Why you should add some old school Missy Elliott to your Spotify playlist

Illustration by Twylamae
Words by Sara Stockdale

Anthems for female empowerment.

In this age of female empowerment, it’s important to look back at trailblazers before us to pay homage to their experiences and learn from their strength. One such leader in a very male-dominated industry is Missy Elliott.

Breaking into the music industry during the ’90s – arguably the golden age of rap – Missy Elliott defied stereotypes and held her own in the midst of sexist and degrading lyrics. Starting behind the scenes with her long-time collaborator and childhood friend, Timbaland, Elliott had already racked up numerous writing and production credits for large artists before she started her solo career. Her lyrics and songs are an ode to female body confidence, empowerment of other women and sexual assertiveness. They champion female choices and encourage sexuality in all shapes, sizes and colours.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, as recently as late last year, Missy held the title of the best selling female rapper with 30 million albums sold in the US alone. But despite this, she’s often overlooked when talking about rap’s heavy hitters. It’s time to rectify this and give Elliott the recognition she deserves. Why? Because countless hits of Elliott’s are low-key feminist classics.

Before pop mega icons used the word ‘feminist’, Elliott was merely a woman speaking her truth and prompting others to be themselves unapologetically – female or not. But these are feminist anthems for female empowerment. Take ‘She’s a Bitch’ for example. The track was one of Elliott’s first as a solo artist and saw her reclaim a word that heavily littered ’90s rap in a mainly derogatory sense. The hit is iconic, not only for this power play on the word but also its accompanying video, brimming with futuristic imagery.

At this point, you may be questioning why you should care now, in 2018, when we have so many female role models making great music. While that may be true, it doesn’t make Elliott’s work less relevant. In fact, many current artists have praised Elliott for her contribution to feminism in the R&B music scene, leading the way for their own brands of artistry. And not only was her musicality ahead of her time, Elliott’s creativity is unwavering. Check out her videos from the early days – most notably ‘The Rain’ and ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ – and you’ll see what I mean. These are some of the first of their kind to push the boundaries in terms of music video innovation, creating a piece of work which can stand alone as a form of entertainment.

So why should you add Elliott to your Spotify rotation?

For one, she resolutely champions her gender; frequently promoting body positivity and sexual confidence no matter what body shape or size. In ‘Lose Control’ she says she “got a cute face, chubby waist / thick legs, in shape”. She’s owning her body and isn’t afraid of it.

Elliott is the predecessor of modern-day pop feminists, the OG. She’s not proclaiming to be a feminist to garner favour with a new audience. She’s not thinking about this strategically or in a marketable sense. Her feminist prose isn’t always obvious and in your face. Sometimes, it just simply makes you feel unapologetically good about yourself. A perfect example is ‘I’m Really Hot’. If you’re getting ready for a night out and feeling yourself (or need a self-confidence pick-me-up) give this a listen. It’ll do your ego wonders.

Honestly, Elliott is just being fearlessly herself, which in turn, encourages the same behaviour from her listeners. She takes back her sexual choices from her male counterparts, reclaiming the power and encouraging her peers to do the same. All the while, she never puts down another female or judges others for lifestyle their choices (sexual or otherwise). In ‘Work It’ she tells us: “Girls, girls get that cash / if it’s a 9 to 5 or shaking your ass / ain’t no shame, ladies do your thang / just make sure you’re ahead of the game.”

She also tackles real female issues the rap game often ignores – see ‘One Minute Man’ ft. Ludacris and Trina. It addresses an issue that almost every woman has dealt with in her life. It’s open and honest about the fact that women like sex, while also being a call to arms for guys to do better. A call which, according to a 2001 interview with The Guardian, had very positive outcomes for Elliott’s own sex life.

At the end of the day, female empowerment is about supporting your peers and owning your choices. Not to mention, celebrating your girl gang’s accomplishments, encouraging their choices and being there for one another. Elliott’s music inspires you to be unapologetically yourself and encourages decision making without fear of being ridiculed as a ‘bitch’ or ‘bossy’. Missy Elliott’s songs are certified feminist power anthems for self-confidence and body positivity, making the case for how strong women are when we push each other up and never tear another down.

Stand up for yourself, know your worth and flaunt what you’ve got in whatever way you want to. Make Missy proud and remember: “Ain’t no shame, ladies do your thang.”

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