“Beep. Beep. Who got the keys to the jeep? Vrooom.”
The V8 engine of a Hummer sings as Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott swerves into a lane entirely of her own; one that is paved with rapid-fire lyrics, eclectic fashion choices, and a voice that drips with soul whether singing or rapping. The Don of Virginia Beach claimed her stake in both hip-hop and R&B during what many refer to as the “Golden Age” of the ‘90s. But, it was Missy’s ambitious flair that set her apart from her counterparts — both male and female.
While Missy’s contributions to the art of rap are daftly underrated, her influence is recognizable in the faintest of ad-libs and avant-garde optics — much like the pitter-patter of rain which she sang of so adversely. The twentieth anniversary of Missy’s solo debut Supa Dupa Fly this past weekend is a testament to this, and in fact proves just how far-reaching her proverbial stance early on in her career has been.
Whether sporting finger waves or taking us on a kinetic journey of sound, Missy Elliott reveled in her peculiarity. It was the essence of her being that served as a compass as she navigated an industry that was inundated with east coast vs. west coast rap beef. It was her originality and delivery that made us sit up and take notice.
In shunning the norm, Missy not only redefined the sphere of black femininity but also what it means to be a true solo artist. While Lauryn Hill is often credited with ushering in the concept of an all-in one artist who can sing, rap, and produce — Missy was holding those reigns a year prior in 1997. All but one song on Supa Dupa Fly is credited with her songwriting skills, juxtaposing of rapping and singing, and executive production. Missy’s ability to flip between in-your-face bravado to full-on ballad made her an undeniable force to be reckoned with.
For many of us, our fascination with the Misdemeanor began with a shiny, onyx bodysuit ballooning her full figure. It was striking. It was weird. It was monstrous. And, for lack of a better word … it was trash. A trash bag that engulfed Missy’s petite stature as she stood between two swinging pendulums, yet your eyes remained transfixed on her 5’2” frame as she stomped and swayed to a revamp of Ann Peebles’ 1974 track “I Can’t Stand The Rain.”
But nothing could’ve prepare me for “The Rain” video. Everything about Missy moved me: From the erratic dance moves and fisheye camera tricks to cheeky one-liners like “I break up with him before he dump me / To have me, yes you lucky”; we were all simply guests in her afrofuturistic world. An alternative void where a black woman who was scorned by critics for her dark skin, full lips, and curves could amplify these said flaws. And, in turn empower a host of brown and black girls with a figurative “f*ck you” to an industry that had regarded her as too fat to be successful.
Beyond the Michelin Man-inspired look, however, Missy had a sense of ownership over her own uniqueness, a characteristic that many artists of today often convey through eyebrow-raising lyrics, outlandish behavior, or virality of their outlandish behavior the Internet. For Missy, being weird or quirky was simply intuitive. “I was never afraid to be a provocative woman,” the Grammy-award winning singer told Elle as the cover star of their May issue. “I knew I could have on a blow-up suit and still have people talking. It was bold and different.”