This week marks two decades since Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott dropped her debut album Supa Dupa Fly, and it still holds up as one of the greatest musical debuts of all time. Prior to its release, Missy and her childhood friend Timbaland worked on Aaliyah’s One in a Million and other hit singles for the likes of Destiny’s Child, was part of an all-female R&B group called Sista, and eventually broke out as a solo artist, most notably featuring on a Diddy remix.
Selling 1.2 million copies in the US and achieving Platinum status, Supa Dupa Fly was only the beginning of Missy Elliott’s hip-hop reign. From her first album, Missy would go on to snag five platinum albums, four Grammys, sell over 30 million records, release hits like “Get Ur Freak On” “Work It” and “Lose Control,” and inspire everyone from Tyler, the Creator to Thom Yorke.
Despite it being created 20 years ago, Supa Dupa Fly is still electrifying in 2017. The full-length is a reflection of the Missy we would come to know and love – shy but assertive, inspirational, innovative, feminist, and unapologetically herself. On the 20th anniversary of this iconic record, we decided to revisit just what makes Supa Dupa Fly one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.
1. The Album Artwork
On the cover of her debut album, Missy reclines on a throne, wearing a jersey that says “Missy,” matching Air Force 1’s and a knowing, relaxed smirk. Without hearing a single verse from her, you already know she’s poised to be one of the greatest.
2. The meta and prophetic Busta Rhymes Intro and Outro
Busta Rhymes graciously paid Missy and Timabland a visit to their studio in Virginia from New York, and the legendary rapper casually prophesizes the success of Missy’s debut effort in the intro – “Missy LP numba one!” In the outro, Busta thanks everyone for listening, assuring listeners “we be back.”
3. Timbaland’s production
Where to begin with Timabaland’s production prowess? Even after 20 years, it remains remarkably in its own lane, and sounds as fresh as it did in 1997. Unlike most other hip-hop tracks of the same era, you can’t really describe it as being “old school” as Timbaland’s sampling game and drum programming is from another dimension.
4. The Hype Williams-directed music videos “Sock it To Me” & “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
It’s practically impossible to visualise the quintessential 90s hip-hop music video without a Supa Dupa Fly-era Missy materialising in your brain. The fisheye lens views, the futuristic settings, and the insane outfits are inseparable from Missy’s verses, and were a crucial component of Missy’s forward-thinking rap manifesto.
5. The fact that she designed the logo for Gmail way back in 1997 with her out-of-this-world “Sock It 2 Me” ensemble.
6. That crazy garbage bag-esque outfit in the video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
In a recent interview with Elle Magazine, Missy explains the meaning behind her iconic garbage bag chic look:
“To me, the outfit was a way to mask my shyness behind all the chaos of the look. Although I am shy, I was never afraid to be a provocative woman. The outfit was a symbol of power… I loved the idea of feeling like a hip-hop Michelin woman. I knew I could have on a blow-up suit and still have people talking. It was bold and different. I’ve always seen myself as an innovator and a creative unlike any other.”
7. The reference to black cinema on “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
Like much of her other work, Missy’s breakthrough single “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) contains references to her African-American creative predecessors. “Supa Dupa Fly” is a nod to the 1972 Blaxploitation film Super Fly, soundtracked by Curtis Mayfield. The film’s tagline is “A dude with a plan to stick it to The Man,” and Missy is certainly sticking it to conventional hip-hop man on her album, cementing her self-proclaimed Supa Dupa Fly status.
8. “My hormones are jumping like a disco” on “Sock it 2 Me”
Is there a better way to describe the way your crush makes you feel? I think not.
9. That Aaliyah track
Every single Aaliyah track is obviously a masterpiece, but ode to female friendship “Best Friends” is something else.
10. The amazing airplane roleplay of the Ginuwine-featuring “Friendly Skies”
After his sexy smash-hit “Pony,” Ginuwine was on a roll with the not-so-subtle innuendos. Similarly, “Friendly Skies” is deliciously audacious.
11. Reclaiming the world “bitch” while casually objectifying men with “The baddest industry bitches of the century hit hard like penitentiary dick” on “Sock It 2 Me”
This superb similie is just one brilliant instance of Missy asserting her femme dominance on Supa Dupa Fly.
12. The audacious cockiness of the “Bite Our Style” interlude
Even in the early days of their collaboration, Timbaland and Missy knew they were an inimitable, unstoppable duo.
13. The parody of the perfect woman in the video for “Beep Me 911”
Missy, in perhaps the first instance of rapper as Black Barbie, hangs out in a deranged doll house with her dancers, taking the idea of the perfect woman to the extreme, with stiff, robotic movements and ridiculous outfits.
14. The Aretha Franklin hommage on “Sock It 2 Me”
On Aretha Franklin’s canonical “Respect,” the vamp contains the jubilant “sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me just a little bit!” In case there was any doubt that Misdemeanor is paying hommage to Aretha, Da Brat opens the third verse with “Missy be socking it to n*ggas like Ree-Ree.”
15. The gibberish and playful percussion on “They Don’t Wanna Fuck With Me”
Timbaland’s beats are obviously dope on their own, but with the sampling of Missy’s voice for extra percussion on this track along with her throwing in some extra nonsensical syllables, the duo prove you don’t have to take things so seriously to shake up paradigms. See “Izzy Izzy Ahh” if you require further convincing.
16. The strong independent women vibes on “Hit Em With Da Hee” with Lil Kim and Mocha
Before Destiny’s Child penned the anthemic “Independent Women,” Missy assured everyone listening that she doesn’t need men for anything with her proclamations, “I’ve got my own ride and a trunk full of tunes” and “got my own account and my bills in large amount.” Nuff said.
17. The sneaky Björk songwriting credit on “Hit Em With Da Hee”
The remix of “Hit Em Wih Da Hee,” used in the music video for the track contains sampled strings from Björk’s song “Jóga,” further proof that Missy and Timbaland were avant-garde af.
18. The influential arrangement of “Sock It 2 Me”
We’re inclined to believe Kanye West may have been inspired by the synth stabs and slightly sinister brass line on “Sock It 2 Me” for his 808s & Heartbreak classic “Heartless.”
19. “Beep beep, who got the keys to the Jeep, vroom” on “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
This catchy onomatopoeia provides the ideal transition from the hook to the second verse, provoking musical responses from Beenie Man on “Who Am I” and Tanto Metro and Devonte on “Everyone Falls in Love,” and firmly remains in the classic hip-hop lexicon two decades later.
20. The anti-fuckboi anthem “Don’t Be Commin’ (In My Face)”
Missy reminds her ex-love interest not to take her for granted, because she’s obviously the best and so loyal that she “used to stick closer to your side then a beeper,” which was a big deal back in ‘97.
Want to keep riding a nostalgia wave? Revisit why we think Rihanna’s “Umbrella” is still a masterpiece a decade later right here.