“This is for my ghetto motherf***ers…”
When needing to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” while crafting 1999 album Da Real World, Missy Elliott called upon the talents of Nas, Eve, Q-Tip, and Lil Mo to create a remix of her single “Hot Boyz.” The track’s legacy is being one of hip-hop’s most beloved all-star posse cuts. When icons at the height of their talents and popularity execute in the manner that this quintet does on this track, magic transpires. Having spent 18 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles from December 4, 1999 to March 25, 2000, its prestigious chart record was recently topped by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road.” On the Hot Rap Singles charts, the track hit No. 1 in January 2000 and spent nine months on the charts. The song’s longevity as a hit is undeniable.
Join vocalist Lil Mo as we revisit the cusp of the millennium to celebrate an unlikely track worthy of super-acclaim, finally receiving long overdue recognition of its excellence for its 20th anniversary.
AN ICONIC PRELUDE
In the era between 1995–1998 (1995 included as tracks produced in 1995 that were released in/impacted 1996), Missy Elliott likely accrued 65 official production credits, 70 singles, features, or guest appearances, and worked on her first two solo albums with a combined total of 34 tracks between them. In compiling this impressive volume of work, she also spent time in the studio as a producer, songwriter, arranger, collaborator, and engineer with somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 artists, highlighting the fact that when the “Hot Boyz” remix dropped on November 9, 1999, the idea that a song featuring an artist of her then already prodigious talent, combined with that of Nas, Q-Tip, Lil Mo, and mega-producer Timbaland was a guaranteed hit. It actually wasn’t.
By 1999, Missy Elliott was a breakout hip-hop star following up the success of her debut album Supa Dupa Fly’s singles “The Rain,” “Sock It 2 Me” and “Beep Me 911.” But as a collaborator, she was thriving and maintaining relevance. Missy’s protege Nicole Wray’s seductive rap ballad “Make It Hot,” Timbaland & Magoo’s artist album lead single “Up Jumps Da Boogie,” and Total's simmering hi-hat driven soul ballad “Trippin’” were all hits bearing Missy’s musical fingerprints.
Recorded over eight months between 1998-1999, Elliott’s sophomore release, Da Real World was originally titled She's a Bitch, as a positive way of expressing herself as an empowered woman. Previous to this, Elliott had crafted five top ten singles for other artists (702’s “Steelo,” Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew” and “Are You That Somebody,” SWV’s “Can We,” and Total’s “Trippin”) so far in her career, quite possibly a case of giving away her A-level material for others while retaining significant, but not quite breakthrough pieces for herself.
“Missy had hits, but yeah, we knew we had that ‘one’ in us," Lil Mo remembers. "The team was incredible. We felt excited and unstoppable.
"We were working nonstop. We were also working with Jay-Z, Puffy, Beyonce, I even vocal produced Whitney Houston and Aaliyah, there was so much happening. We knew we had hits, we just didn’t expect a ‘Hot Boyz’-level hit.”
THE INGREDIENTS OF SUCCESS
Nas’ rap career reheated after his debut and follow up albums Illmatic and It Was Written. Namely, 1999’s “Hate Me Now” featuring Diddy was a global success. Q-Tip was still a member of A Tribe Called Quest but making solo waves—his single “Vivrant Thing” dropped a month prior to Missy’s remix. Eve came to the record by way of the Ruff Ryders clique, and likely because she was the most-anticipated female emcee of the moment. Lil Mo was Missy’s protege and worked with (but not signed to) her GoldMind label, having done considerable songwriting for the aforementioned Nicole Wray’s debut album. As for Timbaland, he had recently exploded into mega-stardom, having produced 18 top ten Billboard Hip-Hop and R&B Chart singles in three years' time. Timbo brilliantly found a way to blend the coarse edge of urban radio with the seductive vibe of the late-night quiet storm format into a potent, pop-friendly formula. His trademark sound was off-kilter: not so hard that it offended adult contemporary listeners, but also not so smooth that it alienated the streets.
Lyrically, this song plays as a haughty come on from a social-climbing female looking to land a date with a hard-hustling playboy pushing the hottest whip on the streets. Pulsing, MPC-boosted violin samples over a skittering hi-hat provide the underpinning. There’s the slightest bleed of one note that reverberates in a way that makes it a perfectly imperfect earworm. The excellence of the track is that it's a bed for Missy to showcase her soul vocal chops. The emcees fill in the edges with familiar, pop chart-aimed voices. Lil Mo's vocals filter through the entire mix, so loud and still somewhat unrefined, but for the purposes of a track so minimal in its construction, absolutely perfect. If ever needing proof that the greatest hits oftentimes break the “rules” of conventional production logic, look no further.
“When Missy was writing ‘Hot Boyz,’ we got there that night, and we immediately ate dinner. We had unlimited budgets back then, so why not! (laughs) Then, we—as we always would—would start cracking jokes while in the lounge,” Lil Mo recalls. “I heard the beat, she started putting down the words, and then she’s like, ‘Go record some ad-libs [to the beat], and take it to church!’ When I first heard the track, there wasn’t much to what Timbaland had put together, but it still had that magic. Missy heard it once, told me to not be worried about what it sounded like now, because she knew what it would become. We finished the version with her and I on it alone, but she had already told me who she was reaching out to for the remix. The song—with Nas, Eve, and Q-Tip’s parts added with mine—and the video were done in a week. Missy’s powerful. And when she has a plan, she’s going to do what she says she’s going to do.”
“We recorded and mixed the original version of the record in the same night,” Mo continues. “Timbaland’s production, mixing, and engineering team at that time was incredible. Jimmy Douglass was his engineer, and once he got the record, he went into seclusion and came back with a hit.” Douglass is likely the most decorated of the modern era session engineers, having worked with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, the Rolling Stones, Hall and Oates, and every significant Timbaland production in the past two decades of his career.
THE SONG “RADIO DIDN’T WANT TO PLAY”
Regarding the single which she noted that “radio didn’t want to play,” Missy told Billboard, “I remember one of the stations in L.A. was the first to pull it. And something happened, I can’t tell you what happened, but whatever happened, it ended up back at the stations...and it ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records.”
“I want guys to feel like they could ride around and listen to this because the beat was so hard. This beat feel like all the male rappers would want to get on this joint right here,” she said. “Eve snapped EFFORTLESSLY and came through on this song,” Missy also noted via Instagram. Lil Mo continues regarding Eve, “Missy gave her 16 bars on the record and she wasn’t even lit yet! That’s the equivalent of giving someone one million dollars!”
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“HotBoyz” one of the hardest R&B bangaz🔥 Let’s talk about how @therealeve SNAPPED EFFORTLESSLY on this song here 🙌🏾 Eve came through👏🏾I remember this song had so many bad call outs at 1st that some radio stations stopped playing it 😩🙁but through the grace of God it went #1 stayed there for 18 weeks & ended up in the Guinness World Book of Records🙌🏾Won’t he do it🙏🏾 big up @nas @thelilmoshow @qtiptheabstract
The first voice heard the remix is that of Nas. The flow is reminiscent of Firm-era Esco, equipped with swagger raps and cop-bait. Then, as Nas correctly says, “Missy’s about to tear it up....”
Missy’s opening verse takes her from quirky, awkward 'round the way high school homie to college senior home before graduation looking to make a move on making babies, then quite possibly getting married. She’s the embodiment of a thug’s dream wifey: able to cook, clean, and provide ultimate sexual satisfaction in the same breath. When she says “I’m a fly girl, and I like those…” she’s effectively refreshed much of her entire brand imaging and also opened herself up to female fans of say, Nas, who kicked off the record. It’s a stroke of genius.
The second verse is a stunning evolution. Missy’s now best renowned as a feminist sociocultural bellwether. However, here, she’s cooing about being a hot guy’s date because he drives a Jaguar XK8. Moreover, she wants all of her friends, if his friends drive cars similar in luxury to the XK8, to meet. Yes, feminism is not a monolith. This moment is empowering in a sense that actually fits the notion of feral female sexual desire showcased here like a glove. It’s truly fantastic songwriting.
Eve’s up next, having notched two top 40 features (The Roots’ “You Got Me” and Blackstreet/Janet Jackson collaboration “Girlfriend/Boyfriend”) and two debut album singles (“What You Want” and “Gotta Man”) at this point in her career. In the 45-second feature, the “illest pitbull in a skirt” wastes no lyrical motion. No cute ad-libs, nothing approaching platitudes about her sexual prowess. Spitting gangsta vitriol is her method, and what’s to boot, in the video version of the remix (sans Q-Tip), Missy returns to maintain her lyrical aesthetic, going in about how she’s going to “dig in your pockets, dig in your wallets, is that money I’m foundin’, now you got my heart poundin’...” Missy’s a true lyrical chameleon, showcasing her ability to meet any rhymer halfway. In the non-video version, Q-Tip, uncharacteristic to his Native Tongue ways but likely more method acting in time with the aesthetic set by his fellow performers on the remix, is pure cocksure sex fiend here. It fits.
A LEGACY THAT CAN NEVER BE REPLICATED
“What? 18 weeks at number one? Yeah, people thought we were paying for that. MTV, BET, everything,” says Lil Mo, answering the questions surrounding if payola or illicit wrangling was involved with “Hot Boyz’s” epic run. “To this day, people go crazy when you play it. It was a genuine hit record. We had no Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Myspace to boost it...that single hit because of nothing but Billboard and radio.” Continuing, she remembers, “when I used to get my hair braided, it would take the girl six hours. I swear, in that six hours, I might hear ‘Hot Boyz’ 12 times.”
When asked if it would be possible to recreate that “Hot Boyz” moment, Lil Mo pauses, and then bittersweetly opines, “artists today don’t have the same type of confidence or creativity that we had back then. We had both, plus genius creatives pushing us to not fit into expected standards, but to be ourselves. That’s a gift and blessing. It inspires you to, when they give you the mic, to just kill it.” Lil Mo also credits the tune for kicking off her career “in a major way. It opened the door to me working with Ja Rule, Jay-Z, it helped me blow up out of control! My career struck gold.”
Upon hearing that artists like Kash Doll were inspired to become rappers because of songs like “Hot Boyz,” in her recent live performances, Lil Mo has updated the song’s hook to reflect modern times. Switching the hook from “Where your Lexus jeeps, and the Benz jeeps, and the Lincoln jeeps, and the Bentleys and the Jaguars, and the fly cars...Where you at” to “Some drive Bentley jeeps, some drive Lambos, even if they drive an Uber now, as long as he’s driving, baby,” has allowed the song’s relevance to resonate with just as much excitement for the current generation.
For her final note, Lil Mo reflects on her decades-long friendship with Missy. “This is 20 years of friendship. I just saw Missy last Saturday and though I don’t see her like I did all of the time two decades ago, it’s like we pick up exactly where we left off. The camaraderie that comes from making records that big is real. Our friendships, a song like this, they sustain and surpass the test of time.”