It’s one of the catchiest phrases in rap — and one of the most incomprehensible: “Ti esrever dna ti pilf, nwod gniht ym tup.” The iconic Missy Elliott lyric does exactly what Missy commands in the previous line (“Put my thing down, flip it and reverse it”) and encapsulates Elliott’s masterly command of language.

Producer Timbaland wasn’t in the room when Elliott and her engineer nailed that verse in “Work It,” off of 2002’s Under Construction, but he remembers being shocked and impressed by the results. “It’s deeper than the reverse,” he tells TIDAL. “How did she know to pick those words to reverse? How did she know it would give it that rhythm? That cadence? That’s what is ingenious about it; that’s what caught me.”

Tim wasn’t the only one ensnared by Elliott’s command over words; she changed the way we hear music. Across her impeccable career, she’s challenged the conventions of language, forcing us to listen with fresh ears — which is why we’re not surprised that she’s the first female rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (June 13). We’re just shocked it didn’t happen sooner.

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