If you casually enjoy or even hate rap, it’s likely that you know who Missy Elliott is. As one of the greatest female rappers of her generation, she’s as much a style maker as a lyricists. Like Grace Jones or David Bowie, Elliott has anticipated trends by mashing them together into something new and by finding the right collaborators at the right time.
Elliots outward appearance might owe more to the Nona Hendrix or Patti LaBelle of LaBelle with the space queen look. Unlike Hendrix, Labelle or Grace Jones, Elliot has perpetuated her aesthetic by becoming a sought after producer in her own right.
Innovative style is usually not a term associated with modern rap lately, with its emphasis on low brow prison/street culture. Elliot in many ways represents the opposite of this trend.
Elliott made her impact with her ability to counter those trends and change the female rap soundscape that was once dominated by hard core nasty girls like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. Her striking 1997 debut Supa Dupa Fly introduced elements of other musical styles into the mainstream rap vernacular, instantly setting her apart. She also made the bold indirect statement that skill and ability was more important than flashing big breasts and booties on screen.
By her third album, 2001’s Miss E…So Addictive, she had refined the sci-fi meets ghetto surrealist style she started and begun to bridge the best of popular black music with more Eurocentric dance styles. The track “Take Away”offers some insight on this new direction. In the process of doing so, Miss E…So Addictive was one of her most versatile and rewarding albums to date.
With something for everyone Miss E…So Addictive joins old school R&B, hard core hip-hop with smooth ballads all on the same album. It all manages to sound cohesive despite being the products of Timberland, Tim Mosley and sometimes Ginuine because Elliot was so versatile a performer.
As one of the few rappers who actually sang on her albums she covered everything from the smooth soulful backup on “X-Teasy” to the deconstructed flow of “Get Ur Freak On”. One of my favorite tracks “Take it Away” features Guiniwine in a slow Prince meets Japanese styled bed burner. It’s just one of many tracks that feature the strong mostly positive female persona Elliott embodies on Miss E…So Addictive.
Other songs were firmly rooted on old school R&B (“Old School Joint”), giving Miss E…So Addictive the feel of a R&B record. For all its mixing of dance, soul and pop styles, it was the raps highlighting Elliott’s role as a take no prisoners sex queen that make the album most intriguing and humorous. “Dog In heat’s” funky bass line harkens back to ‘70s era funk while Redman drops in to complement Elliot who sings as well as raps on this track. I often find Redman irritating (for no logical reason), but his presence on Miss E…So Addictive bolsters Elliott’s street cred and counters her delivery with his usual loud abrasive delivery.
By this time audiences had come to expect anything but the traditional in any Elliott production. It would only be just a matter of time before her brand of hip hop would spread to other acts thanks to production work. With so much going for her, it’s easy to see how haters became casual followers and others became devote fans.