The Inimitable, Pioneering, Ground-Breaking Career of Missy Elliott

The Inimitable, Pioneering, Ground-Breaking Career of Missy Elliott
Photo: Derek Blanks
Melissa Arnette Elliott is a creative firestarter. Rapper, singer, dancer, producer and tastemaker, the polymath artist has defined the look, sound and energy of pop music over the course of nearly three decades. She's 5-foot-2, but Elliott stands tall above her music contemporaries, regardless of genre. Her groundbreaking 1997 debut, Supa Dupa Fly, is considered one of the best hip-hop records ever; her list of production and songwriting credits include Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and Whitney Houston; and she's sold millions of albums and singles worldwide. To date, the award-winning Elliott is the only female rapper to have six albums with platinum sales.
 
With innovative rhyming, offbeat humour and a gift for strong songwriting, Elliott has fundamentally altered how we view and listen to hip-hip, soul and pop music. "I thought I had something that was unique. I wanted to break down all barriers and be a risk taker," she said in 2011. Looking at her body of work, she has accomplished that goal and then some.
 
1971 to 1988
The artist known as Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott is born Melissa Arnette Elliott in Portsmouth, Virginia on July 1, 1971. An only child of Patricia and Ronnie Elliott, she grew up in poverty in a trailer park home. "I remember having mice in the house and my father taking some newspaper and beating me, because mice was running on me while I was asleep," she will say in a 2011 episode of VH1's Behind the Music. Her mother, a dispatcher and coordinator for a power company, and father, a U.S. Marine and shipyard welder, would foster Missy's love of music at an early age: Missy would sing in church choirs, listen to music from Aretha Franklin and the Jackson 5, and make up songs that she would perform in front of family and friends.
 
Missy's early family life is reportedly not happy; her father is physically abusive to his wife and daughter. Elliott will also note in an episode of Behind the Music that she was a victim of sexual abuse, beginning at the age of 8, over the course of a year by a 16-year-old cousin: "Each day he wanted me to come to the house after school. It became sexual, which, for me at 8 years old, I had no clue what that was, but I knew something was wrong."
 
In addition to sexual abuse, her mother was also physically abused at the hands of my father: "When she cried, it would hurt me, because she was always everything to me. I felt helpless," she will say in the 2018 book Black Girls Rock!: Owning Our Magic. Rocking Our Truth, edited by Beverly Bond. "I would go into my room and write songs to block it out. Music was my outlet, and somehow writing allowed me to not have to ponder the abuse, or question whether it was my fault."
 
She will later recount abuse that included her father drawing a gun on her mother, in a 2001 Essence Magazine interview: "[My parents' relationship] was rocky the whole time… I spent too much time running to my aunt and uncle's house when my father would go into one of those rages."
 
Her family would move — due to her father being reassigned to a different military base — to a mobile home community in Jacksonville, NC. In her youth, Missy displays above-average intelligence, despite not enjoying school life, showing little enthusiasm for her studies and acting as a class clown. Elliott, in a 2001 Vibe Magazine article, will describe her high school life as a period of being noncommittal about education and physical relationships, largely because of past physical and sexual abuse. "Did I have relationships? I was bonin', I was going through a time where all that stuff kept playing in my head. You begin to seal yourself off from anything that reminds you of that situation." She would be advanced two years ahead in school, only to purposefully fail to be sent back to her former class, as to not to feel socially isolated.
 
Her family would move back to Virginia Beach after her father's stint in the Marines ended, a time fraught with economic hardship and continued domestic abuse.  Her father's escalating behaviour resulted in Missy's mother fearing for her and then 14-year-old Missy's life; the pair leave Ronnie, pack their belongings in a truck and move to another Virginia neighbourhood. Elliott will reflect on the events in a 2001 article in Vibe Magazine: "Stuff like that never leaves you. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about all of it."
 
Missy completes high school in 1990 with the goal of becoming involved in the music business. "I always said that if I became famous, I would take my mom away from all that and take care of her, so she would never have to fear anyone anymore, and that's exactly what I did," Elliott will say in Black Girls Rock! Despite having big dreams, Elliott describes herself has being shy and lacking confidence. But instead of going to college, she was determined to give music a try: "I always have been an entertainer, whether it's been joking or performing for people. And I always thought I had a talent, because I could rap and I could sing and I did write. And all the other kids were going to college, but I just felt like I had to do this first, and if it didn't work, then I would go to college," she'll tell Rolling Stone in 1997.
 
1989 to 1992
Missy's penchant for singing and performing blossoms in the later years of high school, where she forms an R&B group. The group is named Fayze, later changed to Sista, and features three school friends — La'Shawn Shellman, Chonita Coleman and Radiah Scott — and a childhood friend and emerging producer named Timothy Mosley, also known as Timbaland. Missy comes over to the house to see Tim when they are teenagers, Timbaland's mother Leatrice Pierre will tell Vibe in 2004. "They were working diligently on their music upstairs, every weekend, sometimes in the evenings. Missy used to say to me, 'We're going to keep working on it until we get to the top.'"
 
"It's never disharmony between me and Tim. That's my brother. We've been broke together and we've made money together. Beyond this music thing, we're family," Elliott will tell Los Angeles Times in 2011. The group record demo tracks, produced by Mosley, that eventually catch the attention of producer DeVante Swing, a member of R&B group Jodeci, by performing an impromptu a cappella session backstage after a Jodeci concert. Fayze are signed by Swing to his Elektra Records imprint — dubbed Swing Mob — and renamed Sista. The group, including Mosley, move to New York.
 
1993 to 1995
Living in New York City, Missy is a key part of DeVante Swing's "Swing Mob" — a 20-plus collective that includes R&B group Playa, and solo artists Tweet and Ginuwine. They all reside in a two-story house, developing songs for Jodeci — Missy develops credited and uncredited content for Jodeci albums Diary of a Mad Band (1993) and The Show, the After Party, the Hotel (1995) — and their own respective projects. A Sista album, 4 All the Sistas Around da World, co-produced by DeVante and Timbaland, is recorded in 1994. Sista has a single, "It's Alright" (featuring rapper Craig Mack), placed on the soundtrack to 1995 film Dangerous Minds.
 
Ultimately, the Swing Mob collective folds and members leave to pursue their own projects. Missy continues to work with Timbaland, along with Ginuwine and Playa, and longtime friend and collaborator Magoo in a loose affiliation dubbed the Superfriends. "When I was recording, I'd always sit in with other producers who did tracks and observe what needed to happen during the production. I would hear the notes and say 'Hey, change this part' or 'This needs chords right here.' I realized then that I wasn't just an artist," Elliott will say in Black Girls Rock!
 
"As an only child, you're forced to be creative," she'll tell Vibe Magazine. "So I always created my own fantasy world. That's where I get them ideas for videos."
 
1996 to 1998
Missy and Timbaland collaborate as a songwriting/production team, developing a unique electro-funk sound that incorporates playful lyrics, jittery time signatures, stop-start syncopation and elements of rock, pop and world music. "Radio didn't grasp me and Tim's records in the beginning," she'll admit in a 1999 interview with Vibe. The team produce songs for R&B acts including Las Vegas trio 702 ("Steelo"), New York City-based SWV ("Can We?") and the late Detroit-based singer Aaliyah Dana Haughton. Working with Aaliyah in particular is hugely successful: her 1996 double platinum album, One in a Million, features nine tracks produced by the team of Elliott and Timbaland — singles such as "4 Page Letter," "If Your Girl Only Knew," "Hot Like Fire" and the title track. Elliott and Timbaland's signature sound and asymmetrical grooves are copied by other producers at the time, a fact Elliott will reference in the opening minutes of sophomore album Da Real World: "You just an imitator, stealing our beats like you're the one who made them."
 
Elliott also lends background vocals and raps on the album, establishing her as a force both behind and in front of the production boards. "I get my style from cartoons on TV. Like, if I'm watching The Flintstones, I listen to how they stop the car with their feet — and I'll make the same noise," she tells Vibe in 1996. "When I'm in the studio, I like to be in there by myself, because if I'm in the mic room and I look out and see people talking, or they're not nodding their head or rocking to the music, it makes me feel like it don't sound good, or I'll be scared to really open up vocally, because I might mess up and they might be in there laughing," she says in an 1997 interview with Rolling Stone.
 
As a rapper, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott contributes guest rap vocals for Gina Thompson's 1996 remix of single "The Things That You Do" — produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy label — solidifying her trademark "hee-hee-hee-hee-how" rap flow. Elliott is also featured on the remix of New Edition's "You Don't Have to Worry" and MC Lyte's "Cold Rock a Party" in 1996.
 
Standing at 5-foot-2, and being full-figured, means that industry execs prefer that she stick to songwriting and producing, instead to rapping. In 1993, "That's What Little Girls Are Made Of," the debut mainstream single from Raven-Symoné, is released. Written and produced by Elliott  (credited as Melissa Elliott), the track features a rap verse she performs, but the music video features a thinner and lighter-skinned actress who lip-syncs the part.
 
On VH1's Behind the Music, Elliott will recall she was not informed of the video shoot; it was later explained she "didn't quite fit the image that [they] were looking for." According to a 2017 feature with Elle Magazine, the rejection was so painful that Elliott temporarily gave up on trying to be a star and devoted herself to songwriting. "It was hard, because at the time, it was all about females who were half-clothed," Elliott will say in a 2003 interview with New York Daily News. Elliott notes in the interview that she ultimately decided to lose some weight, but for personal and health reasons, not mainstream conformity.
 
"The music industry said she looked too large and weird to make it in the lens-friendly, bootylicious world of female rap and R&B, so she magnified those imperfections," U.K publication The Guardian will say in 2001. Elliott will note that she wasn't about succumbing to sexual clichés, negative stereotypes or ideas about beauty standards: "Missy is always going to be Missy. I'm not going to show up in a two-piece bathing suit," she'll tell the New York Daily News, adding, "What a blessing to be known for being different."
 
As a producer, Elliott's collaboration with Timbaland results in work with late '90s R&B artists Nicole Wray, Total and Destiny's Child. Elliott nearly signs to Combs' Bad Boy label, with Elliott developing most of the material on Bad Boy group Total's Kima, Keisha, and Pam album. Elliott signs to Elektra Records where she signs and produces her own artists under her own record label imprint — dubbed The Goldmind Inc. — while also recording as a solo artist. As a producer, Elliott will tell Billboard in 2015 that she takes a personal and insular approach to making music: "I never record in front of anybody… [even Timbaland] has never seen me record a day in his life."
 
Her debut, Supa Dupa Fly is released in 1997; the project, which included singles like "The Rain" and "Sock It 2 Me" is recorded in a week at her Virginia Beach studio. The album — which incorporates Elliott's singing and rapping over dancehall, pop and R&B-inspired beats — includes guest spots by Busta Rhymes, Da Brat, Aaliyah and Ginuwine. It goes platinum on the strength of its songwriting and "bump'n'grind electronica" compositions (co-produced with Timbaland) and Hype Williams-produced videos. The visual aesthetic in the video for "The Rain" demonstrates Elliott's unique musical perspective and a fresh alternative to the sample-heavy songs that are huge in mainstream hip-hop at the time.
 
"The Rain" is named one of the 100 greatest hip-hop songs by Rolling Stone. The corresponding video — featuring Elliott in a now-iconic plastic bag jumpsuit — establishes her as an artist ahead of her time. "The outfit was a symbol of power…It was bold and different. I've always seen myself as an innovator and a creative unlike any other," she'll tell Elle in 2017.

The highly innovative, certified platinum Supa Dupa Fly debuts at #3 on the Billboard 200, lands at the top of the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and sells 1.2 million copies in the U.S. alone. Elliott has officially arrived on the pop culture landscape, with names such as Madonna and Mariah Carey looking to work with her. "When I get phone calls like that, I just be like, 'Thank you, Lord,' because he knows the trials and tribulations I went through to get here. I didn't step on the scene overnight, even though it might seem like that to people," she tells Rolling Stone in 1997.
 
Elliott recognizes her standing as a tastemaker and potential as a role model for young women: "You have a lot of young female teenagers who look up to us and want to be sassy like we are," she'll tell Ebony in 2001. "The hardest thing about being a female rapper is proving yourself, being accepted by the guys who think you are hot and respect your talent, is important." Elliott will note in a 2011 interview with Los Angeles Times that she has always been vocal about eschewing outdated models of beauty and power: "It's funny, because for females in general, not just in music, but the corporate ladder as well, anything we do has always been harder for us. When it comes to music, the industry wants you to conform, to look like this and to sound like this and do this or that."
 
She becomes known for her a workaholic mentality, telling the New York Daily News in 2003 that she only sleeps about four hours a night, and hasn't had a vacation since she became a star. In 1998, Elliott is the first hip-hop star to perform at the all-female Lilith Fair concert.
 
1999 to 2001
Elliott has established herself as a new force on the popular music scene as a multi-platinum-selling writer and producer. Despite an innovative look and style that transcends genre and gender, detractors note her lyrical content — which contain liberal amounts of profanity, including use of the word "bitch" — mark her as a negative force in hip-hop. "A bitch is what they call a woman who knows what she wants," Elliott counters in a 1999 interview with Ebony Magazine. "Females in this business aren't taken as seriously as we should be. We often assume a character and give off what one would call a 'diva' or 'bitch' attitude."
 
Elliott delivers her followup album, Da Real World (originally titled She's a Bitch), in 1999. Featuring singles "All n My Grill," "Hot Boyz" and "She's a Bitch." Da Real World — featuring guest spots by Eminem, Redman, Lil' Kim and Aaliyah — debuts at #10 on the Billboard 200, Elliott's second top ten album in a row. The album incorporates an even more futuristic production style, in collaboration with Timbaland. While considered a success — selling six million copies worldwide — Da Real World is deemed a darker, more profane and less playful work than her debut, and doesn't live up to sales expectations. Elliott dedicates the project to victims of the Columbine High School massacre of April 20, 1999. "I was in 'prove your point' mode when I made that album. You know like, can she do it again? I was more intense," she tells Vibe Magazine in 2001.
 
On the production side, her The Goldmind Inc. imprint releases Make It Hot by Nicole Wray in 1998. Despite strong singles "Make it Hot" and "I Can't See" — and Elliott producing, writing and performing on much of the album — it underperforms. By 2001, despite selling more albums than any other female hip-hop artists at the time, there are huge expectations to continue that success. "I kind of remain in a category of my own. I'm not a follower. I'm not a copycat. That's important to staying around for a long time," she tells Ebony Magazine in 2001. But while earning millions in record sales, Elliott realizes that she needs to put her financial house in order by hiring a management team, as she starts piling up debt. The team includes her mother, Pat Elliott, to help better manage her income. "There were situations where I would go into the studio with an artist to lay down a track, and I wouldn't get a check. The bills were just piling up," she tells Vibe Magazine in 2001.
 
Her third album, Miss E…So Addictive, is released in 2001. Elliott tells Vibe Magazine that she is determined to be more "hands-on" with the album. "I'm probably more involved with the business of things now than I am as an artist. Two years ago, I don't think I was educated about the business."
 
With singles including "One Minute Man," "Take Away" and "Get Ur Freak On" (including a remix featuring Nelly Furtado), the album is another hit. Videos, including the Dave Mayer-directed and Grammy-nominated "Get UR Freak On," feature Elliott's now-trademark energy and a catchy bhangra-inspired beat.
 
Three months after the album is released, Aaliyah dies in a plane crash. Elliott will tell Billboard in 2018 that she remembers the young star for how "caring she was for everyone she met."
 
"I'm constantly talking about her," she will tell Los Angeles Times in 2011. "I still watch her videos and listen to her music. This is constant, all the time. Every day is something that brings us together. She's a major part in our lives, and in music."
 
Elliott's mother Pat has a heart attack; she recovers, but it hits Missy on a personal and emotional level. "It really messed with me. I've always been close to my mother, and it's hard for me now…She's all I've got."
 
2002 to 2004
In 2002, Elliott releases the 14-track, Under Construction, which sells more than two million copies. Elliott refers to the project as her most personal to date: "Ever since Aaliyah passed, I view life in a more valuable way," she says on opening track "Intro/Go to the Floor." Elliott displays a slimmer appearance when promoting the album, stating she lost more than 70 pounds after doctors warn she could suffer a stroke if she didn't lose weight. The album, which featured songs like "Work It" and "Cop That Shit" is Grammy-nominated for Best Rap Album and Album of the Year. It features a more reflective Elliott, as she reminisces on old-school hip-hop culture on "Back In the Day," featuring JAY-Z.
 
In 2003, Elliott appears with Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on the MTV Video Music Awards show.
 
Under pressure from her record label, Elliott releases This Is Not a Test! in November 2003. Despite going platinum, singles "Pass That Dutch" and "I'm Really Hot" don't make as much of an impact, debuting at #13 on the Billboard 200, and selling 183,600 copies in its first week. In 2004, Elliott branches out into the fashion world with a partnership with Adidas to develop sportswear called the Missy Elliott's Respect M.E clothing line. She also has a guest appearance on Ciara's song "1, 2 Step" in 2004.
 
2005 to 2006
In July 2005, Elliott releases sixth solo album The Cookbook. The album, which included singles "Lose Control" (featuring Fatman Scoop and Ciara) and "We Run This," receives five Grammy nominations, including for Best Rap Album and Best Short Form Video. Elliott wins Best Female Hip Hop Artist at the 2005 American Music Awards, and is nominated for Best International Female Artist at the 2006 BRIT Awards. Elliott develops and is featured in a 2005 reality show called The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott, where aspiring performers compete to become hip-hop stars. The ten-episode series lasts one season.
 
Elliott announces she is the subject of a biographical film based on her life story, to be produced by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. The film has yet to be released.
 
A greatest hits album, Respect M.E, is released in 2006. "There should be no limits because of gender. Lil' Kim, Lauryn Hill, Trina, Eve, Da Brat, Foxy and I — we all came out at a time when the world enjoyed that balance, hearing a woman's perspective on life," she'll say in Black Girls Rock!
 
2007 to 2012
Elliott is celebrated at the 2007 VH1 Hip Hop Honors event for her contributions to hip-hop and R&B. During the 2007 show, Elliott sheds light into her musical philosophy: "I always created a world…wherever I want to go in my mind, that's where I want to take the world."
 
She starts work on a new album — titled Block Party, originally named FANonmenal — with collaborators Timbaland, T-Pain and Swizz Beatz. Singles "Ching-a-Ling" and "Best, Best" are released in 2008, but the record is put on hold. She continues to write and produce, including songs for Monica, Keyshia Cole and Fantasia. Her work with Jazmine Sullivan on singles "Holding You Down" and "Need U Bad" is Grammy-nominated. As a rapper, Elliott makes guest appearances on records from Demi Lovato ("All Night Long") and J. Cole ("Nobody's Perfect"), while producing singles for Monica "Anything (To Find You)" and "Until It's Gone."
 
In 2011, Elliott is diagnosed with Graves disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid. In 2012, Elliott releases two singles, "Triple Threat" and "9th Inning," before going on a self-imposed hiatus.  "I work behind the scenes. I've been writing and producing, which I've been doing since the early '90s. Because I'm not out there talking about it, a lot of people don't know the stuff I'm doing," she tells Los Angeles Times in 2011.
 
"So I needed a break. But in that break, I felt like I lost time," she'll tell I-D Magazine in 2015. "I ended up getting sick, but then, yeah, it was a time where I felt like 'Do I still have it'? Especially when you see a whole new slew, a whole new generation of kids, come through and the music is not like how it was. I felt like, 'How do I fit in'? I'm battling. But then I never fit in! The whole time, I've never fit in!"
 
2012 to 2015
Content to focus on writing, producing and only occasional guest spots, Elliott is featured on a single by rapper Eve, "Wanna Be," and singles by Little Mix ("How Ya Doin'"). She earns a Grammy nomination in 2013 for her participation in Fantasia and Kelly Rowland's "Without Me."
 
Missy Elliott and Timbaland assist in recording for Kat Dahlia's 2015 debut, My Garden, and work with R&B singer Faith Evans for the artist's album Incomparable in 2014 on the single "I Deserve It." In 2015, Missy is featured on single "Code Red" for R&B singer Monica's album of the same name.
 
2015 to 2018
Elliott appears as a surprise performer during the 2015 Super Bowl halftime show headlined by Katy Perry. "People hadn't realized that I haven't just been an artist, I've been a writer and a producer for other artists. When you're writing that much, your brain is like a computer. You have refresh," she tells Billboard in 2015. A mini-medley of previous Elliott hits "Lose Control," "Work It" and "Get Your Freak On" revives sales and renews interest in new music from Elliott. "I can't remember where I was, but my manager called me and said 'Would you like to do the Super Bowl'? I was sat there looking at the phone like 'Did she just say the Super Bowl'?" Elliott told I-D magazine in 2015. "I felt like, who turns down the Super Bowl but then, why would I be doing the Super Bowl at this point? I don't have anything out, but I'll do it."
 
November 2015 sees the release of song "WTF (Where They From)" and an accompanying video. In 2016, Elliott releases a new single, "Pep Rally," the same day of that year's Super Bowl. Also in 2016, Elliott teams with Timbaland and Tweet on the latter's third album, titled Charlene. In March 2016, Elliott is featured on a collaborative song with Kelly Clarkson, Zendaya and Janelle Monáe, "This Is for My Girls," a track assembled by First Lady Michelle Obama for her educational program called "Let Girls Learn."
 
In January 2017, Elliott releases the single "I'm Better" — produced by new collaborator Lamb — along with a corresponding video co-directed with Dave Meyers.
 
Elliott tells I-D magazine in 2015 that, despite all her success, her hiatus was due to feeling the need to recharge as a person and artist: "I've had to write and produce for other artists, and then maintain my sound and myself as an artist. So all that time, I was doing Missy and also making sure I was giving all of these other artists a different sound too. That was hard for me."
 
In a 2016 appearance on The Strombo Show, she notes she has unreleased music by Prince that he gave to her during a meeting. In 2017, she announces that she intends to release a documentary that details her career. Also in 2017, a petition is signed to replace a Confederate monument with a Missy Elliott statue in her hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia. In a 2017 interview with FACT Magazine, she admits she has recorded "at least five, six albums of music" but doesn't announce a release date. "Those fans are brutal and they will stone me if I told a date, and it didn't drop on that date," she says.
 
By 2018, Elliott has virtually cemented legendary status. To date, her discography consists of six studio albums, three compilation albums, 74 singles (including 44 as a featured performer) and 20 solo music videos. "I've been writing and producing for artists since the early '90s. People may know me as an artist and may not know the songs from other artists that I've been behind," she says in a FACT Magazine interview.
 
In a February 2018 interview with Billboard, rapper Kendrick Lamar praises Elliott for her standing as a rap pioneer, and cites her music and visual aesthetic as a lasting influence on his own work. "[I was] watching Missy Elliott videos back in high school…it's something that always inspired us to do it, just being a student and always appreciating somebody being willing to put full impact and full ideas, not only into the songs, but when you're watching the [videos]." In April 2018, Elliott and R&B singer SZA tease a potential collaboration on Twitter.
 
In January 2018, Elliott accepts the 2018 Essence Black Women in Music Visionary Award for her creative vision and career successes. In summer 2018, Elliott unveils a teaser track called "ID" with producer Skrillex, and makes a guest appearance on pop singer Ariana Grande's song "Borderline," off her album Sweetener.

In fall 2018, she teases on social media that she hopes to release an album in 2019, her first since 2005's The Cookbook. "For so long, I was hesitant to put out music in fear no one would get it because people said music has changed… 2019 let me get y'all asses dancing again."
 
In November of 2018, Elliott is nominated to the class of 2019 for the Songwriters Hall of Fame, becoming the third rapper inducted, after JAY-Z and Jermaine Dupri, and the first female rapper to accomplish this feat.

In early 2019, rapper Lizzo announces on social media and on Beats1 that her upcoming album will feature a collaboration with Elliott. In February 2019 it's announced that Elliott will headline the 25th annual EssenceFest in New Orleans, along with Mary J. Blige, Timbaland, H.E.R. and Pharrell Williams. In March 2019, Pharrell announces that Elliot will perform — along with Travis Scott, Pusha-T and SZA — at an inaugural music festival scheduled in April in Virginia Beach.

"I want all of you women in here to know that you're beautiful," a visibly emotional Elliott says during the 2018 Essence Visionary Award ceremony. "Because there are going to be times that people tell you [that] you can't do it or you don't look the part. But I am a walking testimony.
 
Essential Missy Elliott
 

Supa Dupa Fly (Goldmind/Elektra, 1997)
Recorded in a week in Elliott's home base of Virginia Beach, this debut arrived at a time when hip-hop was in love with heavy sample usage in a post-Biggie and -Tupac era. Leveraging Elliott's impeccable rap flow, her quirky persona and sensibility, and Timbaland's otherworldly and innovative — and later often imitated — production. More importantly, Supa Dupa Fly — with singles for "The Rain" and "Sock It 2 Me" and the respective futuristic and videogame-inspired videos — forever altered how women in the male-dominated hip-hop scene could be marketed, promoted and legitimized, all while ushering in a bold new direction for the genre.
 

Miss E…So Addictive (Goldmind/Elektra, 2001)
The third studio album further establishes Missy Elliott's as a consistent producer and performer. The platinum-selling project has huge crossover potential, based off the risqué hit "One Minute Man" (featuring Ludacris) and the massive smash "Get Ur Freak On," which is fuelled by, and reignites pop culture's fascination with, bhangra-inspired beats. Overall, the album's future-forward mix of funk, hip-hop and R&B is the reason it still sounds fresh today.
 

Under Construction (Goldmind/Elektra, 2002)
Elliott's fourth studio album offers up hits like "Gossip Folks" (featuring Ludacris) and "Back in the Day" (featuring JAY-Z). The huge hit, however, is the funky "Work It" — which cleverly leverages a sample "Take Me to the Mardi Gras" by Bob James — and places the slang phrase "badonkadonk" into mainstream consciousness. After the death of Aaliyah and in the shadow of 9/11, the album features a more reflective Elliott and serves as a funked-up love letter to classic hip-hop culture, with samples of Run-DMC's "Peter Piper" and Rock Master Scott & Dynamic Three's "Request Line."