MusicSummer of Blacker Love
missy elliott is a visionary hip-hop icon, bow down!
By Erin White
June 13, 2019
A week ago, Missy Elliott became the first female rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Already a cultural icon in her own right, it seems like the mainstream is finally giving her what she has earned: critical acclaim and reverence. Even though it has been 14 years since her last full-length album. Missy is more relevant than ever. Especially when you consider the up-and-coming MCs that owe her so much for clearing a path for them in the ways of alternative hip-hop. A five-time Grammy-winning singer, rapper, songwriter, and producer, Missy was even thanked by Michelle Obama for her “trailblazing ways,” but “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.”
For so many of us elder Millennials, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliotts’s aesthetic — visually and sonically — was our first introductions to Afrofuturism and Afro-surrealism. An imaginative realm; a Black odyssey into a futuristic dreamworld populated with cyborgs, otherworldly creatures, and technology. And, most importantly, she mixed these elements with Black creativity presenting our identities in surrealist ways we’ve never seen before.
“Love my guts, so f*** a tummy tuck”
But what stands out most to me, is what Missy’s music makes me feel. That irresistible thump in the trunk that makes the heels of your feet twist and click with jubilance. My earliest memory of Saint Missy was when I was 8 or 9 years old, sitting in my mom’s Toyota Camry at a gas station on Sunset Boulevard. in L.A.: “THIS IS FO’ MY GHETTO MOTHAFUCKAS” *bass drop* And in that moment . . . I was a ghetto mothafucka! Jettisoned into Missy’s multi-dimensional world of hip-hop and bass, produced by Timbaland.
“Can you treat me good/ ‘Cause I won’t settle for less”
Missy Elliott was one of the first female rappers to promote sexual agency without conforming to industry standards of what a Black woman performer should look like. When I listened to her music, she re-affirmed the worthiness of curvy bodies through her lyrics, sexualizing her fat body. She wasn’t petite like Lil’ Kim or Trina or super stacked like video vixen Melyssa Ford. She had a real, relatable body and was proud of that shit. A trend we’re seeing become more common than ever with the rise of Megan Thee Stallion and Lizzo.
“Take my thong off and my ass go “boom”/cut the lights on so you can see what I can do”
As a survivor of domestic and sexual abuse, Missy’s ability to reclaim her sexual agency and promote sex positivity is inspirational— as are the themes of self-love and body positivity that permeate some of her most memorable tracks. Lyrically, Missy has been a promoted female sexual agency and empowerment, encouraging listeners to be proud of their curvier bodies and that junk in the trunk long before white women were getting butt shots.
“Cut face, chubby waist?!”
“I’m a bad mamajama goddammit motherfucker you ain’t gotta like me”
Her classics like “Lose Control” and “Pass That Dutch” are joyous Black anthems. Love letters to the culture that will go berserk on the dance floor when the DJ lays it down. Songs that still, to this day, cause folks to drop it low. The vibrant world Missy created ushered in a new school wave of rappers and alternative artists like Azealia Banks, FKA twigs, Leikeli47, Little Simz and Tyler, The Creator.
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