Better known as Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, five-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter/producer Melissa Arnette Elliott was the top female hip-hop album seller throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s thanks to Top 10 hits like “Hot Boyz,” “Lose Control,” “Get Ur Freak On,” “Gossip Folks,” and “Work It”—which won the Grammy in 2004 for Best Female Rap Solo Performance as well as MTV’s Video of the Year Award. Her groundbreaking songs dealing with topics including feminism, gender equality, body positivity and sex positivity blazed the trail for the likes of Destiny’s Child, Eve, Macy Gray, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj.
Elliott was born in 1971 in Portsmouth, Virginia, and after a traumatic childhood, formed a girl group, Fayze, writing most of its material and enlisting neighborhood friend Tim Mosley (Timbaland) to produce. Impressing Jodeci’s DeVante Swing, she and the group moved to New York, changed its name to Sista, and signed to Elektra Records via DeVante’s Swing Mob imprint.
She wrote (and rapped on) her first hit, “That’s What Little Girls Are Made of,” for Raven-Symoné, in 1993, and fronted Sista’s 1994 single “Brand New,” then worked on tracks for Aaliyah (she co-wrote her 1996 No. 1 R&B/hip-hop hits “One in a Million” and “If Your Girl Only Knew”) and SWV. Her debut as featured vocalist came that year with a guest verse on Sean “Puffy” Combs’s remix of “The Things You Do”--which she co-wrote—and it led to her own Elektra imprint Goldmine, where she released her debut album Supa Dupa Fly (1997), which spawned the hits “Sock It 2 Me,” “Hit Em Wit Da Hee,” “Beep Me 911,” and “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly).” The album went platinum and brought her Rolling Stone’s Rap Artist of the Year designation.
She ended the ‘90s with two writing/producing credits on Whitney Houston’s My Love is Your Love album and others including Nicole’s “Make It Hot,” Total’s “Trippin,” and 702s “Where My Girls At?,” and appeared on Spice Girl Mel B’s solo single “I Want You Back.” Her 1999 album Da Real World featured Aaliyah, Eminem and Beyonce and showcased the No. 1 hit “Hot Boyz” and also went platinum, as did Miss E … So Addictive (2001, yielding the Grammy-winning hit “Get Ur Freak On”) and Under Construction (2002), which went double-platinum and featured collaborations with TLC, Beyoncé and Jay Z—and the hits “Work It” and “Gossip Folks.” Her 2003 platinum album This Is Not a Test included the hits “Pass That Dutch” and “I’m Really Hot,” and her 2005 album The Cookbook featured the Grammy-nominated “We Run This” and the anthem “Lose Control.”
Elliott was diagnosed in 2008 with a rare autoimmune disease that caused a long period away from performing, though she continued to write and produce for other artists including Jennifer Hudson, Monica and Keyshia Cole. She guested on projects by Katy Perry, Little Mix and Eve, and collaborated with Kelly Rowland and Fantasia on the Grammy-nominated “Without Me” in 2013. In 2015 she returned with the Pharrell-produced gold single “WTF (Where They From),” and performed at the Super Bowl halftime show. In 2016 she appeared with Michelle Obama on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke—during which the then First Lady rapped her lyrics.
Wrote (and rapped on) her first hit, “That’s What Little Girls Are Made of,” for Raven-Symoné, in 1993