Each One, Teach One | Honoring the legacies of Missy Elliott, Eve and Janet Jackson

It’s never too late to give these women their flowers.

  /  04.05.2019

As KRS-One articulated throughout his catalog and in his many teachings, “Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live.” As the culture continues to evolve today, many feel it’s not only important, but vital to preserve and honor the fundamental elements: Graffiti, emceeing, breakdancing, deejaying and knowledge. This column called “Each One, Teach One” aims to do exactly that. It will highlight various lessons that can be passed between new and old generations alike.

Part of the human experience can be found in the curiously innate desire to see to that our lives will have meaning that transcends beyond our own time on the planet. When one thinks of legacy, common interpretations may include the idea of living with purpose, working to positively influence the next generation, sharing hard-earned wisdom and upholding a standard of vitality that is as definitive as it is inspiring. While legacy speaks to the concept of paving a way for the future, it also is reflective of how one hopes to be remembered.

Often, legacy is paired with gratitude when others want to express how appreciative they are of another’s actions, words and sacrifices. Sometimes that desire does not become fully realized until the person whose life and example is no longer with us. With that birthed the idiom to give someone their flowers while they can smell them. Keeping that in mind, while there is certainly a rebuttal that such accolades are inexcusably long overdue, it’s great to see women such as Eve, Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott being praised for their laundry list of achievements, especially while they are still here to receive and celebrate the recognition alongside their fans.

Last week (March 29), Janelle Monáe had the honor of inducting Janet Jackson into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a prestigious milestone that many argue should have been awarded to the pop icon a long time ago. However, given that throughout the institution’s 34-year-old history, only 7.7% of inductees have been women and only 32% have been people of color, it’s clear that when it comes to uplifting the legacies that ultimately reflect the landscape and impact of music in America, there is a long way to go.

The Rock Hall inducting Jackson, along with Stevie Nicks (with the two representing the only women inducting in this year’s class out of 37 inductees) in the year 2019, is merely the beginning of acknowledging the roles and influences women musicians have had and will continue to have on American music at large. Jackson touched on this during her heartfelt acceptance speech, urging the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to induct more women into its 2020 class; another move that shows how part of her legacy is paving the way for others and utilizing her platform to shine a light on those whose careers she helped influence from their inception.

While speaking of her nearly 40-year career and the Jackson family legacy, Jackson exclaimed, “I witnessed, along with the rest of the world, my family’s extraordinary impact on popular culture — not just in America, but all around the globe. And as the youngest in the family, I was determined to make it on my own. I wanted to stand on my own two feet. But never in a million years did I expect to follow in their footsteps. Tonight, your baby sister has made it.”

Much like Jackson’s influence cannot be understated, neither can that of other pioneers such as Eve and Missy Elliott. All of these women deserve theirs flowers and then some, and 2019 is finally starting to put the wheels in motion.

On Saturday (April 6), Eve will be honored in her hometown of Philadelphia with iHeartMedia affiliate station WDAS 105.3 FM’s annual Special Trailblazing Woman of Excellence award, celebrating her work as a Grammy award-winning rapper, songwriter, actress and overall tastemaker. From becoming the inaugural winner of the Grammy award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2002 for the song “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” with Gwen Stefani to collaborating with a top-tier selection of today’s most esteemed musicians, singers, producers and rappers to getting in time on-screen — ranging from her movie roles to her position as a co-host of CBS’ “The Talk” — Eve’s legacy overflows into several lanes.

Additionally, at the top of this year, Missy Elliott became the first-ever female rap artist to be inducted into the Songwriting Hall of Fame and the third hip hop artist overall, joining the ranks of fellow prolific artists JAY-Z and Jermaine Dupri. Her finally being recognized as one of pop culture’s greatest songwriters may feel like a no-brainer given the fact that she has now officially spent over two decades churning out hits with artists such as Jackson, Aaliyah (“One In A Million”), Ciara (“1 2 Step”), Mya (“My Love Is Like Woah”), Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige and countless others.

However, this milestone means so much more than merely being a checkmark on a cultural bucket-list, and to suggest otherwise is a grave disservice to all that she has accomplished throughout her multifaceted career. Per the institution’s guidelines, a songwriter with a “notable catalog” qualifies for induction 20 years after the first commercial release of a song, making Missy Elliott’s induction right on time. From being enshrined in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame to recording her first solo album in 14 years to being awarded with an honorary doctorate from the esteemed Berklee College of Music, Missy’s legacy has carried her into 2019 with a refreshing motivation to keep inspiring others — something that she does with textbook humility and grace.

Again, the legacies of these three women cannot be celebrated enough and 2019, so far, is setting the standard of doing exactly that. While it may feel like a long time coming, such a criticism of the music and entertainment industries being behind, while these women were lightyears ahead shouldn’t take away from the fact that they deserve every blessing that comes their way.

When one thinks about legacy, it’s important to keep in mind the visibility that comes with these women who are finally receiving such accolades and honors, especially when thinking of the next generation. Today’s little girls with bright eyes and big dreams don’t look at news spots on TV celebrating these aforementioned icons and wonder why they are being honored decades into their legendary careers, instead of years ago or whatever else the case may be. No, what they see instead is pure inspiration. And, more specifically, for young ladies of color, they are able to see successful, esteemed women who look like them being uplifted, represented and celebrated. Each are important role models in their own right and in their own ways — and for that reason alone — may honoring the legacies of trailblazing women such as Janet Jackson, Eve and Missy Elliott never, ever go under-appreciated or overlooked.

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