Fans have been calling for Missy to receive the award for years now, and MTV has finally granted them their wish, honouring the rapper for her trailblazing approach to music videos.
Missy is the first female rapper to be given the distinction, with winners in recent ceremonies including Beyoncé, Kanye West and Jennifer Lopez, while her past collaborator Hype Williams was awarded Video Vanguard for his work as a director in 2006.
To mark the occasion, we’re looking back at some of Missy’s most memorable and impactful music videos, and what made them so great…
The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) – 1997
By 1997, Missy had been bubbling under for a long while, but she finally got her breakthrough moment with The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly), a song which showcased her unique rapping ability. It was accompanied by a video that was just as unique, marking her first of many future collaborations with Hype Williams.
Obviously, she’s just getting started in this one, but The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) still features plenty of what would come to be staples of Missy’s videos: trippy visuals (including her weirdly-distorted lips and eyes), a smattering of celebrity cameos and, obviously, the rapper’s undeniable star quality.
Get Ur Freak On – 2001
It’s interesting that Get Ur Freak On is unquestionably one of Missy’s signature videos, when it’s actually also among her most straight-forward.
Don’t get us wrong, the high-energy clip still has its moments – not least when she stretches her neck like elastic and, yes, spits in a man at the other side of the room’s mouth. And yes, she is also literally swinging from a chandelier by the end.
But there was still a lot more weird and wonderful stuff up those camo-print sleeves to come...
One Minute Man – 2001
Hip-hop can sometimes have a bad reputation for being a little sexist, which is one trope Missy Elliott has always been at the forefront of subverting, both in her music and her videos.
One Minute Man is set at the Get Ur Freak On hotel where “it’s $10 a minute” (“but you look like a $5 brother”). Over the course of the video, Missy is seen dancing in the hotel’s corridors, assessing the skills of a rather buff gentleman caller and, in particularly surreal twist, taking off her own head and chucking it across the room.
Still, the less said about Ludacris rocking those women in a makeshift nursery, the better.
Work It – 2002
Probably the quintessential Missy Elliott song and video, Work It opens with the rapper in a recording studio covered in bees, and goes on to pack in some of the most iconic images of her whole career.
It’s unpredictable and it’s over the top, but when Missy isn’t extending her jaw to swallow a car and being accosted by a Prince lookalike, it also features a few subtle touches in tribute to stars like Aaliyah and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
Impressively, it was also co-directed by Missy herself and her go-to director Dave Meyers, and would eventually go on to win Video Of The Year at the VMAs that year.
Gossip Folks – 2003
For this ode to schoolyard gossip, it felt fitting that Missy took it back to high school, delivering some seriously impressive choreo in the hallways, cafeteria and even on the bus.
With fewer trippy twists and unusual special effects than some of her other efforts (apart from that bit where her spin turns green, obv), the star puts the emphasis on her dancing and her attitude in Gossip Folks, but it’s still a Missy Elliott effort through and through.
Pass That Dutch – 2003
The beauty of Missy Elliott’s videos is that you never know quite where they’re going to go next, which is definitely the case with Pass That Dutch.
What starts with Missy sitting at her desk, earnestly venting her feelings in sepia tone Eminem style, descends into a surreal dream sequence that turns her into a scarecrow.
Before the end, we see her dancing up a storm in a cornfield, winning a beauty pageant populated by Bratz dolls and, of course, being abducted by a UFO. Because, why not?
Shake Your Pom-Pom/Ching-A-Ling - 2008
The always-innovative rapper was responsible for what is frequently cited as the first 3D music video, teaming up once again with Dave Meyers in 2008 for this fusion of two tracks from the Step Up 2 soundtrack.
Like Gossip Folks, this video is mostly about choreography, shining a light on the Japanese dance troupe U-Min, but there are also a few typically “Missy” moments, namely when she’s suddenly seen on a garden swing and Dance Dance Revolution machine.
WTF (Where They From) – 2015
After seven years away, expectations were high when Missy Elliott’s return to the music scene was announced in 2015 – not just for the song but for the video, too.
Fortunately, she delivered on both fronts, with a track that had all the hallmarks of a Missy classic (and a Pharrell classic, for that matter), with visuals to match.
Once again co-directing with Dave Meyers, the WTF video has everything you’d want from a Missy Elliott effort – Expert choreography! Stunning visuals! Looks! – but with a more modern edge that made sure the rapper’s return wasn’t just a nostalgia-fest, but a reminder that she’s a force to be reckoned with.
I’m Better – 2017
Already known for her hands-on approach, Missy kept the new music flowing in 2017, serving not just as a co-director on I’m Better but also choreographing all of the dancing with Sean Bankhead, who previously worked with Beyoncé.
The three-and-a-half-minute video was the result of a month’s worth of rehearsals, as Missy said she envisaged something that “looked like art instead of just a video”.
Tempo – 2019
In the 14 years since her last album was released, Missy Elliott has been a featured rapper for a number of pop stars, including Little Mix, the Pussycat Dolls, Ariana Grande and Fifth Harmony, among others.
What makes Tempo – her collaboration with Lizzo – so special is the number of times that the singer and rapper has frequently named Missy as an influence on both her music and attitude.
While she manages not to ever be overshadowed in her own video, there’s still a sense of anticipation in the lead-up to Missy’s arrival, and Lizzo’s admiration for her shines through in the scenes they share together.
Missy Elliott will accept the Video Vanguard Award and perform at this year’s VMAs, which will take place on Monday 26 August.