Hip hop has historically been male dominated and characterised by an ugly sexualisation of ‘hos and bitches’. Thank God, then, for the handful of super strong women who are upsetting the industry’s power balance. Sylvia Patterson talks to their queen, MISSY ELLIOTT, on the eve of her visit to Scotland.
believe women will save the world.‘ says Missy Elliott. evangelically. ‘lt‘s still a male-dominated world but we‘re getting so much stronger. You look at the (irammies. you see more women collecting these awards than guys. so women are really steppin‘ forward now. And we do it by bein‘ positive. With guys. a lotta times. their self— esteern is so low they have to put women down. be negative. to make themselves feel masculine and strong. So if we females stick together. we can become a strong Strung entity.‘
This two-pronged. industrial—strength. hip hop entity pitchf‘orks into Glasgow: the ‘Hip-Hop Don‘t Stop' tour spectacular featuring Missy ‘Misdemeanour‘ lilliott and psychedelic soul-kook Kelis (with support from newcomer Talib Kweli. who is a man. but don‘t hold that against him. 'ladies‘). Two months ago. across the US. Missy toured an all- female show. with Beyonce and Alicia Keys. her message to the world now obvious; in 2004. it‘s all about the wimmin. At 32. Missy Elliott is the world‘s first. and only. female hip hop mogul. owner of her own label the Gold Mind lnc. writer. performer. producer and A&R talent scout. her status achieved on no one‘s terms but her own. through nothing but natural talent. Since 1997 and the futuristic sonics of ‘Supa Dupa I’ly‘ — created with her life-long creative partner. Tim ‘Timbaland‘ Moseley — she‘s become the most successful female hip hop artist the world has ever known. as revered for her cartoon video theatrics as the scattering beats that shaped hip hop's course thereafter. ‘Missy Elliott has saved hip hop.‘ said the Beastie Boys in 1997. In l999. both Damon Albarn and Jimmy Jam went one better. naming their daughters after her.
Butts. blunts. thongs. hos. cars. cash. ice‘n‘fiash. it‘s all 'Hip Hop Spinal Tap‘. 24/7. on global MTV. No wonder Missy rools — the first modem. female musical icon who doesn‘t use sex (or cliches) to sell. Because Missy doesn‘t have to. You‘ve never seen her. and you never will. aboard a 50-foot limo. slewing champers of‘f the chest of a billow-bloused loverman with his pantaloons adrift. Growing up in Virginia. with neighbour Tim Moseley. Missy emerged from a fledgling movement of ‘tuff‘ and party-hard girls: Salt‘n‘Pepa. Queen I.atifah. Monie Love. MC Lyte. Southern-belt Virginia. sometime home of The Wa/rorrv. was no creative hotbed.
‘But there was sornethin‘ in the water. in the apple pies and pork chops.‘ laughs Missy. ‘New York was hip. the west coast was hip. so if Salt‘n‘Pcpa came out with ‘Push lt‘ we would get that eight months later. That‘s where a lot of the creativity came from because we didn‘t have music like that. We had to build it ourselves.‘ A songwriter from the age of eight. Missy was all about ‘self-empowerment‘. a genius-level student fighting for creative independence. Long told by the industry she was ‘too big‘ for solo fame. she wrote songs for others. by 1996 becoming a million-selling writer for Janet Jackson. Brandy. Puff Daddy and Mariah Carey. One year later. aged 26. she found lilektra. the label that made her name. gave her total creative control and her own imprint. the (iold Mind Inc.
‘By the time I came to them. people had seen me in videos. they knew my size and people still wanted a record from me. Plus. I had a female (‘li(). Sylvia Rhone. and she
understood: she‘s wasn‘t lookin‘ at it from a male point of
view. like “you need to lose weight. get into some tight clothes. be sexy.“ She was “do what you wanna do. we‘re behind you l()()‘/(
Since then. even through the dramatic weight loss of the last few years (a circular 5‘ l“. her doctors demanded she treadmill-train to protect her heart). she remains the pioneer against male fantasy-led ‘false images‘. Harlem-born Kelis. 24. is also a self-made construct. shrieking onto the globe with the terror-pop. vengeance-opus. ‘(‘aught ()ut 'l‘here.‘
‘Women. especially black female artists. were always expected to be a certain way. expected to be crooning about
‘I DEFINITELY DON'T HATE MEN. BUT I'M VERY, VERY WATCHFUL I HAVE A RADAR FOR BAD GUYS AND I DON'T TAKE NO SHIT'
some guy.‘ she muses. 'And that was something I wanted to change.‘ After a disastrous second album in 2001. the cyber- funk caper ll’mrderlurrd (a rare Neptunes-produced defeat) she was dropped by her American label. This year comes the rebirth (minus the Neptunes) with third album 'liisry. co- produced by Andre 3000 from ()utKast. The pair are kindred spirits: flamboyant. fearless. demented. and deft with an afro.
‘There‘s definitely a smart way to be feminine and sexy and assertive.‘ says Kelis. ‘I don‘t want to be strong the way a man is strong. I‘m female. I have breasts. at waist. an ass. hair. I don‘t have to burn my bra and walk around with a moustache to prove I‘m a strong woman.‘ lilsewhere. there are the cartoon sex gonks like l.‘il Kim. the bewigged. naked nymph. who panders to men and parodies them. In hip hop‘s entire canon. she reigns as porn‘s ambassador. ()n the Notorious K.I.M. album. she coos: ‘l‘ll let you cum in me while you stick it in the booty/Lick your nut off. stick it back in the coochie.‘
She admits. almost brags. she was comprehensively moulded by a man. her sometime lover and deceased rap legend. Biggie Smalls. ‘Biggie did everything for me.‘ she says. ‘l-le picked out my pictures. basically told me when to go to sleep. when to eat. what to eat. when to write songs. how to do everything.‘ To Kim. a twice-a-day gym goer with buoyant silicone breasts. her physical self is everything. ‘You go through a lot when you‘re try‘na stay beautiful and have a nice body.‘ she lilts. ‘You have to be strong in order to keep it tip. Because women. we only look good two weeks outta the month. ‘(‘os the other two weeks you‘re preparing to have your ministration [sic]. Your body swells up.‘
Not. then. the (‘amille Paglia of hip hop.
Missy is a one-woman forcefield against male oppression in all its forms: cultural. physical. sexual. financial. emotional. Growing up in poverty. she witnessed brutal domestic violence. her father beating her mother Patricia so badly he‘d pull her arms out of her sockets. leave her for dead on the floor and hold a gun to both their heads. Simultaneously. Missy was raped and systematically sexually abused for a year. at the age of eight. by her lb-year-old cousin (who later died of a drugs overdose). For years. Missy promised Patricia she‘d save them. by becoming a star. ‘l‘d tell her. “l‘rn gonna take you away and get you a biiiig house and have a biiiig pretty car. I‘m gonna get you . . . a Thunderbirdl‘" Her life— long goal. ever since. has been multi-fold independence. for herself. her mother and women~of-the-world.
‘I definitely don‘t hate men. But I‘m very. very watchful. l have a radar for bad guys and I don‘t take no shit.‘ In a six- albtrm career. Missy‘s musical mission remains clear: ‘to make risky records‘. In recent years. they‘ve become sexual (‘()ne Minute Man‘). ecstasy—fuelled. (‘4 My People‘) and party-anthem berserk. In our boil-in-the-bag. pop-brand era. hip hop‘s underground has gone — especially for the women — morphing over l5 years through R&B. pop and soul: I)a Brat. live. the disappeared Lauryn Hill. Britain‘s garage-pop chancer l.isa Maffia. These days. the best hip hop records are the soundtrack to lapdancer‘s legs. specifically ‘ln I)a (‘lub‘ by the man called ‘liiddy‘ Cent.
‘lt‘s not like it was back in Run l)M(‘. Whodini days.‘ nods Missy. ‘There are great artists. but there‘s too much on the pop side now. So we gotta wait for the next producer. see what he — or she — got.‘ When Missy finally steps down. she‘ll become. perhaps. the Quincy Jones of her generation. ‘I wanna take it to the top level.‘ decides Missy. ‘l‘m tryna be another Sylvia Rhone. inspire other women. be a big writer for movies. be a big (‘li() in the next coupla years. As a boss. I have a vision for my artists. but I‘m pretty laid back. I don‘t go in there with a “waaahl” attitude because I don‘t have to.‘
Hip Hop Don’t Stop Tour parks at SECC, Glasgow, Mon 21 Jun.
(OP-2 June 2004 THE LIST 13