Black History Month Highlight: Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott

Five-time Grammy Award-winning rapper, singer, songwriter, dancer and producer, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott has consistently pushed the boundaries of Hip-Hop with a string of classic hit singles and memorable music videos. She is a businesswoman who holds full creative control over her music, videos, and productions. When talking about female MC’s who have broken barriers and set trends, Missy most definitely should be mentioned.

Born as Melissa Arnette Elliott on July 1, 1971, in Portsmouth, Virginia, Missy was an only child who did not have the easiet childhood. At the age of 8, Missy was a victim of sexual abuse. As a fan of the Jackson family, she wrote to Michael and Janet Jackson, begging them to come and save her from her troubles. Missy had already known that music would save her.

While in school, Missy joined a girl group, Sista, after auditioning for a producer named DeVante Swing. They were signed to his label, Swing Mob Records – and Missy moved decided to New York to begin her career. Unfortunately, her big break turned out to be a false start, as the label crumbled before Sista’s debut album. All of the songs on the album (most of which were written by Missy herself) were never released.

Though times were tough, success was on the horizon for Missy. After Sista split up, she continued writing and producing songs and often worked side by side with her childhood friend, Tim “Timbaland” Mosley. Together, they crafted tracks for Aaliyah and SWV among many others. Missy wrote her first hit, “That’s What Little Girls Are Made of,” for Raven-Symoné in 1993; and made her first appearance as a featured vocalist in 1996 with a guest verse on Sean “Puffy” Combs’s remix of “The Things You Do.”

The CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group, Sylvia Rhone, gave Missy a chance to form her own label, Goldmind. It was on Goldmind, which Elektra distributed, that Missy Elliott released her debut album, Supa Dupa Fly, in 1997. The album went platinum and earned Missy the title of rap artist of the year from Rolling Stone Magazine. She continued co-writing and co-producing, and composed two songs for Whitney Houston’s 1998 album, My Love Is Your Love. 

The music industry had never seen anyone quite like Missy Elliott. She was recognized by The New Yorker as the “biggest and blackest female rap star that Middle America has ever seen,” who had “avoided the common stereotypes of the music video industry.”  This meant that she did not conform to the male gaze as many female artists did or felt compelled to do. She exuded confidence and sex appeal through her personal style instead, wearing inflatable body suits, and oversized clothing. Her message has always been that women are equal to men, as important as men and as powerful.

After two more platinum albums and a couple Grammy’s Missy unfortunately experienced some health issues. In 2008, she began experiencing dramatic weight loss and was diagnosed with Graves disease – a rare autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland. Consequently, she retired from the spotlight for many years, though she has continued to write and produce for other artists, including Jennifer Hudson, Monica, and Keyshia Cole.

In 2015, Missy Elliott returned to the frontline with a single called “WTF (Where They From)”, a rebellious tongue-twisty banger that was produced by Pharrell and ranked among her finest work. The single went gold and has been streamed more than 50 million times on YouTube. A few months later she made a nostalgic appearance with Michelle Obama on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke.

It is clear that Missy Elliot has inspired so many of today’s artists whether it be in fashion style or musical sound. Her work ethic and talent is admired by both women and men and is undoubtedly one of the best of our time. Today, you can find Missy inspiring and uplifting people via her Instagram account as well as making cameos in commercials and award shows. To this day, she is a force to be reckoned with and wants the women who follow in her footsteps to know that they too, can achieve their wildest dreams as long as they stay true to themselves.


KHEEEZUS, also known as Khalia Iris or LiiaFamouszx (on Myspace) is a 23-year-old DJ and content creator from Brooklyn, NY. Khalia is a proud Howard University Alumna and lover of all things Hip-Hop. She likes to dabble in fashion too from time to time ;-) Check her out: | IG + Twitter: @Kheeezus

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