A Music Revolutionary: My Open Letter To Missy Elliott
The one. The only. The GOAT.
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Recently, I joined a plethora of viewers in delight as we watched VH1 pay homage to the 1990s during Hip-Hop Honors. With eager spirits and eardrums, we waited to see who was given the distinct privilege of opening the show with hopes that they wouldn't disappoint. In seconds, the audience, both at home and onscreen, were entranced by blue lights and this vision in all black rising from water like the metaphorical phoenix from the ashes to the tune of "She's a Bitch." It was you, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, blessing us with your gift of true blue artistry.
Edges were snatched. Eight-counts were hit. Nostalgia levels were sky high.
Whether it was a conscious effort or not, life was given.
Who am I kidding? Of course you were going to snatch every wig and reclaim your time on stage. You're Missy. It's what you do and have continued to do for decades.
Seeing you kill that choreography on that platform brought me back to my childhood. I was instantly thrusted back 20 years where, during a co-chill session with my aunt, I heard "he-he-he-he-how" echo through my speakers. Gina Thompson's "The Things You Do" single was a bop within itself, but that remix introduced me to a woman who would ultimately become such a influential figure in my life. From there, every opportunity I had to learn more about you, I seized.
My prayers were answered after hours of gorging The Box. Finger waves, full lips adorned with a deep burgundy shade, white tee, all gold everything, comforting smile. Thunder boomed. The Anna Pebble sample dropped. This gem of a video, produced by the illustrious Hype Williams, shook my entire spirit to its core.
Girl... Talk about a lasting impression. I was hooked.
Memories of me sneaking into my aunt's CD booklet (am I aging myself yet?) to listen to listen to your albums, reciting lyrics I shouldn't have been spitting at my age then, almost breaking my neck to mimic your moves dance through my mind frequently. I always say hip-hop had a hand in raising me; you, along with other femMCs like Kimberly, Dana, Katrina and Inga, marked me for life. You are what womanism sounds like. You showed me early on that empowerment and support of my sisters is vital in this cold world. If I couldn't pour into my community of women, creating a system of reciprocation, my success wouldn't mean much. You uplifted your peers in song and spirit, and have been such a pillar within the rap game (especially among the women around you). That message has stayed with me throughout my adolescence and well into my 20s.
Another thing I love is that you, in your natural form, were a statement of rebellion. Your beauty may have been underestimated because it was packaged differently. Your messages may have been slept on because of it, but you were a beacon of sexual prowess. Songs like "Sock It 2 Me" and "Pussycat" taught my early to trust the power of my feminine energy. Tracks like "All N My Grill," "One Minute Man", "Teary-Eyed" and "Hot Boyz" cultivated my preferences of men along with my tolerance level in romantic situations. Like Frank Ocean sang, I have the whole wide world in my juicy fruit. I don't have to second guess my womanhood nor do I have to equate my worth to the attention I receive from a man. I can prioritize my pleasure and feel damn good about it. Thank you, Misdemeanor.
Above all, you were my audial angel.
Self-love has been a constant struggle of mine. There were days that I contemplated paying off my demons with my life, all because I felt unworthy. Sis, you helped me pay them nothing but dust through with your effervescent spirit and your divine gift of music and creativity. You said it best in "Not Tonight":
You should be like Missy instead of bein' like Mike.
I internalized that message and messages like it. It's become a mantra in my loneliest times. You are a queen. My queen. There will never be another. This letter is just one of the endless bouquets of roses you deserve to smell in your lifetime.
On that warm July day in 1971, the rap world changed for the better. The creative world changed for the better. The universe, in all its complex wonder, changed for the better and that's all because of you, sis. Melissa Arnette, you are the greatest of all time, regardless of the gender binary or time period. Turning your trauma and trials into your expansive portfolio is nothing short of unparalleled. You are a revolutionary whose raw, unapologetic and transcendent take on the rap game made a chubby girl from Prince George's County, Maryland feel like she could be a superstar.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. And though I haven't met you (yet), I love you.