20 Albums 20 Years Later

Missy Elliott's Out-Of-The-Box Style Smashed Stereotypes About Female MCs, Their Looks, And Hip-Hop’s Boundaries

Missy Elliott's "Supa Dupa Fly" turns 20 this year.

Before unforgettable songs like "Get Ur Freak On" and an iconic performance at the Super Bowl's halftime show in 2015, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott was an unfamiliar name in 1997.

Back then, she was fresh out of Sista, an all-female R&B group she had formed with friends, writing and producing music for a living. Four years before her debut album, Supa Dupa Fly, Elliott made her first foray into the limelight by writing and rapping in Raven-Symone's "That's What Little Girls Are Made Of."

Supa Dupa Fly was Elliott's chance to fully showcase her writing and rapping chops with the help of her neighborhood friend and producer, Timbaland. When it debuted, she received immediate critical acclaim, with Entertainment Weekly grading it an A- and saying that "she's a wickedly innovative singer-rapper who favors expansive song structures and trip-hoppy textures."

The album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, making Elliott the highest-charting female rapper in 1997. Since then, it's also gone platinum.

But Supa Dupa Fly was more than just a successful freshman album. At the time, it demonstrated how Black female rappers such as Lil Kim and Elliott had multiple layers to their musical capabilities by tackling hip-hop and R&B songs, and by introducing some out-of-the-box beats. This level of complexity still holds up to listeners today, inspiring newer artists from Nicki Minaj to Azealia Banks.

"The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)"

This song was Elliott's first single off the album with a chill but unforgettable music video. With an underlying sample of Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain" guiding the chorus of the song, "The Rain" explores Elliott's feelings on how she wants to be respected as woman and have her voice heard, but the metaphorical rain keeps getting in the way of her being able to express her womanhood.

In the Hype Williams-directed video, Elliott sports an inflated trash bag through a fisheye lens shot to play up the fact that music executives constantly said she wouldn't make it in the industry because of her weight.

The song and video are a package deal that takes a unique approach to demanding a right to be respected as a woman. Most songs that stress this issue typically feature aggressive lyrics and beats, but here, Elliott is vulnerable with her audience from the start.

"Beep Me 911"

All Elliott wants in "Beep Me 911" is an answer from her former lover. Why did they leave her? Was she not good enough? What exactly went wrong?

Elliott takes a classic breakup song theme and turns it into a plea for straight answers rather than a plea to stay together forever. After all, she gave up parties and clubs, but he "left [her] in the dark with no kind of sign." But at the end of the day, she passes on the relationship, saying, "All those other girls you've been with / Can't do like I do."

"Sock It 2 Me"

Just because Elliott is capable of displaying emotional vulnerability and a demand for the truth doesn't hold her back from discussing another aspect of her life: her sexuality.

"Sock It 2 Me" focuses more on a potential sexual interaction between her and a man she's attracted to. Emotions are out of the equation. It's also an example of a 1990s song that conveys how women can be confident and honest about their sexuality, something that female artists inspired by Elliott have taken to the next level by fully discussing their desires. The music video, which looks like something out of the Mega Man video game series, also features a guest appearance by fellow rapper Lil Kim, along with a guest verse from Da Brat, and came months after the trio joined forces with Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Angie Martinez for the all-female "Ladies Night" version of Kim's "Not Tonight."

Although Elliott took an extended break from the music industry when she was diagnosed with Graves' disease, a hyperthyroidism disease, her influence has never been absent. Female rappers, in recent years, have started to return to dominance in the music industry and the charts thanks to the efforts Elliott, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and others put forward in the late 1990s.

After Supa Dupa Fly, Elliott's career took off and she's become one of the most successful rappers — male or female — of her generation, and helped set her longtime friend Timbaland off into the world as a successful music producer. But despite all of her success post-1997, Elliott's first album still stands as evidence of what an empowered, Black female rapper looks like in any decade. In this case, physical appearance has nothing to do with it. Confidence, a way to reinvent classic song themes, unique beats, and a demand to be heard from her peers led to her success, and speak volumes louder than any limitations imposed by others.

Supa Dupa Fly is available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Spotify.

Cover image: The Goldmind, Inc. / Elektra Records

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