The Happy Accident on Missy Elliott's "Work It"

Submitted by notoriousclassics on Thu, 07/01/2021 - 21:31
Missy Elliott in 2002

Missy Elliott is an undisputed hip-hop icon - a trailblazer for women in rap and, alongside longtime friend Timbaland, an innovator in the sound of rap in the late '90s and early '00s. But did you know one of the most iconic moments on her biggest hit was a total mistake?

"Work It," the lead single from her fourth album Under Construction (2002), was built upon a dizzying groove inspired by old-school acts like Run-DMC and jazz keyboardist Bob James. Missy's killer wordplay and rhymes have rarely been better - remember how many people were using "badonkadonk" to refer to some shapely backsides? - but the song's first moment of genius was in the chorus: "Is it worth it? / Lemme work it / Put my thing down, flip it and reverse it"...followed by a rhythmic snatch of vocal that, it turned out, was literally the last line reversed!

READ MORE: East Meets West on Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On"

It turned out that moment of genius was really a stroke of good luck. "The reverse thing, that was a mistake," she told Billboard in 2018. "The engineer happened to hit something, and it just went backward, and I was like, ’Oh, that’s kind of crazy because it went backward on the beat. So, after that happened, I said, ‘Yo, keep that in there and I’m going to write around it.’”

The result was a classic moment in hip-hop history. "Work It" sailed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 - kept from the top by Eminem's "Lose Yourself" - and won her a Grammy Award for Best Female Rap Performance, along with MTV Video Music Awards for Video of the Year and Best Hip-Hop Video.