The First Ladies of Rap and Hip Hop culture are all forward-thinking pioneers whose legacies, both individual and collective, are undeniable. While these women don’t technically require a proper introduction at this stage in their careers as veterans, there’s no better time than Women’s History Month to celebrate the achievements, challenges overcome and contributions each have made over the past three decades.
The relationship women have with Hip Hop is a complicated one, as listeners, as creators and in how they are represented. While overcoming being subjected to misogyny, adversity, economic hardship, incarceration, sexual abuse/objectification, violence, and so on, these particular women have long worked to get their voices heard, consequently paving the way for other women to blaze their own paths as well. Despite securing a rightful place and identity within the culture not coming easy, the First Ladies of Hip Hop have pushed all sorts of boundaries over the years, creating some of the most seminal works helping to define and refine the genre as we know and love it today as a result.
Celebrating: Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott
Introduction: Missy Elliott is a Grammy-Award winning singer, rapper, songwriter and producer who has paved the way for female Hip Hop moguls, with many giving her the title of the first woman to achieve mogul status within the genre’s culture.
Her childhood was rocky, as she overcame sexual abuse as a child and witnessed domestic abuse and violence between her parents. She left home as a teenager and started a group Sista, that signed to Swing Mob Records in 1991. After the group split up when their album was shelved, Missy began flexing her songwriting and production skills working with the likes of Timbaland and Aaliyah. Up next came the formation of her own record label, and from there, her first album Supa Dupa Fly launched her successful career with a platinum debut and the rest is history.
Work It: Missy has taken home five Grammy Awards throughout her career and has sold over 30 million records. Involved heavily in each aspect of her art, her cred extends into the visual arena, with her music video for “Lose Control” accounting for one of her five golden Gramophones.
Breaking Barriers: Throughout her career, Missy has time and time again proved with grace and poise that women can be both sexual and powerful, defying the stereotypes that were specifically bred within Hip Hop. Missy consistently has been both a pioneer and a feminist, carrying her own with strength as an entrepreneur and a visionary. In turn, she helped to inspire countless of female performers who came after her (more than she knows).
List Of Achievements: Between her six studio albums and insane production credit list, Missy’s discography is full of hits. Along with Timbaland, Missy produced and wrote nine tracks for Aaliyah’s second album, One In A Million, which helped to launch the careers of all three, going double platinum. Missy continued to branch out collaboration wise and throughout her two decade long career has worked with the likes of Ginuwine, Lil Kim, Tweet, Busta Rhymes, Whitney Houston, Diddy, Eve, Mya, Keyshia Cole, Pharrell, Monica and JAY Z, to name a few. Missy is also the only female rapper to have six albums that were certified platinum by the RIAA. When you do the math, Missy has been nominated for over 250 awards, taking home over 100 of those awards.
Noteworthy: While the list of Missy’s production and music credit is pages and pages long, one thing that is incredible to point out is that throughout her career, her focus on music has remained at the center of her creativity. Even when enough people took to Twitter for her to notice their comments that they didn’t know who she was, prior to her 2015 Super Bowl performance with Katy Perry, Missy flipped the situation with genuine gratitude and humor, saying that she thinks its cool that kids think she’s new, promising to continue to rip down stages 20 years into her career.
Fun fact from the vault: At the age of four, Missy knew that she wanted to be a performer, but no one took her seriously for all sorts of reasons. Missy has shared that she used to line up her dolls on her bed and treat them as her audience when she would practice singing as a child. Another fun fact is that in 1999 she had her own lipstick line, with supermodel Iman, which was produced until 2005, offering part of its proceeds to Break The Cycle, a non-profit organization to help prevent youth domestic violence. She also is credited with being a matchmaker for the iconic romantic pairing of Faith Evans and the late Notorious B.I.G.
Wise Words: “I want kids of this generation to see that everything is cool, that there’s some kind of unity in Hip Hop. We all found something that’s really important to us, and music is all we’ve really got.”
Where she is now: This week specifically, Missy was brought on to speak at SXSW 2016 along with Michelle Obama and Queen Latifah. The First Lady of the United States also recruited Missy, Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monae and Zendaya, as well as Diane Warren, to record an iTunes-exclusive track titled “This Is For My Girls,” to help promote her educational initiative Let Girls Learn. If that’s not ultimate squad goals, we don’t know what is. Missy’s return after her 10-year-hiatus is absolutely a blessing to the very game that she helped shape, breaking the rules by creating her own.
Take a listen: