Throughout 2023, KEXP is celebrating 50 Years of Hip-Hop. Each week we'll celebrate a different year in hip-hop. This week, Dusty Henry brings in Stas THEE Boss to help take us back to 2002 with the track “Work It” by Missy Elliott. That song helped define the turn of the millennium, and Missy’s career paved the way for a new generation of artists. Listen to the piece below and subscribe to the 50 Years of Hip-Hop podcast.
Hip-hop has no shortage of innovators. Each new generation brings forth a new talent who totally changes the game and remixes everything we thought we knew about the genre. When I look back at hip-hop in the early 2000s, I instantly think of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott.
Missy Elliott is a rapper, producer, and all-around visionary. She ushered in a new era for rap. Missy’s work pre-dates Y2K, though – in 1997, she released her debut album, Supa Dupa Fly. It was a critical and commercial success.
And even before that, she and her creative partner Timbaland have production and writing credits for some of the biggest acts of the 90s. This includes Mariah Carey, Ginuwine, and her close friend Aaliyah.
Like any icon, her prowess and influence only grew from there. To properly speak on Missy’s legacy, we need to hear from one of her disciples —. I knew I had to hear from Stasia Irons, aka Stas THEE Boss.
Like Missy, Stas is a rapper, producer, and visionary. She’s also the former host of KEXP’s long-running hip-hop show Street Sounds., andS she’s also played Missy the most compared to any other DJ at KEXP. Her name might also ring a bell if you listened to our other podcast, Fresh Off the Spaceship, because she’s also a member of the Black Constellation.
Stas clearly remembers the first time she heard Missy’s music, saying, "The first Missy Elliott song I remember hearing was “The Rain” and the video along with it immediately became obsessed and inspired and just thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen in my life."
Stas continues, "A woman rapping in a way that was sort of strange and yet innovative. I just wanted to be a part of it. That's all I wanted. I wanted to be a part of it. As soon as I saw and heard her."
After Supa Dupa Fly and “The Rain,” Missy’s career continued to expand — especially after the release of Miss E…So Addictive in 2001. That album produced some of the biggest and most timeless hits of the decade, including “Get Ur Freak On” and “One Minute Man” with a then up-and-coming Ludacris. Missy wasted no time following up the next year in 2002 with another album, Under Construction, featuring her biggest song to date, “Work It.”
The song peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, and it’s become staple of every party, dance club, and school dance to this very day.
"I do remember when ['Work It'] came out," Stas says. "I believe I was in high school or middle school. 2002, high school. So. The beat was just so infectious. Like the scratching of it all, the old school-ness of it, but the new school-ness of it. But this "doo doo doo doo doo." Like instant dancing like the 'DJ please pick-up your..." man, it's just.. so cool. She's incredibly cool."
Missy’s music is always forward-thinking and future-minded — at the same time, she still respects the classics. That intro to the song that Stas is referring to is actually a sample of a song that came out in 1984: “Request Line” by Rock Master Scott & The Dynamic Three.
“Work It” is a feat of production. The thumping beat and sci-fi synthesizers. She even uses elephant sounds to self-censor her risque lyrics.
"My thoughts on the production of the work song. So the Under Construction album wasn't necessarily my favorite album," Stas says. "My favorite one was Super Dupa Fly and Miss-E So Addictive. But 'Work It' was definitely a standout track, the production I believe it was Timbaland and Missy on it. And, you know, their styles are so closely linked that you can't tell who's doing what. But that song is, it's just a hitter. It's heat. It's a single, it's charting. Love, love the scratching on it. I love the silliness of it."
And of course, there’s the instantly iconic line in the hook that left everyone scratching their heads…
"And then when she... I didn't know what she was saying," Stas says. "I didn't realize until quite recently that, you know, that she was saying it backward. Like, what? She's ill. That's all I got to say. I was blown away when that song came out."
The production wasn’t the only thing innovative about the track. Women have been crucial to hip-hop since its foundation going back to the 70s with MC Sha-Rock and continuing on through Roxanne Shanté, MC Lyte, and so many others.
To mainstream audiences, hip-hop was male-dominated. Missy changed the landscape in the 90s and early 2000s, alongside her peers like Eve, Da Brat, and Lil Kim. While the men were rapping about their sexual exploits, Missy and others took the mic to express their own desires.
"It's a sex song," Stas says of "Work It." "Like the lyrics... Like Missy. People don't really associate Missy, but she got a lot of sex songs. Like a lot of her songs talk about sex. She a freak. Get yo freak on."
“Work It” may still be considered Missy’s biggest hit as far as the charts are concerned, but it was by no means the peak of her influence. Stas and others are a living testament to how Missy changed everything.
"I would say I am definitely a child of Missy Elliott," Stas says. "Just... Not even women, but anyone that's able to take their music and approach it from so many different directions, like the writing of it, the producing of it, singing on it AND rapping on it, and creating crazy concepts for visuals. Like she's really just like a renaissance with it. And so I definitely take that into practice. I think, you know, Childish Gambino is definitely from the School of Missy Elliott."
Stas continues, "And just like people that are really like thinking about music in this, like this vast way, like how can I approach this? how can I put my stamp on it? What am I really thinking about? You know? And so I her legacy is living for real. And anybody that ain't trying to be like Missy, like, come on man, we trying to get like her. She's very rare. No one like her. She's my favorite. Love her."
“Work It” is just one example in a discography full of groundbreaking hits. Missy Elliott set the tone for the new millennium and her influence is still reverberating today.
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