Sunday 7 October 2012

Whatever Happened To RnB? - Missy Elliott

Music is always changing and what is popular one year might be derided as hilariously crap the next but there are certain genres that will always be around, albeit in different forms. Rock will always be rock, whether it’s indie or grunge, and rap will always be rap but RnB is RnB dammit and not this crap dance pop stuff that’s been knocking around the charts for the last couple of years. Do you remember when the term ‘quiet storm’ referred to sensual and mellow RnB and not a deaf person standing in the rain? Artists like Brandy, Mya and TLC used to rule the charts back in the late 90s and early 2000s but gradually, these singers either declined in popularity or sold out to perform a more poppier or dancey sound… I’m looking at you Rihanna and Usher! And damn you Guetta!

In this weekly feature, I’m going to take a look back at some of the best RnB artists of yesteryear, sharing their signature videos and underrated hits, as well as looking at what they’re up to nowadays.

Last week, we took a look at Ciara's career. Click here if you missed it. This week its Missy Elliott's turn.

Hey Missy!

Where do I begin? Well, Missy Elliott is the most successful female hip-hop artist of all time, with six albums certified platinum in the US. But that doesn't quite cover it. She's also an extremely talented producer and songwriter, who has collaborated with billions of other successful artists, including old friends Ginuwine and Aaliyah. But wait, there's more! Missy is also famous for her incredibly diverse and iconic collection of music videos that she has been creating since the mid-90s. And did I mention she sings as well? She's even in tune, unlike a certain Ms Minaj. I've not even begun to mention how Missy can lyrically shift between self-deprecating humour, raw sexuality and heartfelt sadness from track to track.

And Missy has achieved all this without conforming to the celebrity image that most women are expected to adhere to in order to make it in the business.

You wouldn't catch Jennifer Lopez in a giant bin bag on stage! Missy was wearing her crazy s**t years before Gaga and Minaj jumped on the scene. So let's take a look back at how she got started.

With a few production and songwriting credits to her name, Missy kicked off her career as an artist in 1997 with her now classic album 'Supa Dupa Fly'.

Featuring innovative beats from her long-time collaborator Timbaland and her genius flow, Missy Elliott blew all the competition out of the water with this debut. No one had ever really seen an artist like Missy before but what really set her apart from her male rap contemporaries was her strong feminine viewpoint and cutting edge videos directed by Hype Williams. Click here to see where her iconic video 'The Rain' came in a rundown of Hype's best promos. Any of her videos from this era could have made the list however and to prove it, I'm going to share another Missy classic with you now, Sock It 2 Me'.

I've gotta get me one of those spacesuits!!!

'Supa Dupa Fly' was of course a worldwide smash, with critics applauding Missy's talent and proclaiming the album as a revolutionary step in hip-hop. So the pressure was on for her sophomore effort but Missy did not disappoint. Two years later, 'Da Real World' hit the shelves, featuring a darker style that saw Missy work with a wider range of hip-hop stars, including Busta Rhymes, Beyonce, Lil Kim and a certain Marshall Mathers before he became big later that year. 

This is my favourite Missy Elliott album of all time, where she took the formula of her debut but somehow improved it in every way. Missy was always ahead of the game, as can be seen in such releases as 'She's A Bitch' and 'Hot Boyz' but my all-time favourite video from this album, hands down, has to be 'All N My Grill'. The track features Nicole Wray and either MC Solaar or Big Boi, depending on which version you hear. Anyway, here's the video.

'We can go zig-zag zig-zaggy!'

Did I also mention that Missy has rapped on a ridiculous amount of singles released by other artists? Here's one from around this time, which showcases Missy's more raunchy playful side. You know you love it; Mariah Carey's 'Heartbreaker Remix'.

Shocking stuff!

In 2001, Missy Elliott returned with her most commercial effort yet, 'Miss E...So Addictive', which saw her reach new heights of success with the lead single 'Get UR Freak On'.

I'm obsessed with 'One Minute Man' but 'Get UR Freak On' is one of the highlights of Missy's career and I would be remiss not to show it to you now. Sure you've all seen it before but who can't get enough of that freaky priest?! Side note; This was also the start of Missy's tendency to squeeze an album track at the end of each video for extra promotion.

'Open your mouth, give you a taste...'

The success of Missy's third album was tainted however by the death of her longtime friend Aaliyah in a tragic plane crash. Missy was clearly affected deeply by this loss and has regularly paid homage to her friend since in both her videos and her songs. Here's a classic Aaliyah track from 1996 which Missy co-wrote with Timbaland, 'Hot Like Fire'.

I love it. To hear another incredible collaboration between Missy and Aaliyah, the heartfeld ballad 'I Care 4 U', click here

On a lighter note however, 2001 also saw Missy co-produce the huge hit 'Lady Marmalade', which featured the vocals of Mya, Pink, Lil Kim and Christina Aguilera, gaining the group a grammy for 'Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals'.

'Welcome to the Moulin Rouge...'

Who let that creepy skeleton lady in at the end?

The following year, Missy released her fourth album, 'Under Construction', which has since become her best selling album to date.

This release went back to a more old-school sound for Missy and while 'Gossip Folks' was a big hit with Ludacris on guest duties, it would be criminal to not share the lead single with you now. 'Work It' was one of the biggest songs of Missy's career, due to its innovative lyrics and classic 80s feel. The video was also one of her best; directed by Dave Myers, it ended up winning 'Video of the Year' at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. Such a classic.

'It's your flipjkfdsfnmsjs!'

Due to the incredible success of 'Under Construction', Missy felt the pressure to release a follow-up quickly and so in 2003, 'This Is Not A Test!' became Missy's fifth album release.

While the album still received favourable reviews, the singles 'Pass That Dutch' and 'I'm Really Really Hot' did not perform as well as previous hits. For me, the problem was that 'Pass That Dutch' felt too similar to 'Work It' yet suffered by comparison. When I bought the album, I was surprised to discover quite a few songs that I absolutely loved more than the singles. If only Missy had released these instead, then perhaps the album would have fared better. I'm going to share two of them with you now. The first song, 'Don't Be Cruel' features Monica and Beenie Man singing and rapping over a raw ecstatic beat that references Salt N Pepa classic 'Push It'.


My other choice for a potential single from this album is the bouncing 'Pump It Up', which showcases Missy in a playful mood with collaborator Nelly.

'Get up on my booty, tutti frutti on the rooty!'

To see another side of Missy from around this time, click here for her medley performance at the VMAS with Madonna, Britney and Christina.

After the relative lack of success Missy received for 'This Is Not A Test', her next album, 'The Cookbook' saw her take a different approach. Timbaland, who previously produced every Missy album, only worked on two tracks here, handing over production duties to other hitmakers such as Scott Storch and The Neptunes. The album was a return to form for Missy, gaining a number of grammy nominations for the hip-hop star.

Lead single 'Lose Control' was a stomping high-energy club hit that featured Ciara on guest vocals. It's one of my favourite Missy videos and you need to check it out here this second. The video I wanted to share from this album though was the lesser known follow-up single 'Teary Eyed', which saw Missy in an unusually introspective mood on this hip-hop ballad. The open vulnerability of the lyrics makes this one of my favourite Missy tracks, even though it didn't perform particularly well upon its release. It's also one of Missy's only singles to be completely sung by the star, with not a rap in sight.

After the regular appearance of a new Missy Elliott album every couple of years, it came as a huge surprise to fans when her next album, tentatively titled 'Block Party', failed to appear on its expected 2008 release date. Expectations were high as Missy had already released a video for the song 'Ching-a-ling' to promote the 'Step Up 2 The Streets' soundtrack. The promo featured a famous Japanese hip-hop dance group U-Min and lots of crazy videogame effects. It's not her best single ever but it worked well as a stop-gap between 'Cookbook' and what should have been a quick follow up for 'Block Party'. Check it out here.

I personally prefer the song 'Shake Your Pom Poms' which appears at the end of the video.

A number of songs such as 'Best Best' and Act A Fool' were touted to be the lead singles for 'Block Party' but neither surfaced and the album began to suffer delay after delay. No reason was given for some time and fans were left disappointed until in 2011, Missy revealed that she had been suffering from Graves disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system. Luckily, Missy seems to be coping better with her illness in the past year as she has gradually returned to the music scene with a few guest spots here and there. One particularly successful collaboration occurred on the remix to Katy Perry's 'Last Friday Night' remix which gained the pair another number one in the US. See the official lyric video here.

Now in 2012, 15 years after her debut and 6 years since her last album release, Missy is back with two new singles that will hopefully see the imminent release of 'Block Party' for all us patient fans out there. Both songs, '9th Inning' and 'Triple Threat', feature Timabaland on production and guest rap duties while Missy does her thing, spitting inventive rhymes over cutting edge beats. I'M SO HAPPY SHE'S BACK! Listen to both songs here.  

They're both great but my favourite has to be Triple Threat for all its boasting. Let's just hope Missy does another kick ass video now to remind everyone that she's back!

Well that's it for now. I know there's so much more that could be said about Missy but if this post got any longer then I might as well just write a bloody book! Feel free to comment if you've enjoyed looking back at these classic Missy Elliott tracks or even if you just want to share some Missy love. Let's see her back on top. Who needs Minaj anyway!?

Come back next Sunday for a look back at Brandy's career and to see what she's up to now.


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