For Missy Elliott, being a good friend has turned into songwriting gold.
Conversations with her girlfriends has fueled a lot of her songwriting, Elliott says, and resulted in her turning those stories into smash hits, from Monica’s “So Gone,” a No. 1 R&B success, to Fantasia’s “Free Yourself.”
“I would be around friends, and a lot of times everybody’s just laughing and playing, but I would listen to the stories and use those in songs because they were like everyday topics for the girls that I hung around” with” Elliott says. “They didn’t know that, but I was just sitting there, like, ‘Wow, that’s a song.’
“You keep going through the same thing with the same dude, keep going back, over and over again, and we keep sitting here listening, saying, ‘We ain’t gon’ be there next time when you go back,’ and we right here again sitting through the same story.”
Elliott’s wild, eccentric style and creative lyricism make her one of music’s best storytellers and recently earned her a nomination for the prestigious 2019 Songwriters Hall of Fame class. She could be the first female rapper to enter the organization and the third rapper in all, following Jay-Z and Jermaine Dupri.
The rapper-songwriter-producer-singer has had Top 10 pop hits on her own with “Work It,” ”Get Ur Freak On” and “Lose Control” as well as with tracks she’s written for others, including Ciara’s “1,2 Step,” 702’s “Where My Girls At,” Tweet’s “Oops (Oh My),” Total’s “Trippin’” and Nicole Wray’s “Make It Hot.”
She also produced Keyshia Cole’s anthem “Let It Go,” which reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the 2001 remake of “Lady Marmalade” with Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya and Lil Kim, which hit the No. 1 spot for five weeks and won a Grammy Award.
“It’s been amazing to give them a voice,” Elliott says of writing for other female performers.
“We build a friendship beyond music. But I’m always humbled that they trust me,” says Elliott, who has also written for Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige and Jazmine Sullivan. “And I always ask them, before doing a song: What are you going through?
“Of course, I got tons of records, but it’s good when you can custom-make something specifically for that artist.”
It can be harder writing for herself. Elliott, who as a girl used to sing loudly outdoors with a hairbrush for her microphone and wrote lyrics on her bedroom walls, says, “The expectations that I have on my own self are extremely high, so it’s always tough for me.”
“It’s, like, ‘You could do better,’ ” she says. “And when I’m writing for other people, I feel more relaxed because I feel like a lot of times my style was always so different that writing for other people at times kind of made them step out of the box they were in.”
Elliott is hoping to collaborate with other artists, naming Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, H.E.R. and Tierra Whack as some of the performers she’d like to work with in the studio. She’s also interested in working with people who aren’t famous and successful.
“I like to catch people when people have kind of written somebody off because that’s always challenging,” she says. “You can’t tell how dope you are if the person is already on fire. It’s catching them when they not so big, or when they on their way out.”
Missy Elliott on creating Ciara hit
Elliott hadn’t met Ciara when she created “1, 2 Step” for her and hadn’t even heard Ciara’s debut hit “Goodies” when she was asked to write a song for the budding singer.
“Back then, people weren’t really sing-rapping.,” Elliott says. “Now, that’s the thing. But I wanted it to be where she still kind of rap-sings it.
“It allowed her to be able to dance, so she’s not sitting there trying to do all these runs and sing and all that stuff because you can’t really get off when you trying to sing and then you trying to do the whole matrix thing going backward,” she says, referring to Ciara’s skilled dancing.
They finally met on the set of “1, 2 Step,” Ciara’s second single, which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart. It became the fifth most successful song of 2005.
The two went to collaborate on more songs, winning a Grammy together for “Lose Control.”
“When you have that kind of chemistry, you’re going to always work together,” Elliott says.