Janet Jackson, Leikeli47 & Rapsody Pay Tribute to Missy Elliott at 2018 ESSENCE Black Women in Music Ceremony

Donald Traill/Invision/AP
Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott attend the ninth annual Essence Black Women in Music event at the Highline Ballroom on Jan. 25, 2018 in New York City. 

Missy Elliott returned after a seven-year hiatus with the Pharrell-assisted “WTF (Where They From)” single, where she makes an assertion that only she can make and that nearly everyone already believes: “I’m so far ahead of y’all man, I’m on top of the stars.”

As a fashion icon with boisterous, witty rhymes and a futuristic sonic palette – strengthened by her relationship with super-producer Timbaland – Missy weaved together an extensive repertoire of classics that have rightfully crowned the 42-year-old rapper a hip-hop legend.

Which brings us to Thursday night (Jan. 25), when ESSENCE hosted their ninth annual Black Women In Music event, honoring Missy Elliott for her musical achievements and impact on the hip-hop culture. There was a brisk, piercing cold breeze hovering over New York’s Highline Ballroom, but a wave of celebrities -- including Slick Rick, Tank, Justine Skye, Fabolous, and plenty others, clad in plush fur coats, gowns, and a Missy-reminiscent Adidas tracksuit -- braved the weather to witness the night-long tributes to the rap superstar.

"She is so confident in being herself and knows what she wants. So for me being a creative working with another creative, sky was the limit," said Misa Hylton, who revealed a conversation with Missy actually inspired Lil Kim's iconic 1999 MTV VMAs look. R&B singer Tank praised Missy for staying "on the cutting edge of technology, from her visuals to everything, and we chased her -- we still are [chasing]."

As guests walked into The Highline Ballroom, large LCDs perched up on the walls played throwback Missy visuals like "Work It" and "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," as Jackson Chery and the I.E.T Band soundtracked the night with live renditions of Missy's "One Minute Man" and Tweet's Missy-featuring "Oops (Oh My)." The energy in the ballroom was palpable and contagious, as boozy guests greeted one another, and celebrities like Fabolous, Remy Ma, Marsha Ambrosius and more made their way to their respective VIP sections. 

The elusive Leikeli47 bounded onto the stage shortly after 9 p.m. to deliver the first Missy tribute of the night. The tribute was especially momentous for 47, who has previously dubbed herself "one of Missy’s kids" -- and as she launched into the first song of her set, she made sure to make Missy proud. Leikeli and her four backup dancers saluted Missy in all-yellow ensembles that consisted of yellow windbreakers and shorts -- 47 opted for yellow overalls and her signature mask. The deep, thumping bass of "Hot Boyz" bounced off the walls as 47 belted out the late-'90s single effortlessly, and the crowd sang along word-for-word. 

Leikeli was later accompanied on stage by her hypeman, who was dressed in a Ralph Lauren Polo "Snow Beach" windbreaker -- the one Wu-Tang Clan rapper Raekwon donned in the "Can It Be All So Simple" video -- to help the masked MC perform "She's a Bitch," before diving into her own "Look" (off her latest album Wash & Set) and "Attitude," from the Insecure soundtrack. The rapper even recruited a mini dancer who was dressed in a pink garbage bag suit, resembling the one Missy wore in "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)."

Up next, 2018 Grammy nominee Rapsody sauntered to center stage in a black-and-white, transparent raincoat with "I Can't Stand the Rain" emblazoned on the back, and opened her set with the Kendrick Lamar-featuring "Power" from her Laila's Wisdom album. Rapsody wrapped up her performance with the smooth, feel-good vibe of "Sassy," and thanked Missy "for being the icon that you are, and everything that you've given to the culture." 

The biggest surprise of the night, however, came when media mogul Mona Scott-Young took the stage to present Missy Elliott with the ESSENCE Visionary award. The Love and Hip Hop head honcho reminisced about meeting Missy back when she was a music manager, and as she concluded her mini speech, Mona announced that she had a special surprise guest for Missy: Janet Jackson

The crowd erupted in screams and applause as the legendary singer made her way to the stage to address her longtime friend. After the crowd settled down, Jackson began her heartwarming speech. 

"Some rhyme, some rap, some act, some choreograph; some write hit songs, some create whole new sounds; Some women are able to make her mark in some of these fields. But there's only one woman who has made her mark in all of these fields," Jackson gushed to Missy. "And not only have you made your mark, but she's done so with boldness and courage." 

She continued: "Creativity is a beautiful thing, and when creativity flows so freely from a musical genius, all we can do is express gratitude. I am so grateful for Missy's beautiful soul, I'm grateful for her creativity, her imagery, grateful for her soaring inspiration; I'm grateful for how she stood toe-to-toe with the guys, showing them that a woman can do it."

Jackson summoned Missy to the stage. Missy was emotional and teary-eyed, but with her signature wide grin and dazzling outfit, she grabbed the mic and closed out the night with a beautiful speech about how she's grown throughout her career despite a string of setbacks that discouraged her. 

Missy took it to church when she reflected on how far she's come as a black woman and rapper in the industry -- "But I say that because even them replacing me with someone they deemed to be more beautiful or the look, it didn't stop me because I knew that I was gifted and I knew there was an anointing," and left the crowd with smiles on their face as she concluded her message. 

"Don't get it twisted, I know I sang 'Minute Man' and 'Pussy Don't Fail Me Now,' so I know they get you confused. But I got church in me."