released "Teary Eyed" which never saw chart action although the video charted on MTV's Total Request Live for a few weeks, and BET's 106 & Park for a few days.

In early September, Missy tore her Achilles tendon while shooting the music video for her song "We Run This", requiring surgery and a long recovery, thus dampening promotion efforts for The Cookbook. In November 2005, Elliot won Best Female Hip Hop Artist at the 2005 American Music Awards, defeating colleagues Lil' Kim and Trina. Also in November, Missy's remixed version of Ashlee Simpson's "L.O.V.E." (from her sophomore effort, I Am Me) was included on the CD single.

Elliot premiered her own reality show on the UPN Network, The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott in mid-2005. Although the series never made impressive ratings, it did maintain a solid audience. The winner, Jessica Betts, plans to release her album in 2006.

In December, Missy was nominated for 5 Grammy Awards, including two for "Lose Control" (Best Short From Video and Best Rap Song), one for The Cookbook (Best Rap Album), one for writing Fantasia's "Free Yourself" (Best R&B Song), and one for "1,2 Step" with Ciara (Best Rap/Sung Collaboration). Missy was also just recently been nominated for Best International Female Artist at this years Brit Awards.

In early 2006, Elliott's single and video for "We Run This" was released with heavy airplay on VH1, MTV, and BET. It also will be featured on the soundtrack to the gymnastics-themed film Stick It. As for future releases in 2006, Missy stated she'll be putting out a Greatest Hits record with 3 new tracks. British merchandise giant HMV has the album, entitled "Respect Me Best of," being released September 9 with the single "123" being available for purchase June 5.
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