Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott: One Bad Bitch

This is a picture of Missy Elliott wearing an all black leather outfit.

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Why Missy?

“For them hatas fuck whatever you say/
Because you know I’m too cool for you anyway/
I’m just a bad bitch/
M-I-S, Miss”
(Missy Elliott “I’m Really Hot” 2003)

Many people see Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott as “The only female rapper who doesn’t rely strictly upon her body to sell records. Intelligent, creative, and in posession [sic] of a mind of her own […] the only female rapper that doesn’t have to run around naked to sell records. Waaay [sic] less freaky looking now that she lost some weight. Probably the most creative rapper even out there now” (Missy Elliot  In other words, people see Missy Elliott as “creative,” someone who has style and enough skills to not rely on her body as other women rappers do.

While Missy Elliott is popular because of her lyrical writing ability and song producing and for the above reasons, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott is also a serious rapper in the field of hip hop. She is the only female rapper to have six albums be certified as platinum by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and she is also “one of the first female hip-hop superstars [who] has received recognition as one of the most successful songwriters of the modern music era” (Missy Elliott She has written songs for other artists like Ciara, Tweet, Torrey Carter, and etc. And since she is known for her sexually charged lyrics and her “badass” attitude, her lyrics and songs have a lot of areas where it’s advantageous to theorize and analyze.

Missy Elliott is a very influential black female rapper who altered the hip-hop world with her innovative, sexually charged rhymes that are paired with beats by Timbaland. Analyzing Missy Elliott, her lyrics, and music videos, I hope to gain a deeper look at how Missy Elliott battles gender issues, race, and excels the art of hip hop to create herself as an authentic rapper to everyone who listens to her. Missy Elliott is an influential black female rapper because she fights feminine stereotypes and battles black women image through her music videos, her lyrics, and how she doesn’t care about what people say about her.


Missy Elliott was born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1971 as Melissa Elliott. She was first in a group called Sista, but the group’s debut album fell through when Swing Mob Records did. Missy then went to Timbaland, where she at first worked with a number of artists as their songwriter or the vocalist/rapper, before signing herself in with Elektra in 1996. Her first hit, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” was such a huge hit, and it made people realize “…just how multi-talented Missy indeed was, singing on some, rapping on others” (Birchmeier). Missy then worked with other artists for her own albums, including Eminem, Ludacris, Timbaland, Fantasia, etc. In 1999, she “began appearing in TV ads for The Gap and Sprite, proving that not only was she a musical talent but also an important icon for the era” (Birchmeier). Missy Elliott created a phenomenon that many artists wanted to be a part of; Missy received calls from Michael and Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey who all wanted to be associated with her. As Birchmeier asserts:

No female rap artist paralleled the success of Missy Elliott, neither during her reign nor before, and none was more deserving. Unlike most of urban music’s female superstars, Missy writes her own songs as well as performs them, and her creative wit is on a par with her stylish demeanor…she established herself as a genuine hitmaker…Missy proved that, with both dignity and joviality, women could be sexual as well as forceful. As a result, she defied every stereotype imaginable without forsaking her broad fan base. (Birchmeier)

The background on Missy Elliott provides us with how she started out and how her career started and is still going strong. Missy Elliott is a successful rapper, and she uses her skills as an artist to maintain the authenticity of a rapper who is changing the viewpoint of black female bodies and being stereotyped.

Authenticity of Missy Elliott

Michael Eric Dyson is an important intellectual for understanding and interpreting Missy Elliott, for he is known to speculate and conceptualize hip-hop and its authenticity.  He is an American author, academic, and radio host who focuses on hip-hop and black culture. He was named by Ebony as one of the hundred most influential black Americans and currently is a Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University (Michael Eric Dyson In an interview with Meta DuEwa Jones, a Professor of African American Literature at Howard University, they discuss the authenticity of black rappers, question who is authorized to interpret and articulate hip-hop’s artists, and further discuss class distinction in different races and how it is portrayed in hip-hop and in different artists (HU Dyson states, “Patriarchy and sexism and misogyny are tried and true American traditions from which hip-hop derives its own gender self-understanding, its articulation of how men and women should behave and what roles they should play” (Jones 790). However, Dyson brings up Missy Elliott and how she is trying to get out of the gender roles placed upon her by society through her lyrics. Dyson thinks that Missy Elliott “articulates a politics of female self-regard that is independent of black masculinity” (Jones 790). Missy Elliott is rapping about how she doesn’t need her sexuality and her black body to control her men because she uses her lyrics and her skills as a rhetor to control them. Dyson states, “It’s rare that females in hip-hop are able to articulate an alternative discursive framework, or a competing or parallel moral universe, where the interest of women are foregrounded and the possibility of a patriarchal system is precluded” (Jones 791). Dyson ends his interview with how he believes there are separate areas where hip-hop artists can find themselves: “Either you sell out to white corporate interests and get exploited or you stay pure and black and at home and undistributed and unable to cross over [or] become entrepreneurs, learn the record business, and still maintain your roots” (Jones 801).  Dyson attests that there is a way to maintain your integrity and even your authenticity:

Though it’s a much more complicated matter than living in the hood or speaking a certain way…You can still spit venom at white supremacy, social injustice, the personal limitations imposed by a dominant culture, and still use…the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, or at least to break in and enjoy some of the bounty. (Jones 801)

Dyson points out that authenticity isn’t just rapping about how you grew up in the hood and how you are there now, or how you speak a certain way because you believe that’s how ‘gangstas’ speak (Lil’ Wayne), it’s how you use your roots to fight in what you are rapping about; white supremacy, social injustice, and, in Missy Elliott’s case, female stereotypes—especially black female stereotypes. Elliott fights with her lyrics and her skills as a writer.  She knows she’s big, but she doesn’t care. “Oh my God, show ‘em I’m large/Shove my beat up, attack like my name was Saddam/I am the bomb from New York to Milan/And I can write a song sicker than Jeffrey Dahm” (Missy Elliott “Pass That Dutch” 2003). In this song “Pass That Dutch,” Missy is rapping about how skilled she is and how it doesn’t matter that she is large. While she could be talking about how famous she is (“Show ‘em I’m large”), in this verse, she is rapping about large women. My interpretation is that she is talking about her size (but that doesn’t mean that the other reading is incorrect). The point is, Missy Elliott recognizes her size and her abilities of songwriting and popularity, and that she states she can “write a song sicker than Jeffrey Dahm” (Missy Elliott “Pass That Dutch” 2003).  Another scholar that also wrote about Missy Elliott and how hip-hop deals with race, class, and how female bodies are portrayed is Marcyliena Morgan.

Morgan is a Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.  She focuses on hip-hop culture, African and African American identity, and verbal performance. Morgan is also the Executive Director of the Hip-Hop Archive (Marcyliena Morgan In her article, “Hip-Hop Women Shredding the Veil: Race and Class in Popular Feminist Identity,” she examines how women use hip-hop to “transform the notion of ‘real’ American womanhood through public performances that become resources for racial and feminist identity—and for ongoing political contestation” (Morgan 426). She discusses how female MCs use hip-hop to display their lyrical skills as well as challenge what it means to be a young black woman in today’s world. Morgan further claims that female MCs do not use their musical and verbal genre to get rid of discrimination. Instead, “They prefer to render it [race, gender, and class discrimination] diaphanous, so that it can be seen and manipulated as symbol, warning, and memory of what it meant to live under its tyranny and the dangers of underestimating dominant society’s desire to erect it once again” (Morgan 427). Morgan believes that female MCs are here to get rid of the notions that all black females are “angry, promiscuous, childbearing, wild black woman” (427). She also claims that there are two themes of African American women’s discourse: One is representing individual and group identity, and the other is representing gender, racial, and class injustice (Morgan 431). Morgan ends with how hip-hop women argue that their desire to be included in society is the passion to be accepted as a “product of all of their experiences” (440). Morgan states that:

Hip-hop women practice and perform desire: the desire for love; the desire for revolution, for respect, for fulfillment, for politics; the desire for a feminist ideology that includes all women and privileges none…Desire shreds the veil…hip-hop…places race and class in your face…Because they focus on women’s responsibility for their own lives and bodies, women in hip-hop consistently explore feminism, the intersections of race and class, and gender marginalization and oppression. (Morgan 440-441)

Morgan believes there are two worlds where hip-hop women live, where the hip-hop world is the only place where they can negotiate class, race, gender, and sexuality. She discusses Missy Elliott throughout this article, for Morgan considers Missy Elliott to be one of those female MCs who know how to work the hip-hop world and fight for justice in gender equalization and feminism. While Morgan uses Missy Elliott’s song, “She’s a Bitch,” I found another song which applies to Missy Elliott’s fight for equality.

Another song where Elliot raps about her body and fights black female stereotypes of being a female with a small waist and a big butt is “Gossip Folks (feat. Ludacris),” made in 2003. In the beginning of the song, there are people in the background, chatting. “Yo, yo, yo move out of the way/We got Missy Elliott coming through/Girl that is Missy Elliott she lost a lot of weight/Girl I heard she eats one cracker a day/I can’t stand the bitch no way” (Missy Elliott “Gossip Folks” 2003).  After this chatting part is over, Missy moves into her song, rapping, “When I walk up in the piece/I ain’t gotta even speak/I’m a bad mamajama goddammit motherfucker you ain’t gotta like me” (Missy Elliott “Gossip Folks” 2003). When analyzing, Missy is stating how she doesn’t even have to speak up; people just start to gossip about her—she doesn’t have any say in what they say about her.  So Elliot then says that she doesn’t actually care what they say about her, because she is a “bad mamajama goddammit motherfucker” (Missy Elliott “Gossip Folks” 2003).  Another reading of this could mean that she doesn’t have to speak (or stand up for herself) whenever she “walks up in the piece” because she knows she’s a badass, so why should she care whether or not you like her?  Missy Elliott is saying that even though she is big and lost a lot of weight, there will always be people gossiping about her. This song is her message that she doesn’t care. And in the end of her song, the people are still gossiping, but this time, it’s along the lines of, “Yo, straight up Missy killed that shit tonight for real/I know I know, I don’t even care about her being pregnant by Michael Jackson/You know what we should do/We should go get her album when it comes out/There she go, there she go, there she/Heeeey Missssy” (Missy Elliott “Gossip Folks” 2003). While the gossip is as comical as the first piece of gossip, they now admire her for killing that shit. And in the end of the song, Missy comes back to tell all the gossipers that, she knows what you are saying about her, and she just doesn’t care. While the lyrics describe how Missy uses her expertise as a songwriter to prove her point of not caring about her body or what people say about her, the music video for “Gossip Folks” also tells an interesting story.

The music video begins with Missy Elliott walking into what looks like a high school.  Everyone is surrounding her.  They begin with the first bit of talking about how Missy Elliott lost a lot of weight because she only eats one cracker a day and that she “got hit with three zebras and a monkey” (Missy Elliott “Gossip Folks” 2003). Missy then begins her part of the song.  She is in the front, dancing in front of everyone; she is basically center stage. However, while Missy Elliott says that she doesn’t care what people say about her body or anything about her, it’s worth pointing out how throughout this music video, Missy Elliott is wearing a long-sleeve jacket and track pants, while all the other females in this video mostly wear short skirts. Missy hides her body behind bulky clothing; something she does in most of her videos. This sends mixed messages, but my interpretation of this is that she feels like she doesn’t need the short skirts or the revealing clothes to be popular. Furthermore, Missy Elliott is constantly changing and reinventing herself, and even though she does this in her music videos, her authenticity is still strong because she sticks to her morals of not caring about what is being said about her, her body, and her sexuality.  In “Gossip Folks,” there is a part about how Missy Elliott is thought to have partners of both genders. In the next section, I will focus on how Missy Elliott battles sexuality and gender.

Sexuality of Missy Elliott

J. Jack Halberstam is the author of four books and is currently a Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. Halberstam’s focus is on queer culture and gender issues. Halberstam’s book, Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal, looks at the shifts in culture that transform gender and sexual politics into something more fluid. Halberstam believes that there is a new way of doing sex and gender. Halberstam claims:

Sexuality is a kind of spongy life force: it absorbs all information, good and bad, it becomes saturated even by the material it is supposed to repel, and in fact, the presumably repellent material just becomes the foundation for other, more resilient, modes of desire. (14-15)

Missy Elliott is worth discussing in this area because no one knows what sexuality Missy Elliott is. Is she gay? Straight? Bisexual? No one knows, and she won’t tell. Going back to Morgan’s article, “Hip-Hop Women Shredding the Veil: Race and Class in Popular Feminist Idenity,” Morgan claims:

Successful female MCs are constantly besieged with gossip regarding their sexuality, a form of gossip not summarily directed toward men. Mainly because they insist on respect for and the safety of women, they are often rumored to be lesbian and bisexual. (437)

This fits Missy Elliott perfectly because she is always rapping about respect and women’s rights; plus, there are many suspicions about her orientation. On the Notable Names Database, it claims that her sexual orientation is straight (Missy Elliott However, in the article, “Lesbian Rapper Blast Missy Elliott for Being Gay,” found in an IKONS Magazine, there is an interview with Syd The Kyd, an “out lesbian rapper,” and when she’s asked about the lack of out-of-the-closet gay urban artists, she claims, “Missy Elliott saying she don’t wanna hang with bitches. You know she loves her some bitches” (“Lesbian Rapper Blast”  A quick search on Google will show that many magazines, blogs, and random people speculate about her sexual orientation, but there is nothing where Missy Elliott is coming straight out and saying who she is. This is another reason why Missy Elliott is such an influential female black rapper: She doesn’t care what people say about her and she doesn’t conform to society’s views of her. And Halberstam says that why should it matter? Halberstam claims that sexuality is fluid, so no one is one thing more than the other. In Missy Elliott’s song “Gossip Folks,” the people who are chatting in the beginning say, “oh well I heard the bitch was married to Tim and started fucking with Trina” (2003). The Tim referred to in this song is Timbaland, who is someone that is often seen paired with Missy Elliott, and many people speculate that they are together. However, the Trina in this song is the rapper Trina who Missy Elliott worked with for a song. It is also speculated by some that Missy Elliott and Trina (and possibly Ciara) have a love affair. While there are many people claiming that they know who Missy Elliott is – and what her sexual orientation is – Missy Elliott does not confirm any claim. Many people call her a butch lesbian; as Halberstam states, “In relation to lesbian sexualities, the category we call ‘butch’ is quite identified with sexual fixity in many cases…butch generally means a totally masculine woman, or a very masculine lesbian” (Halberstam 86).  Halberstam states that while certain forms of femininity can be flexible, masculinity is fixed and rigid (86). However, Halberstam also claims, “Femaleness, and masculinity, needs to be and can be thawed” (87). So while Missy Elliott is seen as a butch lesbian, or rather, a very masculine female, Halberstam’s point is that femaleness and masculinity isn’t the correct definition anymore; it should be something that combines them all. Missy Elliott actually does this in her music video, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly).”

In most of her music videos, Missy Elliot is dressed in long pants and a larger sized sweatshirt. She hides her body in most of her videos, even though – as mentioned earlier – Missy Elliott lost a lot of weight.  Her first music video, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” begins with a shot of Missy Elliott in an inflated black suit (it looks like a garbage bag blown up), and viewers cannot see her true shape. However, the next shot is of Missy Elliott dancing with a group of guys, and it is obvious that she is a bigger woman. Also, during three separate points in the video, a special effect manipulates Missy’s lips, once by distorting their shape and twice enlarging them. She uses her true body shape and also her exaggerated body shape, with the inflated suit, to show that she’s big, but she also raps hard and deserves respect. “To have me, yes you lucky” (Missy Elliott “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” 1997). Missy was always in the spotlight showing the world her body and how much she doesn’t care.  Even though everyone knows she doesn’t care, many people still theorize about her.  Yet, that doesn’t stop people from identifying with her and having her as an influence.

In the article, “Black Women Queering the Mic: Missy Elliott Disturbing the Boundaries of Racialized Sexuality and Gender,” by Nikki Lane (a PhD candidate for the Department of Anthropology at the American University in Washington D.C.), it is claimed that “Black women are often forced into silence by being left out of conversations all together or erased from having made contributions…Black women are talking, loudly, and clearly, and they should be heard” (789). Missy Elliott is definitely someone who is talking, or rather, rapping, loudly and is clearly heard. In fact, she is even being heard in the male crowd. The rap artist J-Doe claims that Missy Elliott is a musical influence for him: “Our generation forgets…we all feel like Drake is the first person to rap and sing and Missy was the first person for me to be like, damn, she can just rap and sing whenever she feels like it” (“Artist J-Doe Talks New Mixtape” Lane claims, “Missy has also given artists like Ludacris and Timbaland a boost in their careers” (790). Timbaland has been featured in most of her songs, as has Ludacris, but Timbaland also produces some of Missy’s songs. Lane thinks that Missy is an influential and an important person because “Her self-definition, her assertiveness, and her active engagement in the construction of a hip-hop identity that includes her and others who are not Black heterosexual men, is exactly what makes her an important figure in hip hop” (790). Lane also points out how most of the women in music videos are there for looks; they have a perfect body with a small waist and big butt.  In contrast, Missy Elliott uses her body as a tool for making herself authentic as a hip hop artist. Missy Elliott is there to include more women in the hip hop genre and not just black men. “Missy is involved in redefining masculinity and femininity in ways that questions, and thus destabilizes, the system of domination” (Lane 791). This idea can be connected to Halberstam’s claim that sexuality and gender should not be rigid and inelastic, but should be fluid and flexible; Missy is the definition of flexible and being unpredictable and changeable. When society thinks one thing of her, like her dating Timbaland, she then shifts to another area, like lesbianism with Trina and Ciara. She doesn’t provide society a fixed definition of her and her orientation; I theorize that Missy Elliott will never really tell anyone of her orientation. And as Halberstam points out, who really cares and why does it matter? Missy Elliott is an influential rap artist because she uses her lyrical skills, her music videos, her authenticity, and her sexuality to create a new form of black women; one that doesn’t care what people say about her body, her sexuality, and her skills.

Missy Elliott is the Bitch

“Independent operated/
I never hesitated/
Haters keep me motivated/
I hope ya did some prayin cause when I come swayin/
I be on the verge of makin’ hits after hits/
This is the kinda shit that tell ya mami don’t forget”
(Missy Elliott “Go to the Floor” 2002).

Missy Elliott is a very influential black female rapper who altered the hip-hop world with her innovative, sexually charged rhymes, often paired with beats by Timbaland. By analyzing Missy Elliott, her lyrics, and music videos, I gained a deeper look at how Missy Elliott battles gender issues, race, and excels the art of hip hop in her lyrics and music videos, creating herself into an authentic rapper. Missy Elliott is an influential black rapper because she fights feminine stereotypes and battles how black woman should look through her music videos, her lyrics, and how she doesn’t care what people say about her.

Works Cited

“Artist J-Doe Talks New Mixtape and Missy Elliot as Musical Influence official.” Dailymotion. n.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

Birchmeier, Jason . “Missy Elliott-Biography.” AllMusic. n.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.

Halberstam, J. Jack. Gaga feminism: sex, gender, and the end of normal. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012. Print

“HU | COAS | Department of English.” HU | COAS | Department of English. n.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

Jones, Meta DuEwa. “An Interview with Michael Eric Dyson.” Callaloo 29.3 (2006): 786-802. Print.

Lane, Nikki . “Black Women Queering the Mic: Missy Elliott Disturbing the Boundaries of Racialized Sexuality and Gender.” Journal of Homosexuality 58.6 (2011): 775-792. Print.

“Lesbian Rapper Blast Missy Elliott for Being Gay.” IKONS Magazine A Groundbreaking Magazine For Women Who Love Women. n.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

“Marcyliena Morgan.” Department of African and African American Studies. n.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

“Michael Eric Dyson | Speaker Profile and Speaking Topics.” Michael Eric Dyson | Speaker Profile and Speaking Topics. n.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

“Missy Elliott.” Missy Elliott. n.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

“Missy Elliott.” N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.

“Missy Elliott.” Urban Dictionary. n.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.

“Missy Elliott “ The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) Lyrics.” Rap Genius. n.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.

Morgan, Marcyliena. “Hip-Hop Women Shredding the Veil: Race and Class in Popular Feminist Identity.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 104.3 (2005): 425-444. Print.

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