The first time I ever laid eyes on Missy Elliott was in 1997, when I saw her dancing like crazy in a bin bag in her video for "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)." Growing up, we never had enough money for CDs, so the only way I could discover new music was through a music channel called The Box. It was on there that I saw her, and from then on I was hooked. She was such a huge force, you couldn't ignore her.
She's got so many massive tunes, but my absolute favourite is "Get Your Freak On," which is why I chose to cover it for Live Lounge. As soon as that tune drops in the club, you know exactly what it is, and I love tracks like that. She makes the kind of timeless music that in twenty years from now, people will still be playing it on the decks. It's music that makes you feel good, and it takes you back to a time when music was all about having fun, being playful and getting creative.
She definitely inspired me to start rapping—not just because of her beats and wordplay, but also because of her character. I've always loved the way she is. She's never been skinny, but she never cared about that—and why should she? She also doesn't just rap about sex. It's more about being comfortable in yourself and your outfits. She never had to bow down to any man to succeed. She knows herself and she's confident, and I think that's really important for an artist. Basically, she does whatever she wants to do, and that's kind of like me. I always like to prove people wrong, or go in unexpected directions with my music.
She's also an insanely talented producer, and I will always rate what she's done with Timbaland. When you hear that tin pan beat, you recognise it straight away as belonging to those two, because it's a sound that no one else was doing at the time. I'm similar to her in the sense that having full creative control is really important, because being unique is important. I produce all my own stuff, and like to take charge of my visuals like Missy Elliott does. I know myself and I know what I want people to see, so when I have a vision, and I have the team to make it a reality, I'm going to get the job done. At the moment, all of my "Queen's Speech" videos are directed by Wowa. He's like my Hype Williams. If you have that connection, you'll always get the best results.
A lot of artists don't know what they want to do. They might be really talented but they don't actually know themselves. They're scared of getting involved in certain things, and that's where it can all go wrong. Whereas me, I'm not afraid to voice my opinion; I'm not afraid to dress up as Santa Claus or throw out something weird in my lyrics. I like to capture people's attention, and I think I get some of that inspiration from Missy. All her videos are so different to each other – they have similar sounds, but it's all about the crazy outfits or off-the-wall concepts. I miss the days when you could watch videos over and over again and you wouldn't get bored of it. Nowadays, you watch videos and it's just the same thing; people driving cars or rapping about drugs and violence. But Missy had her own stamp.
I get frustrated when people label me a "female rapper" rather than just a "rapper", like being a female is a genre in itself. When you're on the come up, like me, that's how people like to label you. But Missy Elliott has done so much powerful work for women in general, that no one can say "Missy Elliott the female rapper" – she stands next to Jay Z and Kanye West. She's made her art, she's made her grams – no one can knock that. She was probably never called a "female rapper" anyway because she wasn't doing what anybody else was doing, so it's almost like she's beyond categorisation. She belongs in her very own Missy Elliott box.
I met Timbaland at the end of last year, and he told me that he can see Missy Elliott in me. If there's one thing that I'll always keep in my heart forever, it's that. I'm grinning to myself now just thinking about it. It just makes me think that everything I've done so far in my life is paying off. I'm finally getting a chance to meet the people I grew up listening to face-to-face and it's crazy and surreal. If I ever did get a chance to meet Missy Elliott, I'd probably faint. But right before I fainted, I'd say this: you're an amazing, humble, successful woman who has only ever done what you wanted to do and you've never tried to sell yourself short for anybody else. For that reason, I'll always respect her legacy.
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Lady Leshurr headlines the Noisey stage at The Great Escape Festival in Brighton from May 19-21. You can get tickets here.