Rewind '99: A 25th Anniversary Retrospective of Missy Elliott's Single "She's A Bitch"

The four-minute track serves as a women's empowerment anthem that calls out toxic masculinity in the entertainment industry.

Very few musical artists have been able to foster new lanes of curiosity that set them apart from their peers. After all, a copious amount of music is inspired by what already exists and can be given a second life through lyrics and revolutionized engineering. Still, when it comes to pure originality, many find it challenging to achieve. For Missy Elliott, this discovery came naturally.

While the rap and hip-hop genres accelerated nonstop in the 90s, this eccentric Virginian thought-provoker didn't follow the status quo when she emerged; she became the following. In the third installment of “Rewind ‘99,” we’re looking back at Elliott's "She's a Bitch" song on its 25th anniversary.

After finding her voice in the girl group, "Sista," and penning songs for Total, 702, SWV, Aaliyah, and Destiny's Child, Elliott branched out on her own and manifested as a solo act in 1996. But, it wouldn't take long for people to realize the phenomenon she was capable of. Following her debut album in 1997, she disrupted the music game with her sophomore LP "Da Real World" two years later, which included her mega-hit single, "She's a Bitch."

While there are women who have made indelible marks in the rap game, it has remained male-dominated since its inception in the 1970s. On April 20, 1999, Elliott released the 4-minute track, which was her opportunity to take an unapologetic stance in the industry by giving new meaning to a derogatory term used today to pigeonhole and objectify women.

With her velvet-like flow, Elliott's emphasis on the word "bitch" trades obduracy often exhibited by toxic masculinity that objectifies women in songs for female empowerment.

In an attempt to dissemble misogynist principles in society, Elliott took a stand and wrote the single with her long-time collaborator, Timbaland.

"She's a bitch / When you say my name / Talk mo' junk but won't look my way / She's a bitch / See I got more cheese / So back on up while I roll up my sleeves / She's a bitch / You can't see me, Joe / Get on down while I shoot my flow / She's a bitch / When I do my thang / Got the place on fire, burnin' down to flames," she raps in the chorus.

"Music is a male-dominated field. Women are not always taken as seriously as we should be, so sometimes we have to put our foot down. To other people that may come across as being a bitch, but it’s just knowing what we want and being confident," she told Interview in 2014. If I’m paying people and they’re not handling my business right, I have to check them. ‘Cause sometimes you’re nice and people don’t jump on what they’re supposed to do, but if you go in there screaming at everybody—”Look, why aren’t my posters up?” or “Why wasn’t my single out on this day?”—then they jump right on it."'

When asked if a man would have those same responsibilities, she suggested, "For a guy, though, it’s just considered aggressive." You don’t hear people call males bitches. But I’ve heard that people talk that way about Chaka Khan. And Aretha Franklin: If it was cold in the studio, she’d put the mike down and leave. Someone who sees her act like that may say, “She’s a bitch,” but she just means business when she says, “Yo, please have the heat up when I get here.” Of course, nobody’s gonna call her a bitch to her face. But I hear makeup artists all the time saying, “Oh, I had to do such-and-such’s makeup. She’s a bitch.” When it’s just that such-and-such knows how she wants her face. With the new single, a lot of people were like, “Wow, you’re taking a chance with that title.” But it’s really taking off."'

Although the Timbaland-produced and co-written track with Elliott was heavily marketed, it tanked on the charts.

While the single remained on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks, it only peaked at #90. Its ranking on the outlet's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart was a cut above; it ranked 30th.

Despite sexuality being a major crowd-puller for artists (displayed in women sometimes wearing less, and men oftentimes surrounding themselves with half-naked women on stage and in music videos), Elliott opted for a different approach that generated a sagacious effect in the song's music video.

Shot and directed by Hype Williams, Elliott relied on her lyrical flow elevated by futuristic cadences to lay the foundation for the aesthetic within the black-and-white visual.

During the first 30 seconds of the video, Elliott panoplies her mystique as she avoids contact with the camera. Then, as she spits the opening lines to the song, she initiates the wonders of what it takes to be a powerhouse.

Donning a bald head and a black monochromatic ensemble, Missy wears a mask atop her face that covers her mug, bedazzled like a superhero. She unleashes the power of peculiarity while putting on a show.

Surrounded by a geometrically designed stage, black lacour on her lips, a short haircut styled for her, and long nails, she owns the moment.

Then, at the halfway mark, as clouds swell in the darkened sky, Elliott materializes out of water as a heroine fashioned with spikes on her skull, and the stage forms the letter "M."

Nowadays, "bad bish" culture dominates social media, but in the 90s, Elliott was the paradigm of the phrase. With only a few backup dancers, she stood tall, holding her own, while redefining what it means to be a female MC.

Over time, Williams has celebrated the project's imagination and unconventionality, which remains one of the most expensive music videos of all time, topping $2 million.

"...Now we're into decadence, too much money, nobody gives a s - -t, and this was apart of that thinking because she was such a powerful artist, when her second album came, we were able to do this video," he said during a discussion on Red Bull Academy in 2019. "Gigantic, hydraulic, and coming out of water, most music videos wouldn't be able to do something like that nowadays."

Elliott has also reflected on making the video via social media and how it diversified the golden age of the music video era.

In 2023, the rapper revealed the challenge she and Williams faced while attempting to excel in the success of their first collaboration on her 1998 hit single "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)."

"We both knew after “The Rain” we had to up the visuals and the risk. He said to me, “Fuck it, you should do a bald head,” and we laughed. But something in our spirit knew as crazy as it sounded, it also sounded historical. So I said okay!" she told Complex. "And from there he just started building and of course, June Ambrose my stylist who styled the blow-up suit for “The Rain” video, and Billy B, my make-up artist, added to this masterpiece with the badass black long coat and mohawks and stones on my eyes that took two and half hours. But the whole team was on the same futuristic frequency."

Elliott added: "Filming “She’s a Bitch” was intense because we had to keep holding our breath underwater for mad long. We were also dancing on that big M that comes up out of the water and it was so slippery. We were falling off and one of the dancers had an asthma attack. Because we were in the middle of the water they had ambulance boats around."

Then in 2021, she took to X (formally known as Twitter) on the state-of-the-art arrangement of the video.

"22 Years Ago!!!! This don’t look that long agoThis video changed the game! This actually still is Top Tier TIL THIS DAY!" she tweeted. "Back then every1 thought I was a lil off because I rocked a bald head but me & Hype & Tim was just decades ahead #ShesAB....!"

As evocative as the visual remains, the lyrics within the track were ahead of their time.

"You see we couldn’t say anything back then you see how they bleeped out the “Imma Grab a Philly line We had to go back in the studio and record clean versions to our songs..." she recalled of the song's second verse.

She also mentioned her signature "robotic" dance moves performed in the video.

"Another funny thing when I watch this video it remind me some people was like why she move weird like that I used to always move robotic when I rhymed."

Last year, Elliott paid another tribute to the visual on X by acknowledging the concept's innovatory artistry.

"Sheeeesh! When I say AHEAD of the GAME! Looking back at these songs & videos this is ART!" she explained. "This is what Risk & a SHIFT in music look like I promise this is FACTS! It took me years to realize but now I can say wit my FULL chest This is NEXT LEVEL."

In a follow-up tweet, she gave a shout-out to Timbaland, Williams, Ambrose, and Billy B for transforming her into an "alien" with "stones on my eyes" that "took over 2 hours."

In an age of AI, which continues to raise concerns over authenticity in the entertainment industry, Elliott wants everyone to know that those fly dance moves were all her own.

"Oh I can’t 4get the way I moved it wasn’t a effect. I just use to move like I thought I was a Alien partying at Area51It was new & different for Hiphop back then," she noted.

"In my mind I always felt I was from a different planetalong with a lil pull puff and pass lol and the best glam squad & out of this world beats to make me think different and Hype the director we also were in sync!"

Following the release of the visual, the industry and fans became more obsessed with the music pioneer. Since 2010, the music video has been viewed over 14 million times and counting on YouTube.

In 2019, Billboard ranked the aesthetics of the craft as Elliott's third best music video out of a 20-song list containing her most buzzed about singles, led by "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and her 2001 song “Get Ur Freak On/Lick Shots."

Years after its release, "She's a Bitch" continues to drive inspiration in and out of the studio for artists of all genres and generations.

Earlier this year, Cardi B dropped a new freestyle, "Like What," where she sampled the 1999 classic song. The song was also sampled in 2023 by Bia for her Timbaland- produced track "I'm That Bitch."

Bia, also known for her breakout hit "Whole Lotta Money," took another page out of the innovator's book by paying tribute to Elliott in her song's music video and cover art by designing each similarly to the original song.

When asked if she had received the rapper's support, she said, "I hope so. She supports it, so I’m really happy. I’m so grateful. That’s what you want from a legend like her. If you touch anything that they’ve done, you want to make sure you make them proud," she told Complex. At the end of the day, I’m only as good as the people that have opened the doors. If they didn’t open the doors for me, I wouldn’t be here right now. I gotta show respect and I gotta show homage, just pray and hope they like it because I put my all into it."

After 25 years, Elliott has no plans to rest the song. In 2017, she performed it at the "Vh1 Hip-Hop Honors" in recognition of MCs who impacted the music industry in the '90s.

As hip-hop marked its 50th golden jubilee last year, the living legend reached a major milestone by becoming the first female rapper inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame.

"I've been through so many ups and downs. I know where my gifts come from," she said while thanking God. "The one thing I think we can all say that comes together is music. We all love music in some form."

In the 1990s, Elliott embarked on a movement to shift the dynamics between men and women in the hip-hop world. While achieving that, she transformed the music industry, proudly crusading for women's liberties through art and song.

Today, her mark on the world has only grown more intense as her footprint survives the test of time.

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