op-ed: a thank you letter to missy elliot
By Sound Check
November 20, 2015
My first real dose of hip-hop that I can remember was at age 4. I was sitting in the back seat of my mom’s ’97 Honda Civic, and “Supa Dupa Fly” by Missy Elliott came blaring through the speakers. I heard the strange, slow lyrics drip onto the soulful chorus and slide into a beat that was toxic in the sense that it infected me with interest. This is where it all started.
By Devyn Springer, AFROPUNK Contributor
(Photo credit: Billboard)
Fast forward to age 10, and I’m in my bathroom with “Work It” playing in my Boom-box as I sway my little brown-boy hips as much as possible to the beat. I’m making up “choreography” to show off to my friends at recess, and am in pure happiness. She was rapping in rewind, flipping the script on hip-hop for 4 minutes and 58 seconds, and teaching me a lesson on feminism before I even knew what it was I was “putting down, flipping, and reversing.”
Today, a decade later, I can fully say that without Missy Elliot’s music and her masterful presence in hip-hop I would not be the person I am today. She helped me embrace my kinky curls – yes, those finger curls slicked down to her forehead when she first stepped on the scene – and she helped me to embrace my weirdness. Growing up I felt a little less like strange for wanting to be an artist, and make weird fashion, and listen to innovative music because of Missy Elliott’s presence. I saw the acceptance she received and realized: it’s okay to go against the norm, it’s okay to fearlessly be who I am, and it’s okay to be completely different.
Missy has always had a way of making shamelessly unique dance tracks that still remain within the arena of hip-hop heavyweights. She demands her blatant lyrical ability and flow not be overlooked, while at the same time making you want to dance. This is something many rappers cannot do; matching actual, real rap skills with dance-tracks is harder to balance than most people realize.
As a queer brown kid living in the Deep South, I felt at times like the only person on the radio I could relate to was Missy. As she stuck out like a sore thumb in hip hop, and so did I. She didn’t try to hide herself; she was big, bold, and bright as ever; and for a teenager feeling stuck in the closet, that was a source of inspiration like no other. And when I listened to the beat of her music, and my headphones told me “music makes you lose control, music makes you lose control,” I was able to free.
Missy Elliot is a splash of loud, metallic color in a hip-hop world full of black and white. Sure, I had Outkast’s music to inspire me, too, but Missy took the futuristic funk to the next level. The way she unashamedly rapped about her thick hips and called herself “really really hot” gave me body confidence during a time when I was bullied for being queer and didn’t feel comfortable in my body.
She was able to use her own self-proclaimed weirdness and call attention to the absurdity of hip-hop losing one of its core values: having fun. She took the harsh, rough edges of masculinity that hip-hop has grown into and bended and molded them into fun, Technicolor experiments that inspired so many young black kids to be themselves.
And now, with “WTF (Where They From)” being released, I am pleased to see that the old Missy is still the new Missy; she’s still ahead of her time, while simultaneously feeling old school hip-hop in the best ways possible. She’s still dancing, looking as magnetic as possible, and she’s still being herself down to the core. She is still being that same electric, magnetic, colorful, funky, lyrical acrobat that was able to inspire this one weird kid from Atlanta, and I hope she never changes.
I know this letter is about 2 decades overdue but – like anxiously waiting many years for Missy Elliott to drop a new album – we all know good things take time and patience, and I am here now to say thank you. Thank you, Missy Elliot, for helping me navigate my blackness and embrace all of the intersections that come along with it.
* Devyn Springer is an Atlanta writer, activist and photographer who currently studies African Diaspora at Kennesaw State University – @HalfAtlanta (Twitter)
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