Missy Elliott sets the blueprint for future women artists

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Bennett Purser

Missy Elliott performs at the Best European Music Festival on July 10, 2010 in the Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad. Photo by Shutterstock.

This fall, Missy Elliott (Melissa Arnette Elliott) will become the first woman rapper inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Her music ruled the clubs and dance floors of the 2000s, with hits like “Work It” and “Lose Control.” KCRW talks about her influence with two fans and culture scholars: Regina N. Bradley, a professor at Kennesaw State University and author of “Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip-Hop South,” plus Elliott Powell, a professor at the University of Minnesota and author of “Sounds from the Other Side: Afro-South Asian Collaborations in Black Popular Music.”

Warning: This video contains explicit language. 

Missy Elliott’s first single was “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” in 1997. Bradley looks back: “It was like a signature moment. How the hell do you make a trash bag a staple fashion icon — was so very 90s. … She was like, ‘I'm gonna do what I want.’ … Something that's so easily discarded and make it this staple business outfit almost.”

She adds, “She's taking inventory — ‘these are the different ways you expect me to present myself because I am a woman in hip-hop.’ And she completely subverts that, so she's like, ‘Yeah, I'm in a gaze,’ but the gaze is hers.” 

Warning: This video contains explicit language. 

Then in 2001 came “Get Your Freak On.” The song particularly touches on marginalized communities who’ve been deemed as “freaks,” including Black, Asian, disabled, and queer people. Powell notes that Missy Elliott has uniquely created songs without gender-specific pronouns.

Bradley says this inclusivity speaks to Missy Elliott’s futuristic viewpoints: “She refuses to be categorized or put into a gaze, if you will, that restricts her to the present. … And there's a very cognizant move on Missy’s part to make sure that the futurity is not only non-binary, that it's queer, it is accessible to everyone. … Being able to be accessible … that definitely makes her stand out.” 

Warning: This video contains explicit language. 

In 2003, Missy Elliott came out with “Pass That Dutch.” 

Bradley points out that she intentionally uses the club to play with gender politics — it’s where people can be most expressive. The environment is also a dark one, and Missy Elliott shines in “gray space.”

“She gives you multiple shades of gray, multiple shades of fantasy, multiple shades of history, right. So it's almost like we're still catching up, which just falls so perfectly into that futuristic aesthetic.” 

Powell adds that Missy Elliott has thought a lot about new generations of Black women in music. “To see her collaborate with folks like Lizzo, when we see … her influence on folks like Megan Thee Stallion, on Cardi B … the ways that she has set … the blueprint for future artists, that's one of Missy Elliott’s most important legacy [sic].”



  • Elliott Powell - professor of American studies, University of Minnesota
  • Regina N. Bradley - professor of English and African diaspora studies at Kennesaw State University


Marisa Lagos