Melissa Arnette Elliott (born July 1, 1971), better known as Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, is an American rapper, dancer, and record producer. Elliott embarked on her music career with all-female R&B group Sista in the early 1990s and later became a member of the Swing Mob collective along with childhood friend and longtime collaborator Timbaland, with whom she worked on projects for Aaliyah, 702, Total, and SWV. Following several collaborations and guest appearances, she launched her solo career in 1997 with her debut album Supa Dupa Fly, which spawned the hit singles “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and “Sock It 2 Me”. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, the highest-charting debut for a female rapper at the time.
Elliott’s following album Da Real World (1999), produced the singles “She’s a Bitch”, “All n My Grill”, and top five hit “Hot Boyz” The remix broke the record for most weeks at number-one on the US R&B chart on the issue dated January 15, 2000; as well as spending 18 weeks at number one on the Hot Rap Singles from December 4, 1999 to March 25, 2000, which is still the longest reign at number one to date on that chart. With the release of Miss E… So Addictive (2001), Under Construction (2002), and This Is Not a Test! (2003) Elliott established an international career that yielded hits including “Get Ur Freak On”, “One Minute Man”, “4 My People”, “Gossip Folks”, and “Work It”. The latter won her a Grammy Award for Best Female Rap Solo Performance; Elliott went on to win four Grammy Awards and sell over 30 million records in the United States. She is the best-selling female rap artist in Nielsen Music history.
Melissa Arnette Elliott was born on July 1, 1971, in Portsmouth, Virginia. She is the only child of mother Patricia Elliott, a power-company dispatcher, and father Ronnie, a U.S. Marine no longer on active duty working as a Shipyard welder. Elliott grew up in an active church choir family, and singing was a normal part of her youth. At the age of four in 1975, she wanted to be a performer, and, as biographer Veronica A. Davis writes, she “would sing and perform for her family”. In later years, she feared no one would take her seriously, because she was always the class clown. While her father was an active Marine, the family lived in Jacksonville, North Carolina, in a manufactured home community. Elliott blossomed during this part of her life. She enjoyed school for the friendships she formed though she had little interest in school work. She would later get well above average marks on intelligence tests, and she was advanced two years ahead of her former class. Her move in grades caused isolation, and she purposely failed, eventually returning to her previous class. When her father returned from the Marines, they moved back to Virginia, where they lived in extreme poverty.
Life in Virginia saw many hardships. Elliott tells of domestic abuse by her father. 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. In one violent incident, Ronnie Elliott dislocated his wife’s shoulders and, during another, Elliott herself was threatened with a gun. At fourteen, Elliott’s mother decided to end the situation; she fled with her daughter under the guise of taking a joyride on a local bus. In reality, the pair had found refuge at a family member’s home where their possessions were stored in a loaded U-Haul truck. Elliott tells that she feared her father would kill them both for leaving.
She later stated, “When we left, my mother realized how strong she was on her own, and it made me strong. It took her leaving to realize.”
Elliott graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1990.
In the early 1990s Elliott formed an all female R&B group, called Fayze (later renamed Sista), with friends La’Shawn Shellman, Chonita Coleman, and Radiah Scott. She recruited her neighborhood friend Timothy Mosley (Timbaland) as the group’s producer and began making demo tracks, among them included the promo “First Move”. In 1991, Fayze caught the attention of Jodeci member and producer DeVante Swing by performing Jodeci songs a cappella for him backstage after one of his group’s concerts. In short order, Fayze moved to New York City and signed to Elektra Records through DeVante’s Swing Mob imprint, also renaming the group Sista. Sista debut song was titled “Brand New” released in 1993 Elliott took Mosley—whom DeVante re-christened Timbaland—and their friend Melvin “Magoo” Barcliff along with her.
All 20-plus members of the Swing Mob—among them future stars such as Ginuwine, Playa, and Tweet—lived in a single two-story house in New York and were often at work on material both for Jodeci and their own projects. While Elliott wrote and rapped on Raven-Symoné’s 1993 debut single, “That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of”, she also contributed, credited and uncredited, to the Jodeci albums Diary of a Mad Band (1993) and The Show, the After Party, the Hotel (1995). Timbaland and DeVante jointly produced a Sista album, entitled 4 All the Sistas Around da World (1994). Elliott met R&B artist Mary J. Blige while Blige was in sessions for her second album My Life. Though videos were released for the original and remix versions of the single “Brand New”, the album was shelved and never released. One of the group’s tracks, “It’s Alright” featuring Craig Mack, did however make the cut on the soundtrack of the 1995 motion picture Dangerous Minds. But by the end of 1995, Swing Mob had folded and many of its members dispersed; Elliott, Timbaland, Magoo, Ginuwine, and Playa remained together and collaborated on each other’s records for the rest of the decade as the musical collective The Superfriends.