ON GRAMMY NIGHT, THE LOBBY OF LE PARKER
Meridien Hotel in New York is incongruously calm. Elsewhere in the city, chaos reigns. Limos clog traffic. Freshly erected party tents lurch from the high winds and freezing rain, sending production assistants scattering like marbles to keep the poles straight and the porta-heaters from toppling. Undeterred, fans set up their folding chairs along the sidewalks lining Madison Square Garden, where policemen scan the throngs for terrorists.
The bad mamma amma Known as Missy Elliott flits the streets, working her super-star charm and scoring her second Grammy without so much as lifting a finger By Allison Glock
But back at Le Parker, little is happening. Two senior citizens crumple into the leather lobby chairs and complain about the weather. A young German couple chase their toddler across the marble floor. Locals pass through, using the vestibule as a thoroughfare and creating a breeze that further annoys the seniors. The whole scene is vaguely narcoleptic until she arrives, and arrive she does, with two bodyguards, a stylist, a publicist, an assistant, a manager, two friends and a three-person camera crew shining a light as harsh as noon into her perfectly painted face.
“Who is she?” asks a white-haired woman with one hand on her walker.
“Must be somebody,” her companion answers.
MISSY ELLIOTT KNOWS SOMETHING ABOUTBEING
somebody. She has always been somebody. Even as a child, Elliott was so confident about her imminent somebodyness that she would announce to her schoolmates her intention not to become a doctor or a ballerina but “a superstar!” And though they always laughed, she didn’t mind, because she already felt she was somebody. She felt this when she was 8 years old and her cousin was molesting her every week for a year, and when she was 12 and her father yanked her mother’s arm from its socket; even when she was a short girl, a heavy girl, a smart girlga black girl, Elliott knew that in time everyone would see that she was somebody knou you feeI me now, I know you hear me loudbecause even when the world gave her every reason to, she couldn’t quit.
Elliott itarted as a producer, tising her star-making gifts to break out new talent and improve the old, working with Aaliyah, Qes that sound like Yiddish with sex thrown in. Keep your eyes on my bompa-bompa-bomp-bomp. And think you can handle this gadong-a-dong-dong.
The language, when wedded to her crazy stutter-start beats, is a democratic seducer.
“If I’m popular, it’s because I’m different,” she theorizes. “It’s like when I was a kid. I went against the grain, and people either thought, ‘She’s bug-gin” or ‘She’s just weird.’ ”
Elliott admits that she chases weird, always has. “In high school, if Pumas were hot, I’d wear All Stars. I’d wear one pink one and one green one. I wanted the attention. I’d put a fifty-cent piece in my penny loafers. I’d put glue on my socks and throw glitter on them. I wanted people to look at me and say, ‘She’s crazy!’ ”
Her mother thought about sending her to a shrink.
“I sent letters to Janet and Michael Jackson every day. I made my mom buy the stamps, and I’d send these letters telling them I was crippled, I had no arms, no legs, no eyes. I never heard back; My mom was really worried.” Today Mom is nothing but proud, and Elliott and Ms. Jackson are friends. “I can call her on my cell phone,” she says, her raspy laugh echoing through the lobby of Le Parker. Then, in a small voice, “It’s so funny to me how things have worked out.”
“Oh, my God. I love you. I love you. I’ve been standing here staring and staring, and oh, my God, I love you so much.” jj “Awwwh.” Elliott looks down, flicks hej manicured thumbnail. “Can I have your autograph?”
“Yeahh, yeahh’ Elliott slumps in her seat, rolls her shoulders in, tries to mike herself smaller. “It’s Brianna. Oh, my God. Oh, :ny Cod. Oh, my God.”
Brianna starts shaking, then crying. Elliott gives her a small hug.
tiny’s Child, Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson and others. It was a Brianna ilearly collapses.
guest spot on Gina Thompson’s “The Things You Do” that pushed her from backstage to front.
Her first album, 1997’s Supa Dupa Fly, debuted at number three on the charts. She followed with Da Real World in 1999, an album thaj netted her the number one spot gn the rap singles chart with “Hot Bov/. ‘ which eventually gained her entry into the Guinness World Records. Then, in 2001, came Miss E…So Addictive, which garnered Elliott a Grammy, a BET Award; six MTV Award nomina-tionf’and the abiding affection of nightclubs everywhere for her otherworldly single, “Get Ur Freak On.” With Under Construction, which was released last November, Elliott has again endeared herself to the masses, with an old-school homage that speaks to anyone who ever, even for a second, had a notion to work it.
A millionaire by age 25, Elliott, now 31, need jiever workagain. .She has achieved as a singer, a producer, a rapper, a video auteur, a s’rmgvmter. a fashion statements curiosity, without dumbing it down or merely churning it out or selling herself as the latest video hoqlxhie. Instead, Elliott presents us with music that is layered and funny and densesteering us through her dirty cartoonayorld where everything you hear is a raunchy, joyous jumble, complicated and scattered and sometimes indecipherable but pleasurable nonetheless. Like Prince without the ego.
“I just try to give people a whole plate of food and hope they eat it,” says Elliott, who shrugs, then lets out one of her arsenal of sounds, a long “dahhhahhh” that tapers into a growl. Elliott is a master of these free-form utterances, nonwords that communicate more than words.
“Thanks, Brianna. Did I spell it right?”
Brianna backs away, face wet, legs bending like reeds, then finally turns to her mother and screams.
IN THE LIMO, A WHITE BMW STRETCH (MS. ELLIOTT had requested black), she leans back in the rear corner, facing the front, feet planted, shoulders back and loose. She is dressed in full-on Adidas, a pink velour tracksuit strung with blinking lights that track across her chest and down her arms. Add the requisite bling a ring, a ropy medallion necklace and earrings whose combined weight rivals that of a robust toddlerand the woman is walking Vegas. It’s clearly a gag, a bit of fun that will escape the fashion police, most notably Joan Rivers, who will later tell Elliott she should ditch the sweats and show off all that weight She’s lost.
Grammy traffic is heavy, and the ride is slow, which means Elliott will be late for her red-carpet^Jnterview with MTVJf this bothers ^er, she gives no indication. She is preoccupied, but not with the awards; Undef Construct«>|Has released too late to qualify this year, though a 2001 single, “Scream a.k.a. ItchirC has been nominated. |j
“It’s one of those ‘earlier today* awards. You know, in the rebroadcast I’m in some still shot in the corner‘And earlier today so-and-such won dah ya-ya.’ ” As she riffs, she pretends to hold a Grammy up to her cheek. It’s a funny bit, and everyone in the car laughs. Encouraged, Elliott goes on, making up an acceptance speech, mugging for the imaginary camera, pretending not to be able to fit in the shot.
“Wait!” shouts her manager. “Driver, stop here. Missy needs some gum.” The limo screeches to a halt, and one of her bodyguards hops out. He jogs to the bodega, then returns. Elliott tilts forward to examine a selection of Bubble Yum.
She shrugs and unwraps a piece of cherry.
“What is up with those?” Missy says, pointing to the shoes of one of her attendants, slouchy black biker boots pooling around her ankles. “It looks like you got the world’s biggest bunion in there.”
“They’re biker boots. They’re cool.”
“Girl, I’m trying to tell you. Hmmm. Ummm. Uh-oh, nahhh. Don’t wear those things again unless they’re your lucky boots, get me?” Elliott laughs with a dry hissing noise, bobs her head, readjusts her braids. The boot wearer smiles and tugs at her shoes. They crumple defiantly.
Suddenly, three cell phones ring at once. Their owners answer and begin shrieking.
“You won! You won!”
Elliott has won her second Grammy, a Best Female Rap Solo Performance for “Scream a.k.a. Itchin’.” She squeaks, pumps her fists in a circle over her chest.
“Call my mama!” Elliott dances in her seat while her manager phones home with the news. “She’s going to be so glad it wasn’t for ‘P***ycat.’ ” Elliott sings: Pussy don’t fail me now. I gotta turn this nigga out. She giggles and pumps her fists again, her two-inch-long diamond-encrusted mse ring catching the light from the street.
“My mom was religious; I was forbidden to watch awards shows. So I’d sneak downstairs and turn on the television and watch with the sound down.” Elliott exhales, smiles. “I’ve won another Grammy! That’s a beautiful thing.”
Someone tells Elliott to mention her new deal with Vanilla Coke. “You want me to pull a can out of my pocket?” Elliott asks, miming the gesture and cutting her eyes like some icy spokesmodel.
Everyone laughs again. Elliott turns to the bodyguard on her left, lowers her chin.
“You hard-ass security mother can’t even tell me congratulations? I won a Grammy. Damn.”
MISSY ELLIOTT HAS TWO METHODS OF CHOOSING
her singles: In scenario one, she stands in front of her mirror and sings. Then she starts dancing. She goofs and poses and bats her dense eyelashes; she puckers her lips, winks, tilts her head, spins and checks the whole kit from the rear. Ain’t no shame ladies, do your thing. If she looks hot, if it’s working, the song is a single.
In scenario two, Elliott slips a demo in her Hummer and cranks it. She doesn’t drive anywhere. She just sits there, hoping to feel it. When she feels it, well, that’s a single, too.
“I keep listening. Does it make me want to dance? Does it make me feel like I’m in love? I don’t ever think, Is this too much?”
The melodies come first. The flow. Then the lyrics, if they come at all. “I just mumble into the music. They aren’t even words, really. Why-thai-thai-o-toy-o-thai-thai. Rock-thai-thai-o-toy-o-thai-thai. If it turns out cool, then it stays. Sometimes I do stuff that I’m suspect about. I have so many songs that are unfinished. I keep them around. You never know. In a few months, they may sound hot to me.”