Missy Elliott is easily one of the most influential people in the music industry, with a career that’s spanned more decades. Quite simply, she is a force to be reckoned with. With dozens of producer and composer credits to her name, as well as a plethora of accolades and awards, Elliott has blazed a trail for women in rap, showcasing her creativity, authenticity, and all-out genius along the way. Elliott has proven time and time again that she can hold her own among the best of them and can completely dazzle when she takes the stage.
Although it’s downright impossible to imagine what rap and hip hop would look like today without her influence, Elliott didn’t come into this world proudly sporting a blinged-out necklace proclaiming her iconic status. Rather, to understand how she evolved from a young girl in a harsh world to music industry royalty, you’ll have to wind your clock back to Virginia in the early 1970s. That’s where the stunning transformation of Missy Elliott began.
Missy Elliott always knew she would be a superstar
When Missy Elliott was born, she was not an heir to music industry royalty. In fact, she didn’t she have much of anything handed to her. Rather, she was the only child of Patricia and Ronnie Elliott, a dispatcher for a power company and a former marine, respectively. But despite her humble origins, Elliott always knew she was destined for greatness, something she proclaimed to her class when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. “It would come to me, and I would be like, ‘I’m going to be a superstar!’ And the whole class would bust out laughing,” she recalled in an interview with Elle. “But every Friday I would say the same thing. And I would watch them change to different things.”
The laughter of her classmates didn’t deter her, and she never wavered in her ambitions. “But I was like, ‘I’m going to be a superstar,'” she continued. “So when I would get in my room, it was like, if y’all don’t see it, I’m going to create it myself.” And create it she did.
Missy Elliott survived childhood traumas
Missy Elliott’s father was a very violent man, and he regularly beat Elliott’s mother in front of her. And although he only hit Elliott once, he was also abusive to her in other horrifying ways. Once “he pulled a gun on us and forced us both outside naked,” Elliott shared in an interview with The Guardian. “He was crazy like that. I lived in constant fear.” That’s terrifying.
Elliott learned how to cope with the abuse early on by retreating to her room and losing herself in music, performing for her dolls and sending letters to her favorite artists. “I had friends but I never stayed at anyone’s house because I was scared that I would come home and find my mother dead,” she continued. “I remember seeing my mother crouched in the corner with her arm out of its socket. There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think about it all.”
On top of that, Elliott was also molested by a family member when she was 8 years old (via Spin). Eventually, both Elliott and her mother were able to find safety.
Missy Elliott met Timbaland and Pharrell Williams in high school
Missy Elliott’s ascent into super-stardom first kicked into gear when she was introduced to fellow legends in the making Timbaland and Pharrell Williams in high school. The three of them would hang out and work on music together, and found a rhythm despite how different they were from one another. “Tim was very quiet. Pharrell was way on planet Mars. And, you know, I was just whatever,” she revealed in an interview with Elle. “I was kind of crazy. But for whatever reason, we all understood each other.”
At that time, Elliott was also in an all-girl group called Fayze (later renamed Sista, produced by Timbaland), which eventually caught the attention of singer-producer Devante, according to an article in The Guardian. He invited the group to cut a record in New York, an offer they were glad to accept. Unfortunately, the band fell apart in the studio, and dissolved before their career had a chance to mature. But plenty of bigwigs took notice of the songwriting talents of Elliott and Timbaland, whose creative partnership was about to kick into high gear.
Missy Elliott had her own record label by age 24
After the dissolution of Sista, it didn’t take long for word about the songwriting talents of Missy Elliott and Timbaland to get noticed by people in high places. That’s mainly due to the work the pair did on the late singer Aaliyah’s 1996 double-platinum album One in a Million, which has been heralded as a crowning achievement in R&B music, according to Billboard.
After that, the same record companies that had told Elliott she’d weighed too much to sign her as a solo act after Sista fell apart came crawling back, hoping to sign her. But Elliott wasn’t about to kowtow to the people who’d tried to crush her dreams in the past. “They’d broken my heart,” she confessed in an interview with The Guardian. “They said I could sing, I could write, but that I looked wrong. That was the lowest thing you could say. I didn’t forget.”
Instead, Elliott held out until she was given her own record label by Elektra Records, Gold Mind Inc. With full creative control, Elliott was now poised to take over the world — which she did.
Missy Elliott's Supa Dupa Fly changed the hip-hop game
Where were you when the video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” dropped on MTV? Chances are, if you were watching television in 1997, you remember when you first saw it, as there was nothing else out there like it at the time. In her debut single, Missy Elliott raps and dances while wearing a giant, inflatable bubble suit (among other outfits), radiating absolute cool in an Afro-futuristic setting. All in all, “The Rain” and the rest of Supa Dupa Fly showed the world what Elliott was capable of, and rendered her an instant superstar.
Elliott knew exactly what she was doing, both musically and visually, deftly deploying symbolism in her costuming choices. “The outfit was a symbol of power. I loved the idea of feeling like a hip-hop Michelin woman,” she proclaimed in an interview with Elle. “I knew I could have on a blow-up suit and still have people talking. It was bold and different.” Elliott added that she had always seen herself as a creator and innovator, and now the world had proof.
Supa Dupa Fly was a critical and commercial success. But for Elliott, it was also just the beginning.
Missy Elliott was a body positivity pioneer
When Missy Elliott entered the music business in the late 1990s, she immediately was subjected to the exclusionary beauty standards imposed on women at that time. Initially, that was a barrier, as record executives wouldn’t give her the time of day because of her weight. Fortunately, however, Elliott got some major support out of the gate that caused her not to give up, specifically from Mary J. Blige. “When we first met Mary J. Blige, she pulled me to the side and she said, ‘Don’t worry about your size or anything. You’re going to be a star. Hold your head up,'” she revealed in an episode of Behind the Music. “That always stuck with me.” Amen, Mary!
So rather than shrink back or go on some restrictive crash diet, Elliott instead decided to just be herself, rendering her a body positivity icon long before real body positivity was even a thing. According to The Guardian, she “magnified” what others had perceived as imperfections, sporting wild, larger-than-life costumes and taking up as much space as possible. And everyone was there for it.
Fame didn't make Missy Elliott any less shy
One thing that became apparent fairly early on in Missy Elliott’s career is that she’s actually very shy. “I’m not a party person. You may catch me at a Puffy party every now and then, but I’m not out like that all the time,” she explained in a 1999 interview with Interview magazine, explaining, “Right now it’s just me and you in the room, but if there were five or six other people in here, I’d start getting wheezy and thinking everybody’s staring at me.”
While that may sound impossible to believe for someone who performs in front of thousands of people, being on stage is easier for Elliott than being in a crowded room. “I just block everybody out,” she continued. “With six people in here, we’re this close, so they’re looking in my face and it feels like they’re waiting for me to mess up a word or something. People at a concert are farther away, and with the lights I can’t really see their faces.”
So while Elliott might be super famous, that hasn’t changed her fundamentally shy nature.
Missy Elliott released five studio albums between 1999 and 2005
After her game-changing debut album, Missy Elliott released five more studio albums between 1999 and 2005: Da Real World (1999), Miss E…So Addictive (2001), Under Construction (2002), This is Not a Test! (2003), and The Cookbook (2005). In that time, she also won multiple awards, including six VMAs, two Soul Train Awards in 2003 and 2004, and a Grammy Award in 2004, along with a slew of nominations, according to IMDb.
During that time she also lost a significant amount of weight, according to a tweet she posted, something she did to improve her stamina. “I wanted to be in good health for my shows ’cause I do a lot of dancing and running around, and I don’t want my heart to fail on me,” she revealed in an interview with Interview magazine. “I go to the gym maybe three days a week, and I do exercises every day — 300 hundred crunches, two hundred leg lifts.” She added that she still craves junk food sometimes, but who doesn’t?
Missy Elliott fell ill in the late 2000s
Missy Elliott had been moving at a pretty breakneck pace in the early 2000s, releasing albums, making music videos, and touring around the world. But in the latter part of the decade, Elliott found herself feeling unwell, suffering from dizziness and unexplained weight loss. As it turned out, Elliott was suffering from a thyroid condition called Graves’ disease, according to Elle.
As Elliott tells it, the sickness was quite the unwelcome and crippling surprise. “It happened out of nowhere,” she recalled in an interview on The Angie Martinez Show. “I remember not being able to write cause I couldn’t even lift up a pen, I couldn’t even lift up a cup.” Yikes!
Fortunately, Elliott has her condition under control, as the worst of the symptoms abated after about a year. But it’s an experience that impacted Elliott profoundly and left her forever changed.
Missy Elliott is always busy behind the scenes
Although Missy Elliott went on a rather long hiatus from releasing albums during the late 2000s and early 2010s, that doesn’t mean she was idle. In fact, Elliott was quite busy during those years with a variety of projects, most of them involving working on songs for other artists. But despite the fact she’s done so much work of this nature, Elliott knows she hasn’t been properly acknowledged for it. “A lot of people don’t know a lot of records that I’ve written or produced, so that’s a highlight for me as a woman,” she shared in an interview with the Associated Press (via Billboard). “I always said if a man would have done half the records that I’ve done we would know about it. But we don’t know all the records I’ve done for other artists.” Let’s hope that changes in the future!
In addition, Elliott released the occasional single during these years, according to Billboard. So even though she wasn’t putting out albums, she was definitely lighting it up behind the scenes and staying super in demand.
Missy Elliott's big comeback year
The year 2015 turned out to be a huge one for Missy Elliott, as it was widely hailed as a comeback year for her. It started when she got a call from Katy Perry, who wanted Elliott to perform during her halftime show at the Super Bowl. “I immediately thought that she would want me to perform Last Friday, the record that we did together,” she explained in an interview with i-D. “So when me and Katy got on the phone, she said she was a fan of my work and that she wanted me to perform, but to perform three of my records.” Elliott was both delighted to hear that and grateful for the opportunity of a lifetime. “I’ve performed for some of the biggest crowds but the [Super Bowl] has to be the scariest moment,” she added.
In addition to killing it on the Super Bowl stage, Elliott dropped “WTF” in December of that year, a song on which she collaborated with Pharrell Williams. The song was a success, peaking at No. 22 on the Billboard charts, showing that Elliott was just as hot as ever.
Missy Elliott received an honorary doctorate in 2019
In 2019, Missy Elliott received two milestone accolades within months of each other. First, Elliott was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Berklee College of Music that May, and she gave the commencement address as well. In an emotional speech, she told the new graduates to never give up, and she shared her own story of perseverance. “As long as you are breathing, it is never too late,” she proclaimed, adding, “You have come too far to quit.” Preach!
On the heels of receiving an honorary doctorate, Elliott was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, as reported by Billboard — becoming the first female rapper to receive the honor. Once again, she told her audience to never give up and to push through any obstacles that head their way. In a taped speech, former first lady Michelle Obama commended Elliott’s trailblazing efforts. “Thank you not for just sharing your gift with the world, but for being an advocate for so many people out there, especially young girls who are still figuring out how to make their voices heard,” she said. Congrats, Dr. Elliott!
Missy Elliott received the 2019 MTV Video Vanguard Award
Although Missy Elliott had already had a banner year, 2019 wasn’t done giving her all of the praise she was long overdue. That’s because in August of that year, she was honored by MTV and presented with the Video Vanguard Award. Elliott gave an emotional speech, thanking God and acknowledging everyone who helped her get where she is today.
In addition to accepting the coveted honor, Elliott also gave a career-spanning performance that dazzled the crowd, featuring a medley of the songs “The Rain,” “Hot Boyz,” “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It,” “Pass That Dutch,” and “Lose Control.” At one point, Elliott appeared above the crowd, wearing the iconic bubble suit featured in the original video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly).” And of course, the additional costuming, dancers, and visuals were as mind-blowing as you’d expect from an Elliott performance. That’s how you do it!
Despite wealth and fame, Missy Elliott's still a regular person
Missy Elliott has come a long way since her early days, financially speaking. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Elliott is worth a cool $50 million, thanks to her decades-long career in the music industry. And while Elliott isn’t one to waste her money on private jets (she still flies commercially), she’s certainly enjoyed spending her hard-earned money.
For one, Elliott has quite the car collection, including a Porsche 911, two Lamborghinis, a Rolls-Royce, a Range Rover, a Ferrari 599, and a Jeep Cherokee that she’s deemed her favorite, according to an interview with Elle. All told, she owns over ten cars, as she shared on The Angie Martinez Show.
As of this writing, Elliott also owns seven houses, but her real triumph is that her mother is fully taken care of. “She has every car she wants, from Benzs to Ferraris,” she gushed in an interview with The Guardian. “She has a 15,000 sq ft house. I love to see her smile again.” Now that’s a happily ever after.
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