What do you do when Missy Elliot shows up at your door?
Poet Ashlee Haze found herself asking that earlier this month, after one of her poems caught Elliot’s attention.
In “For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliot Poem),” Haze talks about black female representation in media and the effect that seeing Elliot perform had on her life.
Haze began writing and performing poetry when she was 11. A few years prior, she had heard one of Elliot’s songs for the first time. It was life-changing for her to “see a woman of color who was an unconventional beauty … and to say, ‘That’s somebody I can relate to, that’s somebody who’s a creative,'” she said.
A few months ago, driving near her home in Atlanta, she heard one of those songs on the radio again and decided to write about Elliot. In her poem, which she performed at the Individual World Poetry Slam in October, she describes that because of Elliot, “I believed that a fat black girl from Chicago / could dance until she felt pretty / could be sexy and cool / could be a woman playing a man’s game.”
After the piece circulated online, Elliot sent her a message over Twitter, thanking her for the poem and asking for her phone number. Elliot called her to ask if she would be at her home in Atlanta the following afternoon. “I knew it was Missy Elliot because you can’t duplicate a voice like that,” she said.
The next day, Elliot showed up.
Haze said her hero was everything she thought she would be. But for Haze, the meeting was part of a larger cultural conversation about what it means to find your voice as a black woman, she said.
“The conversation is changing, bit by bit, especially when you have the Beyonces and the Nicki Minaj’s who are really vehicles for this message that black girls are feminist too,” she said.
Having black female role models — especially those who are unconventionally attractive and proudly feminist — makes all the difference to young women like her, she said.
“Self-love is really the root of it. You want to love yourself through the images you see,” she said. “If you don’t see people who look like you, who have your textured hair, who aren’t perfect, who have a similar body size to yours, you begin to think that you’re not enough, that what you are is not okay.”
You can see Haze perform her piece above, or read it below.
For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliot Poem)
a brief history of womanhood in hip hop
your favorite could never
for colored girls who don’t need Katy Perry when Missy Elliott is enough
3rd grade. I’m in the hallway, when I’m sure I shouldn’t have been and Cory White comes up to me and asks “Yo! Have you heard that new Missy Elliot track?”
I reply “Who is Missy Elliot!?!”
at the time my parents only let me listen to the gospel and the smooth jazz station
but that day… i went home, ran upstairs to my room
and closed the door (a cardinal sin in a black mother’s house)
and waited on TRL to come on
then it happened. metallics and a black trash bag fill my TV screen
and I hear the coolest thing I’d ever heard in 8 years of living
*beep beep, who got the keys to my jeep… Vrooooommm!*
at that moment I had my life figured out
I was going to grow up to be Missy Elliott
I spent the next decade of my life recording and rewinding videos to learn dance moved
passing that dutch
getting my freak on
and trying to figure out what the hell she was saying in work it
there were so many artists I could have idolized at the time
but Missy was the only one who looked like me
It is because of Melissa Elliott
that I believed that a fat black girl from Chicago
could dance until she felt pretty
could be sexy and cool
could be a woman playing a man’s game
and be unapologetically fly
if you ask me why representation in the media is important
I will show you the tweet of a black teenager
asking who this “new” artist is that Katy Perry brought out on stage at the Super Bowl
I will show you my velour adidas sweat suit and white fur kangol I begged my parents for
I will show you a 26 year old woman who learned to dance until she felt pretty
feminism wears a throwback jersey, bamboo earrings, and a face beat for the gods
feminism is Missy, Da Brat, Lil Kim, Angie Martinez, and Left Eye on the “Not Tonight” track
feminism says as a woman in my arena you are not my competition
as a woman in my arena your light doesn’t make mine any dimmer
I did not grow up to be you
but I did grow up to be me
and to be in love with who this woman is
to be a woman playing a man’s game
and not be apologetic about any of it
If you ask me why representation is important
I will tell you that on the days I don’t feel pretty
I hear the sweet voice of Missy singing to me
pop that pop that, jiggle that fat
don’t stop, get it til your clothes get wet
I will tell you that right now there are a million
black girls just waiting to see someone who looks like them
Ashlee Haze is one of Atlanta’s premier word artists. Earning the nickname “Big 30″ because of her consistency in getting a perfect score, she is one of the most auspicious poets in the sport of slam. She has been performing on the Atlanta Poetry circuit since the age of 14 and has been writing over 15 years.She has performed everywhere from small coffee shops to the Apollo Theater. She is a 4-time member of Java Monkey Slam Team, 2011 Southern Fried Poetry Slam Champions. In 2012 Miss Haze was ranked top ten at the Women of the World Poetry Slam. In 2014 she appeared in “3-Minute Activists: The Soul of Slam” a feature-length documentary that examines the lives and work of some of Atlanta’s premier Spoken Word Artists.