The unsung genius of Missy Elliott

Celebrating Elliott’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame

Elliott is the first female rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
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When you hear Missy Elliott’s music on a dance floor, you become flooded with nostalgia and go hard.

There’s no half-hearted head-nodding along to a Missy Elliott song—you give your all when you dance to her music because you know she gave her all making it. It’s a shame then, after all the work she’s done to get the party started, that Elliott is so often left out of today’s cultural conversations.

This past Sunday, the Songwriters Hall of Fame announced Elliott would be one of its 2019 inductees. She’s the first female rapper and first woman in hip-hop inducted into the Hall, as well as the second rapper ever.

Elliott’s honour is as momentous as it is deserved, though its news marked a rare moment of public coverage for a musician who plays by a different set of rules.

For musicians today, social media doubles as the leading method for music promotion and keeping oneself culturally informed. Today’s most popular female rappers, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, generate TMZ articles with Instagram stories about potential collaborations and endorsements—or, better yet, potential feuds. Even Iggy Azalea, whose music has received little airplay since the chart-topping single “Fancy” in 2014, gets weekly write-ups in The Daily Mail about bikinis she wears in Instagram photos. 

By using their social media channels as a means of publicizing their brands, these female rappers successfully promote themselves.

Missy Elliott’s quite the active poster on her social media accounts. However, she trades shade-filled comments for videos of her pint-sized dog, Fendi Dior. Instead of posting Fashion Nova-sponsored photos, she writes emoji-filled captions in response to videos of fans dancing to her songs. She rang in the New Year by posting a minute-long video to Twitter singing karaoke to Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” with a streamer in her mouth—and yes, I retweeted it, because it’s the embodiment of happiness.

Elliott’s posts might not be as headline-churning as her genre counterparts, but this wouldn’t be the first time she’s had to fit into a music landscape that looks nothing like her.

When Elliott first stepped onto the popular music scene with her debut album Supa Dupa Fly in 1997, she was already unlike anything out there. The ruling female musicians of the late 90s were young, thin, and blonde, like icons Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. The ruling female rappers were still mostly undiscovered. 

Elliott had little precedent to follow as a female rapper and hip-hop producer, so she played by her own rules and ventured into uncharted rap territory. She took a Punjabi-inspired beat and turned it into the club-ready “Get Ur Freak On.” She decided the perfect hook for sex-positive banger “Work It” was a lyric played backwards to sound like gibberish. She spent her downtime writing hits like Ciara’s “1-2 Step” and Aaliyah’s “One in a Million.”

While Elliott may lack the larger-than-life persona now seemingly a requirement for modern superstardom, her ideas have always extended beyond any boundary imposed upon her. 

Elliott’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame should serve as a reminder that she’s one of the best artists to ever put pen to paper, and we should regard her as such. Rest assured that as other stars work to perfect their public images, Missy Elliott is waiting for the right moment to change the rules once again.

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