Missy Elliot is perhaps best known for her hit singles ‘Get Ur Freak On’ and ‘Work It’, but before she was a household name, what was her first song?
Missy Elliot’s first song came when she was part of the girl group Sista. The track ‘Brand New’ was released as the leading single from their debut album ‘4 all the Sistas Around da World’, however, the full album was ultimately never released.
Read more about Missy Elliot’s early life, her first song, and her subsequent career.
Missy Elliot, real name Melissa Annette Elliot, grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia.
She had a troubled childhood, which she opened up to the Guardian newspaper about.
Her father would physically abuse her mother and, on one occasion, hit the young Elliot. “I lived in constant fear,” she says.
At the age of 14, Elliot fled the family home with her mother, taking only minimal belongings with them. “We left my father with a fork, a spoon and a blanket…that was the scariest time of my life.”
Though her early years had their difficulties, even as a young child, she showed a keen interest in performing. She would regularly line up her dolls and create shows for them.
As she got older, Elliot created a class clown persona, explaining, “I wanted to goof around…I was a joker.”
Despite this, she remained focused on a career in music. She would frequently mail Michael and Janet Jackson, hoping that the stars would notice her.
As a teen, she linked up with two of her friends to create the group Sistas. The young musician Timbaland lived nearby, who Elliot began collaborating with.
This was the beginning of hugely successful musical careers for both Missy Elliot and Timbaland, with the two remaining firm friends.
Sista released the single ‘Brand New’, which peaked at number 84 on the Hot R&B Billboard chart.
Though her girl band did not become a runaway success, Elliot and Timbaland’s songwriting abilities were noticed, and they were soon writing the tune ‘If Your Girl Only Knew’ for Aaliyah.
After proving herself as a songwriter, offers of record deals began to reach Elliot, which wanted her to act as a soloist. Record labels who had previously told her that she wasn’t suitable due to her weight were now eager to work with her.
“They said I could sing, I could write, but that I looked wrong. That was the lowest thing you could say,” she says.
Elliot ultimately didn’t accept a deal from those who had rejected her in the past. She eventually reached a deal with company Elektra Records, which allowed her to run her own label with full creative control.
In 1997, she released her debut album ‘Supa Dupa Fly’. This, she says, was more of a passion project than a plan to make money.
“I did this album for my fans and not to make money, because I’m already making money with my songs,” she said at the time of the release.
Again, she worked with friend and collaborator Timbaland, who produced the album. Pitchfork’s favorable review of the work states, “She and Timbaland saw an opening to transpose the outlook of this young Black culture class and the very sound it used to define itself.”
‘Supa Dupa Fly’ received a Grammy nomination for best rap album, cementing Elliot’s place as a solo star.
Perhaps her biggest hit of all came with ‘Get Ur Freak On’, released in 2001. Elliot again worked with Timbaland on the hit.
The track brought her first Grammy win for best rap solo performance.
Billboard describes Missy Elliot as “having carved an indelible mark on contemporary music,” in a career that has spanned three decades. She has had 33 singles appear on Billboard’s top 100 chart, with 3 number one hits on the Hot R&B chart.
In 2016, she appeared on the Carpool Karaoke segment of James Corden’s Late Late Show, where she rapped alongside former First Lady Michelle Obama.
In 2019, she was welcomed into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She is the first female rapper to ever receive this honor.
She responded to the news on Twitter, writing that she was “humbly grateful.”