Birth name: Melissa Arnette Elliott
Birthplace: Portsmouth, VA, USA
July 1, 1971 – present
Years Active: 1991 – present
One of the most commercially successful Hip Hop artists, Missy Elliott is an innovative creative force whose influence extends across the genre. A distinctive songwriter-producer-rapper-singer with a verbal wit to match her visual panache, she’s also notable for her stereotype-defying persona. A five-time Grammy-winner, Elliott has sold over 30 million records in the United States, and is the only woman rapper to have six albums certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. In addition to her own releases, she has worked extensively as a songwriter and producer for other artists, both on her own and in collaboration with childhood friend Timbaland.
Born Melissa Arnette Elliott in Portsmouth, Virginia, Elliott had a difficult upbringing but creating and performing music for family and friends provided solace. Initially billed as Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, she had her first brush with the music industry when her group Sista was signed by Jodeci member Devante Swing to his Swing Mob label. Not much came of that deal, but Elliott’s friendship with Timbaland led to her contributing her production, songwriting, and vocal talents to R&B and Pop star Aaliyah’s smash 1996 album One In A Million and co-producing R&B singer Ginuwine’s 1996 release Ginuwine… the Bachelor. She and Timbaland continued their production partnership, working together with other artists and creating hits for Total, Nicole Wray, and Destiny’s Child.
Elliot launched her own solo recording career with 1997’s Supa Dupa Fly. Spearheaded by the hit “The Rain,” it became the first of six of her albums to go platinum. Recorded in just one week, the album featured guest appearances by Busta Rhymes, Ginuwine, 702, Magoo, Da Brat, Lil’ Kim, and Aaliyah. Da Real World followed in 1999 and although at the time Elliott lamented that the her sophomore album took a couple months, the record matched the success of her debut and the timeframe of its creation is a remarkable achievement – by far exceeding industry standards. A bevy of guests appear on the album, including B.G., Juvenile, Lil’ Mo, Nicole, Beyoncé, Eve, Eminem, Lady Saw, Da Brat, Aaliyah, Big Boi of Outkast, Lil’ Kim, MC Solaar, and Redman.
For Elliott’s third album, 2001’s Miss E… So Addictive, Timbaland continued as her primary collaborator but the production team expanded to include Nisan and Craig Brockman of the Gospel group, the Soul Seekers. The number of guests on the record also grew, with appearances by Charlene “Tweet” Keys, Redman, Method Man of Wu Tang Clan fame, Ludacris, Ginuwine, Eve, Busta Rhymes, Da Brat, Jade, Lil Mo, and Jay-Z. Elliott’s exceptional creativity and productivity actually increased for her next three records.
Released in 2002, Under Construction found Elliott consciously embracing a retro Hip Hop production style. The album’s style was replete with sampling reminiscent of genre forebears like Run-DMC. The album soon achieved multi-platinum status and quickly became the best selling album by a woman Hip Hop artist. It also garnered numerous Grammy nominations and won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance for the single, “Get Ur Freak On.” The album produced multiple singles and the tracks included some previous guest acquaintances: Method Man, Ludacris, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé; and new appearances: Ms. Jade, TLC, and 50 Cent. Incredibly, Elliott released her fifth album just the next year. This Is Not a Test! from 2003 included producers Timbland, Nisan, and Brockman, but Elliott also brought in the R&B production team Soul Diggaz for a few tracks. Although the record didn’t the match the commercial success of previous efforts, it did feature numerous appearances from an impressive number of marquee artists, including: Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, Elephant Man, Fabolous, R. Kelly, Monica, Beenie Man, Nelly, and the Gospel vocal group, The Clark Sisters.
Having felt pressured by her record label to have released her last two albums so quickly, Elliott took her time for her sixth album, The Cookbook. Coming out in 2005, guests included Mike Jones, Slick Rick, Ciara, Fatman Scoop, Mary J. Blige, Grand Puba, Fantasia, Vybz Cartel, and M.I.A. Elliott’s first greatest hits compilation album, Respect M.E., appeared the next year in 2006. During all of the preceding years while making her own albums, Elliott had continued to collaborate with numerous artists in both songwriting and production roles. Those collaborations included work with Whitney Houston, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, and Pink. Elliott concentrated on behind-the-scenes songwriting and production work over the next decade, including work with Swizz Beatz, J. Cole, T-Pain, and Jennifer Hudson.
Appearing with Katy Perry at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2015, Elliott and Perry set a record for the most watched broadcast performance in NFL history. Her digital sales increased as a result and she began to receive enthusiastic recognition for her nearly three-decades of work. Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019, Elliott released her first record of new music in nearly 15 years, the Iconology EP, that same year. Elliott’s new record quickly followed her recent collaboration on the Lizzo song, “Tempo.” In the years since, Elliott has appeared on numerous singles for other artists, including Dua Lipa, continued her production and songwriting work, and ventured into music video directing.