When Essence honored 42-year-old hip-hop and rap icon Missy Elliott at their ninth annual Black Women In Music event Thursday night, Elliott had no idea that her close friend Janet Jackson would be handing her the magazine’s Visionary Award.

Jackson, and many other stars, came to pay tribute to the rapper, songwriter and producer. LCDs decorated the walls offering throwback Missy visuals like “Work It” and “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly). The night was full of music, boozy celebrities, and tearful speeches.

“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. Not only have you made your mark, but she’s done so with boldness and courage,” Jackson said in front of a full audience of celebrities in New York’s Highline Ballroom, “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.”

Elliott spoke after the speech, saying, “That was a surprise. I’ve known Janet over a decade and this is not just … someone I do music with. I can call Janet any time of night and she will listen. The times that I may have felt like giving up, she’s always gave me an encouraging word.”

In her speech, an emotional Elliott thanked God and reminisced some of her own challenges as an artist, insisting that her fans and artists like her never give up on their dreams. She recalled that some in the music industry doubted her success because she is a woman producer or because she didn’t appear what was considered traditionally beautiful. “I want all of you women in here to know that you’re beautiful. You gotta believe in yourself,” Elliott said, “Because there are going to be times that people tell you you can’t do it or you don’t look the part. But I am a walking testimony.”


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