First Night: Missy Elliott, National Indoor Arena, Birmingham

Hip hop's first lady earns respect away from the studio
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The Independent Culture

Mainstream hip hop culture often seems to revolve around the notion of respect. Rival rappers routinely disrespect each other in rhyme, occasionally resulting in somebody getting killed, while rappers such as 50 Cent earned extra respect by surviving a hail of bullets.

As the most successful female hip hop artist in rap's 30-year history no one would dare dis Missy Elliott. With her razor-sharp inventive song writing in collaboration with fellow Virginian Tim Mosley, aka master tweaker-producer Timbaland, nine years ago they created a new kind of digital soul and no one comes close to stealing her crown.

Now the artist formerly known as Misdemeanor has titled her top 10 greatest hits album Respect M.E. It's all about marketing and branding, of course, something Missy Elliott has been as adept at as creating sonic revolutions and breaking every stereotype about women in hip hop - defying the despicable but all-too-prevailing idea that women are just "bitches" or "Ladeez".

Respect M.E. ties in with the launch of the 35-year-old's new Adidas leisurewear collection of the same brand name.

She opens this, the first of just three UK dates, with a new song "We Run This". No kidding.

Contagious 21st-century teacher technoid funk such as "Get Ur Freak On" and "Work It" only increased her power, grafting elaborate experimentation on to commercial pop, and last year she proved her artistry could survive without Timbaland's studio wizardry on the Cookbook. So how does an artist's music so wedded to the studio console stay the course live in concert?

Live hip hop is a very different, far wilder beast compared to the slickness of recordings. So tonight her DJ concentrates on running the crowd through the earthquake-ish, sub-bass vibrations and punctuates the mix with the violent sounds of breaking glass. Missy swaps from burgundy to white and then black baggy togs with gold and silver emblazoned across the front.

Missy is in total command, with rapper Ceewayo as her foil. A shout over a rampantly hard beat as an eight-strong breaking crew lets rip with latest tribal dance steps, including a new Chicagoan style called "foot working" to impossibly fast rhythms.

"I don't care if you're Spanish or Chinese, you're my family," she tells us and having Missy Elliott as a cousin is just fine for the thousands who hang on to her every word.

Things just get crazier and crazier with pyrotechnics exploding above the stage.

Respect is certainly assured for hip hop's first lady.