This year Missy Elliott joins the ranks of rappers being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, following legends like Grandmaster Flash and The Furious 5, who became the first rap group to be inducted in 2007, and more recently Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G. and Eminem. However, Elliott breaks open another door, becoming the first female hip hop artist to be inducted.
Missy Elliott is a collaborative artist and producer, helping others hone their voices while also sharing her own. One of her most fruitful collaborations has also been a lifelong one. She has been working with Timbaland throughout her whole career. She featured on his songs, he featured on hers, and there wasn’t an album Missy Elliott released that didn’t have Timbaland’s hand on the production of at least some tracks (hear more of Timbaland as producer and as performer to get a sense of the style to listen for in her music).
In the spirit of one of Missy Elliot’s biggest hits (produced in collaboration with Timbaland), “Work It”, we find covers of songs throughout her discography, but instead of going in chronological order, we “flip it and reverse it,” starting with her most recent full album and then traveling back in time to her debut album, released in 1997. Since eligibility for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame requires that the artist’s first record is released at least 25 years before induction, this is the first year of eligibility for Elliott. With no time to waste, here comes Missy Elliott into that hallowed hall, and here we go into the depths of her discography.
Tropical Fuck Storm — Can’t Stop (Missy Elliott cover)
This isn’t a particularly popular or highly acclaimed song to feature here, but this cover, of a track from her last-to-date album The Cookbook, stuck out to me so much, that it had to kick off this post. It is hard to classify: there is some punk yelling, some ska whimsy, and a rock bass+drum combo to drive the beat. It’s a cover that if you didn’t know the original song, you would have no problem accepting it in this genre rather than in hip hop. With the lyrics full of lust, a tale as old as time, the “can’t stop thinking of you” frenzy is communicated by the chaotic energy of the song as it switches vocalists and styles, back and forth.
Keira Smith, Cheyenne Arnold, and Desmond Roberts — Lose Control (Missy Elliott feat. Ciara and Fatman Scoop cover)
I can’t resist another song from Missy’s most recent full album. There was not a single middle school dance that I left without dancing to this song. For me, it was immortalized as the opening track on That’s What I Call Music 20, an album I think we all can agree has some bangers on it. This album came out a year before Step Up was released, a dance movie that brought Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan together. I always associate Ciara and Missy Elliott with this franchise. It might be the Alyson Stoner connection (she was a young dancer in the “Work It” video and then reunited with Elliott during the MTV video music awards in 2019), but Elliott did also contribute two songs to the Step Up 2: The Streets soundtrack.
This version of the song taps into that connection between the music and the choreography with a large, energetic dance crew supporting the trio of vocalists. Although a lot of action is going on behind them, the singers are show stoppers in their own right. They have multi-tasking capabilities that allow them to join into the dance routine while, ironically, not losing control of the vocals.
Doris Mete — Work It (Missy Elliott cover)
Elliott’s Under Construction, her fourth studio album, has the song that is probably her most well known. Maybe you just learned that the weird sounds in the rap are actually a reversal of the line “I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it” (which started out as a serendipitous accident). Maybe you fell in love with Missy’s “funky white sister”. Maybe you aspire to have the same level of flow as the original when singing along at home. No matter where you are on your “Work It” journey, the first word that should come to mind when you hear this cover is “stamina”. This song is multiple mouths full even without having to sing backwards and in a competition setting.
Doris Mete, a contestant on Germany’s The Voice, doesn’t even seem out of breath by the end. Mete has that taunting tone that adds a little “nah nah” spunk to every line. It’s very satisfying to see a chair turn around by the second iteration of the chorus.
Eels — Get Ur Freak On (Missy Elliott cover)
Next comes Elliott’s third studio album, Miss E… So Addictive, where she and Timbaland felt free to experiment. This cover is truly wild and in the spirit of that initial experimentation.
With a debut album named Beautiful Freaks it is no wonder that the band Eels found a kinship with this song and felt the need to get their own freak on. The song starts with a dramatic opening, like a dystopian film. The opening lick comes in, dissonant but persistent on electric guitar. The pace is unhurried, a slow and steady unraveling of restraint. Eels get the mix of spoken word and diction on specific syllables right. There are a few adjustments to the lyrics that thankfully adapt to the identities of the new performers (“who’s that butch”, “cracker”). Towards the end of the song, it starts to sound a little bit like the accompanying music that plays as you approach the boss in an old-school Mario game, foreboding, yet always building until the final fade out.
Can’t get enough of this song? I’m also partial to this version by KT Tunstall.
Durand Bernarr — Crazy Feelings (Missy Elliott feat. Beyoncé cover)
This is where it starts getting tricky to find covers of Missy Elliott songs. Not many people have re-tread her path, let alone feel up to tackling a song with Queen Bee herself. This song comes from Elliot’s second album Da Real World, an album full of powerhouse features from Lil’ Kim to Eminem. We admire Durand Bernarr for going for it on this cover and absolutely delivering. You will hear him going high, then higher, and when you think it isn’t possible, reach even higher. It isn’t just the falsetto parts that shine. He also has a rich, deeper voice, and this song really is perfect for showing off a full vocal range. We even get a little piano prowess at the end.
Tina Turner — I Can’t Stand the Rain (Ann Peebles cover)
I know, I know, this is a bit of a cheat, but I could not find a cover that rose to the occasion for this first single from Elliot’s debut album. Missy Elliott’s Supa Dupa Fly featured the Grammy award winning song “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” which sampled the Ann Peebles song “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” So to round out this flipped and reversed timeline of Missy Elliott songs, here’s a cover of the sampled song sang by another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-r. Both the original and this version lean on percussion to mimic raindrops against the window pane in the beginning, and then that percussion persists throughout as the song builds. This version is more pop-y while the original is more slow groove, but both have big band elements that punctuate the declaration that the singer just cannot stand that rain. Both have a spunky attitude that you can imagine resonated with Missy Elliott.