The Life of Missy Elliott

"You be yourself and be okay with that." Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott pushed the boundaries of hip hop and redefined the genre — here’s how she did it.

Missy Elliott still working it

Award-winning rapper, songwriter, producer Melissa Arnette Elliott was born in July 1971 in Portsmouth, Virginia. She grew up facing trauma from the domestic violence her mother endured. She refused to stay over at friends’ homes out of fear that on her return home she would find her mother dead. When Elliott was eight, she was molested by a cousin. At the age of fourteen, Elliott's mother decided to end the situation and fled with her daughter on the pretext of taking a joyride on a local bus. Elliott tells her that she feared her father would kill them both for leaving. She and her mom left her dad when she was 14. She went on to form a group called Sista with 3 friends, and songwriting partner Timbaland. Elliott’s debut album Supa Dupa Fly was released in 1997 — followed by an illustrious career that lead to hit the single “Get Ur Freak On” in 2001.

She soon won her first Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. She won four more Grammys for” Lady Marmalade” in 2002, “Scream a.k.a. Itchin” in 2003, “Work It” in 2002, “Lose Control” in 2006. In 2008, she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease — an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid. But at 39, she revealed she’s been off medication and managing the condition. At 47, she became the first female hip-hop artist inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, joining Jay-Z and Jermaine Dupri as the only rap artists.

The same year, she received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award and performed live for the first time in 16 years. Former “Work it” video performer Alyson Stoner, dressed in an Adidas yellow tracksuit with the name “Alyson” spelled out across her shoulders, was in the center spotlight during the epic medley. She showed off some serious acrobatic, pop-and-lock breakdancing moves while Elliott’s hit played in the background. After selling more than 30 million records worldwide, Missy Elliot continues to be a legend, trailblazer, fighter for girls, women, and artists.

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