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-- by Robert Mancini

The opinions expressed in the argument below are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MTV News. If you agree, disagree or just want to howl, send us your thoughts. We will include them, as well as the ideas presented below, in this week's episode of "The Wrap," premiering Sunday at 9:30 p.m. on MTV2.

They are images that have been providing "what the f---?" moments for years.

A woman wrapped in what appears to be a large, inflated Hefty bag cavorts in front of enormous gears swinging on pendulums. A bald-headed figure covered in black paint and accented with rhinestones swaggers through a lighted black and white grid. Dancers wearing only white body paint, black shorts, large black boots and some sort of black vinyl shower caps stomp around in a deserted jungle fortress. A rapper yanks her head off of her own shoulders and holds it aloft while continuing to serenade a would-be suitor as her headless body dances in the background.

"The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)"
Supa Dupa Fly
"Hit Em Wit Da Hee"
Supa Dupa Fly
"Hot Boyz"
Da Real World
"Get Ur Freak On"
Miss E... So Addictive
"One Minute Man"
Miss E... So Addictive
"Work It"
Under Construction
"Gossip Folks"
Under Construction
This week, it was a face full of bees, gravity-defying breakdancing and the soft-focus face of Halle Berry staring up from the bottom of an empty glass that sparked a pack-leading eight MTV Video Music Award nominations. It all adds up to one compelling case: Missy Elliott is the most important video artist of the last 10 years.

Artists like Madonna and Eminem may have owned the pop-culture zeitgeist for the last decade, but Elliott tops them both in terms of consistency, imagination and pure video pop. "The Rain," "She's a Bitch," "Get Ur Freak On," "Work It"... each one a modern video classic, each one aped by those who followed, and each one providing yet another example of Missy's underrated vision.

Admit it: the promise of a new Missy Elliott video makes you at least a little bit happy, doesn't it? You're excited before you even see it. You know it will blow your mind (or at least twist it a bit), and when you finally see it, you aren't disappointed.

Working in a genre that rarely reaches beyond its own set of well-worn visual clichés (booty + bling = hit), Missy is an especially refreshing force. A fiercely independent artist, she writes and produces her own music and has a heavy hand in how that music is represented in her videos. Working side by side with directors willing to tackle her unique creative vision (Hype Williams early in her career, and David Meyers more recently), Elliott has found a combination of groundbreaking vision and mass appeal unmatched by her contemporaries.

Other artists may have been even more adventurous (Radiohead, Björk and a handful of others come to mind), but none have consistently brought such bold visions to a mainstream audience. For instance, hard rock visionaries Tool have made a career out of blending their brooding, booming sound with bold, intense and ambitious images, but they have never reached the audience that's Elliott quirky hip-pop touches. Her mastery comes in marrying dynamic and inventive visuals with music that practically dares you to get it out of your head.

While Missy has made her mark by taking her unique vision to the mainstream, other MTV regulars have certainly reached even larger audiences. Eminem has been virtually inescapable since his arrival in 1999, but his most memorable videos ("My Name Is," "The Real Slim Shady" and "Without Me") have been more lighthearted than groundbreaking, playing for laughs rather than innovation. While Missy's clips deliver their share of clever imagery, her videos move beyond the snack-food nature of sight gags into visuals that stick to your ribs.

And while Madonna has been synonymous with daring videos throughout her career, her more ambitious clips have met a mixed reaction over the past decade. Viewers have seen perhaps only two truly great Madonna videos ("Bedtime Story" and "Rain") and a handful of quite good ones ("Take a Bow," "Frozen," "Ray of Light," "Don't Tell Me" and "Music") in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, her most adventurous projects ("What It Feels Like For a Girl," "Bad Girl," and the original cut of "American Life") have aired rarely — if at all — in the U.S. The result has been a mixed bag for viewers awaiting each new Madonna video.

Conversely, the truest testament to Elliott's video skills lies in her consistent ability to pop your eyes out of their sockets on a regular basis. In just the last six years, Elliott has churned out 13 videos (not including guest appearances), each one more ambitious than the last. Her most conventional video, 1999's "All in My Grill," saw her stop traffic to go from car to car telling off would-be lovers. And granted, "Beep Me 911" wasn't the greatest clip in retrospect, but it still pulled off the whole doll-comes-to-life thing three years before 'NSYNC tried it.

Despite all this, Elliott has never won a Video Music Award for her work (she does have two stashed somewhere, but they came courtesy of her work with Christina Aguilera, Pink and Mya on "Lady Marmalade"). Her solo work has garnered 17 past nominations, a figure bumped to 25 following this week's announcement. Hopefully she'll cash some of those in come August 28 and finally get the credit (and the hardware) she deserves for some of the most inventive video work of the past 10 years.

Here's how you voted in our poll:

Is Missy Elliot the top video artist of the last ten years?
Yes. Missy always delivers. 
I hadn't really thought about it, but you make a good point. The greatest? Maybe. 
Missy's great, but not THE greatest of the past decade. 

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Photo: Elektra

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 "Work It (Remix)"
featuring 50 Cent
Under Construction

 "Take Away"
Miss E...So Addictive

 "All N My Grill"
Da Real World

 "Sock It 2 Me"
Supa Dupa Fly

 "Beep Me 911"
Supa Dupa Fly