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Not Fade Away 2001: Get Ur Freak On, Missy 'Misdemeanour' Elliott

"It's Missy Elliott, more than any other single individual, who has been responsible for the dramatic brightening in the skies of the hip-hop nation since the dark days of the Biggie and Tupac murders.

"It's Missy whose felicitous combination of enlightened self-interest with a seemingly endless sense of fun has somehow reversed rap's gender polarity, so the stereotypically feminine virtues of co-operation and inclusive wit now routinely supercede the cut-throat competition and macho posturing of the music's male-dominated past." - Ben Thompson

"We got the radio shook like we got a gun." - Missy Elliott, Get Ur Freak On

So fresh, so clean.

The danger as we get older - and by 2001, let's face it, I'm approaching my forties - is that our musical tastes freeze. There is this worry that nothing sounds as good any more as the songs we heard when we were 16, 17, 18, 19, when we first fell in love or had our heart broken or lost our head or ...

Has that happened with me? A little, maybe. I can't pretend that music means as much to me as it did 20 years ago. No, that's not right. It's more that pop culture doesn't mean as much to me as it did. Because it used to mean a lot (you may have noticed).

And that lapse in my attention isn't just a recent thing. To be honest, if you'd asked me in 2001 to tell you what I knew about Missy Elliott or her producer Timbaland I probably wouldn't have been able to tell you all that much.

But I could have told you how much I loved Get Ur Freak On. I can still tell you that now. What a record. Minimalist beats transformed by Timbaland into maximalist hip hop. Bob Stanley sums the soundscape of the song up in his recent pop history Yeah Yeah Yeah as "a six-note riff on an Indian tumbli, with a hand drum not heard since the Shadows' 'Apache'; that was pretty much the only instrumentation." In his book This Is Uncool, Garry Mulholland reckons that the song does nothing less than "reinvent the entire concept of popular music, by way of one astonishing mutant bhangra rhythm and a set of vocal harmonies, ticks, howls, croons, grumbles and purrs that combine and defy time, space, hook, line, sinker and a thousand copycat records and mobile phone tones."

I fear he may be underselling it. Get Ur Freak On is one of those pop songs that remind you why you like pop music. For the sheer, jaw-dropping bravura of it, the sense of play and cheek and dazzle. All of that can be found here.

For me it's the space and spaciousness here that excites. Another example of pop's greedy mongrel tendencies. Purism is not the point. It's never the point.

You can hear something similar going on in the Neptunes' production on Britney Spears' I'm A Slave 4 U. The result is a stark, stripped sound and easily the most adventurous single Britney ever released.

But good as it is, it doesn't have the potency of Missy Elliott's. Partly that may be because Britney is something of a blank slate onto which the Neptunes are imposing their ideas. You could never accuse Missy Elliott of that.

We've talked a lot in this blog about the lost boys and girls of pop. There's a doomy glamour to the Sandy Dennys and Nick Drakes of this world. We have less time for the survivors. The steeliness of a Diana Ross or a Madonna are rarely loved as much, though you might argue it's a quality that deserves to be celebrated more, especially in women working in a male industry.

Missy Elliott is a survivor. Born in Portsmouth, Virginia at the start of the 1970s she suffered a childhood marked by horrifying abuse. She grew up watching her father beat her mother and when she was only eight she was sexually abused by her teenage cousin.

Her story is one of transcendence. She is not a victim. "Rule number one in negotiating anything with Missy," she said in 2001, "is never try and run me over. Never push me because I am a very strong woman. I'm nice, but I'm very strong. When it gets down gritty, I can get grittier. Never, ever underestimate me."

More than that, she also transcended the narrow-mindedness of an industry who could only imagine selling black women through sexuality. "The music industry said she looked too large and weird to make it in the lens-friendly, bootylicious world of female rap and R&B," Ted Kessler wrote in Observer Music Monthly in August 2001, "so she magnified those imperfections. In doing so, she reintroduced the notion of fun and fantasy to urban black music."

That's all at play in Dave Meyers' video for Get Ur Freak On. But ultimately it's the interplay of Missy Elliott's rapping - and not that I'm going to claim any expertise in judging "flow", but to me she is funnier and fleeter of word than, say, Jay Z to name another ridiculously successful 21st-century rapper- and Timbaland's hypnotic, off-centre beats though, that make Get Ur Freak On sound like the future.

Even now.

Other Contenders

I'm A Slave 4 U, Britney Spears

Can't Get You Out Of My Head, Kylie Minogue

Ms Jackson, Outkast

Clint Eastwood, Gorillaz

Juxtaposed With You, Super Furry Animals

Emerge, Fischerspooner

Crystal, New Order

Burn Baby Burn, Ash

Shining Light, Ash

Daydream In Blue, I Monster

Eighties Fan, Camera Obscura

Where's Your Head At, Basement Jaxx

Bootylicious, Destiny's Child

Pagan Poetry, Bjork

Lapdance, N*E*R*D

No More Drama, Mary J Blige

Plug-In Baby, Muse

Has It Come to This, The Streets

Hard to Explain, The Strokes

It's Not Up to You, Bjork

NME Single of the Year: Get Ur Freak On, Missy Elliott

John Peel's Festive 50 Winner: Chinese Whispers, Melys

And the best-selling single of 2001: It Wasn't Me, Shaggy, featuring Rikrok

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