In Celebration of Missy Elliott's Singular Career

On her 50th birthday, a vital reminder that there is literally no one like Missy Elliott.

By Billy Nilles Jul 01, 2021 4:00 PMTags
Watch: Missy Elliott's "Cookbook" Turns 15: E! News Rewind

There is no one quite like Missy Elliott.

From her arrival on the scene in the mid-'90s, first as an in-demand producer and then as a groundbreaking artist in her own right, she's commanded our attention in a way that very few else have been able to. 

With a steadfast refusal to be pigeonholed, she challenged the very notion of what a female MC could talk about and look like, centering her career with a feminist body- and sex-positive outlook decades before any of that was commonplace. In fact, you can a direct line from Missy's arrival to Lizzo's dominance.

With childhood friend and superproducer Timbaland by her side during the creation of much of her six studio albums, she introduced the music industry to one of its most inventive and beloved partnerships. (Where's their Oscar-nominated biopic, Hollywood?!)

She's sold more albums than nearly every other female rapper in the game, been asked by nearly everyone in the industry to bless their remix with a verse, and became the first to both be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the MTV VMAs. And in the same year—2019—no less.

The Most Memorable Music Moments Since 1990

Not only that, but she made everyone rethink what a rap video ought to look like. Dedicated to experimentation and, above all else, pure fun, a Missy video is and always has been a pure moment. On her 50th birthday July 1, we're celebrating the icon with a look at the clips that made her a TRL fixture and the darling of Millennials with good taste everywhere.

"The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)"

The one that started it all. This Hype Williams-directed clip for the lead single from her debut album, 1997's Supa Dupa Fly, put the emcee on the map. The leather "trash bag" blown-up suit and gold helmet, all viewed through the fisheye lens shot are indelible parts of pop culture. And for good reason. Over two decades later, this video remains just as mind-blowing as the day it dropped.

"She's a B**ch"

When it came time to produce the video for the lead single off Da Real World, her 1999 sophomore album, Missy wisely reteamed with Hype for this avant-garde clip that still feels futuristic 20 yeas later. The moment she and her dancers rise out of the water on the "M" platform? It's everything.

"Get Ur Freak On"

For this video for her bhangra-referencing hit off 2001's Miss E... So Addictive, Missy teamed with director Dave Meyers for an eye-popping, cameo-heavy clip full of choreo that we've been clumsily performing in the comfort of our own home since we first saw it. And who can forget her Stretch Armstrong moment when her head flies at the camera as she spits—not literally, yet—"Is that your chick?!" Iconic.

"Gossip Folks"

The one that even the non-fans probably know quite well. Working with Dave again on this high-school set clip for the hit off 2002's Under Construction, Missy even managed to make track suits cool again. And in what we've come to recognize as a signature feature of her videography, the "Funky Fresh Dressed" detour midway through the video gives us live every time.

"Pass That Dutch"

The iconography that Missy and Dave, teaming up yet again, cram into this video for the lead single off 2003 album This Is Not a Test! is astounding. The cornfield dancing under the UFO, the What's Happening!! visual reference, the beauty pageant crowd of Bratz dolls, the King Kong parody—it's all just so f--king good.

"Lose Control"

We'll give you one guess who Missy worked with on the video for The Cookbook's lead single? (If you guessed Dave Meyers, congratulations on paying attention.) The choreography in this one is truly out of—you guessed it—control.

"WTF (Where They From)"

When Missy briefly returned in 2015 with this outstanding standalone single featuring Pharrell Williams, she turned to Dave to remind the kids just what a legend she is. Co-directing the video with her frequent collaborator, the clip is as gonzo as ever. There's a marionette segment, you guys. Marionettes! 

"Throw It Back"

For the lead single off ICONOLOGY, her 2019 EP, Missy teamed with Dave's protégé Daniel Russell for a color-saturated clip that called back to all of her best moments over the years while still pushing herself ever forward past the cutting edge. The dancer jumping double dutch on her braids as she blows bubbles on her gum, unbothered as ever?! Come on. There is no one better.

This article was originally published on Sunday, July 5, 2020 at 12 a.m. PT.