Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott is nothing if not a ring master. Missy’s shows, like her videos, are intended to be peak experiences, and Friday night’s ESSENCE MainStage offering at The ESSENCE Festival of Culture in New Orleans was no less a wonder.
The evening’s first glimpse of Missy was via an emoji—a pretty brown girl, lavishly lashed emoji—which began “Ladies and Gentlemen” and asked concertgoers to please turn their phones off. Graffiti panels decorated the stage, paintings of her costumed in videos like “The Rain” and tags that read “Get Your Freak On”.
When the bass dropped—thunderous, palpable bass that reminded us that Missy is from Virginia Beach, Virginia—a dozen dancers dressed in silver (designs recalling Bodies, R2D2 and knights) were suddenly onstage catching wreck.
Ever the showman, when Missy appeared in the flesh, she’s singing “She’s A Bitch” while rocking a black Balmain-style military jacket, matching pants, a long wavy weave floating down her back, the middle part in a Samurai top knot.
It’s in those first epic onstage moments Missy re-introduced herself as the person you can’t pin down, the rapper/producer/pioneer, who exists in the crossroads between Michael Jackson-influenced pop star entertainer and B-Girl hip hop; between Adidas-sweatsuit-wearing-tomboy (bedazzled with sequined polka dots of course) and blink-on-these-heaux gorgeous. (“If you a fly girl/Get your nails done/Get a pedicure/Get your nails did”.) From jump, Missy refused to be typecast, boxed-in and damn sure not boring. Pro-woman and self-proclaimed freak, Missy tends toward the unexpected. Goes for the emotion. Favors the epic. Is unafraid to walk alone.
The audience barely got its bearings before Missy slid into “One Minute Man” and Trina strode out—”You know lil mama ain’t with that quick shit”—rocking a silver sequined jumpsuit and silver thigh high boots. It’s an OMG moment of both 90’s nostalgia and badassedry of two female MCs who continue to crush the game.
In this Oz-like journey of hits—“I Can’t Stand the Rain,” “Why You All In My Grill?” and “Shake Your Money Maker”—Missy gave us three costume changes, house breakbeats and even an interstitial of industry legends such as Busta Rhymes and Sylvia Rhone talking about the amazingness that is Missy. She gave us neon pink and green motorcross-style ‘fit with her name emblazoned on her legs and an iced-out ICON chain. Nikes with the hot-pink swoop. Black Versace hat that changed to a pink cowboy hat with the dancers doing a Riverdance/country music line dance-movement during “Can You Work It?”
“Did you see that?” Missy asked the audience. “That’s some ahead of its time shit.”
That forward looking, keep-you-head-to-the-sky statement is Missy’s intention in a nutshell, the thing that pushes mere show to spectacle. While the audience is getting its entire life to “The Things You Do,” she’s also giving you dancers doing somersaults on trampolines, dancers in masks, dancers on roller skates. None of this would matter, of course, without the hits. “Hot Boyz” got everyone—even the millennials—in their 1999 feelings. By the time “So Gone” dropped, and Monica walked out singing, “Kick down your door and smack your chick,” so surrendered is the audience that even the usher is dancing in the aisle.
When there are but six minutes left, Missy stepped offstage to be one with the people. Making sure the cameras are following her, and her dancers, the rapper stepped down into the audience, while those on the floor swarm (phones in hand). And there is the diminutive Missy, barely standing 5 feet two inches and launches into “Lose Control” as she walked the floor, gripping her glittered mic, standing up on, then carefully stepping seat to seat.
“Planet rocker/show stopper/flow proper/head knocker/beat scholar/tail dropper.” Pyrotechnics shoot up onstage and there she is: Improvising, directing, doing her damndest to make this the greatest show on Earth.