Sometimes when an artist that you haven't though about in years pops up again out of nowhere, it can really unleash a fountain of memories. Missy Elliot at the Superbowl and the incipient Missy Elliot mania couldn't be more deserved. Coming from Hampton Roads, VA like myself, she's always stood out to me and I've always paid attention. Timbaland is too, of course, but he was never as interesting as Missy was and when he was working with her. Here she is even improving on Skrillex and Diplo's work, although that doesn't surprise me too much. Hopefully this is the beginning of a lot more to come. Let's rewind first, though, to where it all began.
I'm cribbing a lot of this from her wikipedia page, because while I remember quite a bit of it I'm old and my memory of 90s music isn't as good as it once was. After the folding of early 90s record label Swing Mob, label Missy, Timbaland, Magoo, Ginuwine, and many others were on, Missy and Timbaland became a bit of a songwriting and producing powerhouse. She was a bedrock of Aaliyah's One in a Million album, a collaborator with Destiny's Child, P. Diddy (a frequent malingerer in all of my musical flashbacks), Total, MC Lyte, New Edition, the list goes on and on. She was everywhere in the mid-90s, but I won't further elaborate on that because if you really want to know, you can always go to her artist discography here or her production discography here. It's voluminous and staggering.
I would be lying if I said my teenage self noticed Missy Elliot's producing and songwriting skills in the background of all of these 90s R&B and Hip-Hop classics. I didn't read liner notes. I had maybe a dozen CDs up until the late 90s. I noticed Missy first the same way a lot of us who actually watched MTV back then noticed her: when this happened towards the end of high school.
Like many suburban white kids growing up in the shallow south, I didn't listen to a ton of hip hop. I've admitted this before. Missy was different, though. She was a local. She was also weird. As much as I saturated my brain with grunge, jam bands, and repetitive big beat electronica, I did enjoy hip hop of the weird variety. Particularly from this gentleman, who had a penchant for the weird and his video reminded me a lot of "The Rain" and came out not too much later.
That bass, Missy's odd flow, and of course the insane visuals. And Missy was a local, in a sense, so I had to cheer for the hometown girl. She was one of many artists who showed me that I was missing out on a lot by listening to too many second-rate grunge acts and hour-annihilating jam bands. And I will always remember that video. Judging by certain things, I'm not the only one who hasn't had it etched permanently in their mind.
Soon later, I actually saw Missy in person. I worked at a Hampton Roads movie theater at the time as an usher, and when I was ripping tickets one day I got a call from the phone on the wall nearby that a VIP would be coming through, a celebrity with a bodyguard. A tiny woman in a pink parka and one of the most enormous men I've seen in my life, her bodyguard, passed through. I couldn't make out her face too well in the parka, but she looked familiar. My manager came by after that and explained that it was Missy. This made sense as the theater itself was apparently very close to where she lived. I was shocked at how small Missy was, but also a little bit starstruck. She was definitely the only celebrity we ever had passing through that theater.
But let's get back to the music.
I loved how aggressively weird this song was, but like many great songs it was nearly ruined by a little too much airplay. A friend of mine in college who wasn't such a big Missy fan used to sing "Cut This Song off, Cut This Song Off" over it. That eerie music, the startling visuals, the overall unapologetic vibe that refused to fit in with any other music out there. But more greatness was to come. I mean, she even made that Moulin Rouge song tolerable (sort of).
These are the three hits that everyone remembers. I'm not going to say my music collection is busting with Missy, but they're songs and videos that I'll never forget. Missy is like that, her music is so distinctive, it even feels creative and fresh today ten, fifteen, almost twenty years after it first came out. It invigorated hip hop at the time, and with a refresh button hit on this, maybe it will invigorate everything now.
So it's good to have you back, Missy. And I (shudder) have to even thank Katy Perry of all people for helping you reclaim the spotlight you deserve. She helped pull me down the hip hop rabbit hole, she opened my ears and my eyes and quasi-traumatized me with an eccentric musical and visual point of view that can't be unseen or unheard. I mean, there are a ton of people that grew up in Hampton Roads who have maybe made more money or are more famous than she is with not quite as much talent (ahem) but she'll always be my favorite from old Tidewater. Maybe it's because I've got a little too much of that unapologetic and aggressive eccentricity in me too. I wish I had the talent and work ethic she does, though.