Palmistry on how his father’s death inspired ‘Afterlife’ and working with SOPHIE on Rihanna material
On Monday we posted the news that production legend Missy Elliott is to release new solo material in a weeks time, so I’m going to cut right to it and say that I am really, really excited about this. I’m the fat pre-teen who just clocked the buffet table at the school dance, I’m the crate digger who just found that sought-after original pressing amongst a stack, I’m – what the hell, I’m a rap fan who isn’t groaning about the news of a comeback.
Personally I am full of optimism about Elliott’s return but I understand if you (the fan or passing observer) are a little skeptical. It’s been years since we heard from her but we shouldn’t forget just how ground-breaking Elliott’s productions were, especially with Timbaland in the late 90s and early 2000s. I feel it’s no overstatement to say that they were one of the most innovative production teams ever, building the careers and legacies of others as well as their own off the back of those crisp, boundary-melting beats.
Some of my fondest memories of falling in love with R&B are of their work together and revisiting these tracks online for the purpose of this list, it’s remarkable just how many people post positive comments about her and her style, and continue to hold Elliott in such high esteem. So, in anticipation of her two new singles and the long-awaited ‘Block Party’ album, here’s ten tracks either produced or written by Elliott that deserve a good ol’ re-listen.
- Aaliyah – If Your Girl Only Knew (1996)
Over a decade after her death Aaliyah and her music still command near-mythical status for R&B fans. She was sultry, cool and collected, and portrayed a side of female sexuality that said “You can rock a pair of Timb’s and a beanie and be the hottest woman in the room.” Her death and musical legacy are so bound together that some argue her lasting influence rests largely on her sudden death at such a young age, but I feel that there’s little denying the impact of her style – which is forever indebted to Missy and Timbaland. Of the eighteen tracks on her album ‘One In A Million’ Missy Elliott co-wrote, co-produced or contributed vocals to half of them, including this one. Groundbreaking stuff, and for one of her first major label projects no less.
- Total feat Missy Elliott – What About Us (1997)
This is female vocal R&B group at its most quintessential; that LaFace Records era where the stylist apparently didn’t know about that ‘dark eyeshadow or dark lipstick’ rule and figured the more leather, washboard abs and fish eye camera lens you could fit in the better. This was one of Missy’s first solo productions and looking through her back catalogue it was a relatively tame offering, but nevertheless a solid contribution to a now classic sound.
- Mariah Carey – Babydoll (1997)
I can see you raising an eyebrow but this is liquid gold. Babydoll was one of the stand out tracks of Carey’s sixth studio album ‘Butterfly’ and marked a transition period for the singer between contemporary bubblegum pop and a more sensual R&B sound. The beat doesn’t try to override Carey’s vocals and gently moves between ballad and slowjam without much of a fuss. Quietly brilliant.
- Missy Elliot – The Rain (1997)
As the first solo single from her debut album ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ The Rain still sounds as raw and cool today as it did fifteen years ago. Pointedly sparse and subtle with those ice-cold hollow kicks, the production, vocals and styling all came together with such finesse. The eccentric Hype Williams-directed video also helped Elliott to present her sense of humour and playful fashion sense. It’s less “Oh, the 90s, what were we thinking?”, more “Damn, she rocked her own look so hard.” Can we get some more fish eye on this one, maybe?
- Destiny’s Child – Get On The Bus (1998)
When you think Destiny’s Child you think BIG. When it came to this girl group big hair, big shoes and big voices reigned supreme (well, Beyonce’s did at least – Destiny’s Child always was the Beyonce Knowles Show featuring Interchangable Backing Singers) but this sticks out from the rest of the groups catalogue for its brittle, disjointed instrumentation and that curious birdsong in the background (listen closely now). It was no club banger like Jumpin’ Jumpin’ or ballad like Brown Eyes but it would be hard to imagine a multi-million album selling American girl group running with such a clever composition nowadays. Also, this was back when Timbaland knew how to stay in the background of songs vocally. I miss those days.
- Missy Elliott – Get Ur Freak On (2001)
Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. Those keys. Every single time.
- Trina – Rewind That Back (2002)
When I say I like Trina I say it with a bit of a heavy heart. When she’s good she’s great but when she’s bad, she’s just dreadful. It’s a shame really. She has an instantly recognisable voice, nonchalant “fuck you pay me” attitude and has released some of the most enjoyably tongue-in-cheek rap records I know of (see Look Back At Me for an unashamably raw female rap track about getting your freak on) but she’s become something of a WorldStarHipHop cameo snore-fest in recent years, strutting around Miami in Ed Hardy trucker hats and still talking about her “light grey eyes”. Rewind That Back is an example of Trina doing it (and ‘it’ being stripclub anthems) well, and is easily the betterr of the two produced by Elliott for her ‘Diamond Princess’ album.
- Tweet – Oops (Oh My) (2002)
Does it really matter if you’re a One Hit Wonder if your one hit is this good? I remember dancing in a club to this and a girl I know turning to another and shouting over the music “YOU KNOW THIS SONG IS ABOUT FEMALE MASTURBATION RIGHT?”, to which the other girl (who has been singing along for a good minute or so) looked at her blankly and said, “Really? Whatever.” Just goes to show, maybe the beat is more than enough sometimes.
- Mya – My Love Is Like…. Whoa (2003)
Mya reportedly almost didn’t record this track because she felt it was too sexually explicit, which is kind of quaint and strange when you consider how gloriously filthy some chart R&B is today. Regardless of the lyrics though this is a fantastic solo production effort from Elliott and right at the height of her solo fame too. The word ‘prolific’ springs to mind.
- Missy Elliott – I’m Really Hot (2004)
I’m going to put it out there and say that this is my favourite Missy club hit. Name me a woman right now who can produce, write and rap like this with such flair? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.