August 22, 2017 | by Amanda Scigaj
In the summer of 1997, I spent my days at NYSP — a state-sponsored “sports” program where they mandate kids separated into age brackets to play volleyball and other activities — kids who clearly didn’t want to be there. I don’t remember much about the friendships I forged (kidding, all my summer gear was purchased at K Mart and I was therefore ostracized), but I do remember the two songs they played over the gymnasium floor as we went to grab our bleached-to-high-hell camp shirts every morning: Kirk Franklin’s “Stomp” and Missy Misdemeanor Elliot’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly).” Even then, I knew Missy was revolutionary.
The later ‘90s had an influx of amazing female rappers: Da Brat, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, never mind the influx of harmonized groups that predate Destiny’s Child, (and which they owe for making inroads). Missy Elliot, in my mind, seemingly came out of nowhere.
Hailing from Virginia, Missy started her career as part of the group Sista on a small label, with a single on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack. After Sista dissolved, she joined forces with friend Timothy Mosley, aka Timbaland, rapping and producing intricately layered tracks for artists ranging from a pre-teen Raven Simone to Jodeci, and later Aaliyah (and if you don’t know who that is, just stop now, go home, and listen to “One in a Million”). This parlayed into a record deal with Elecktra, and her own subsidiary label, The Goldmind, Inc.
On July 15th, 1997 Missy Elliot’s Supa Dupa Fly was released, and the record debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 with 129,000 copies sold in the first week — the highest debut for a female rapper at the time. I’ll deter from mentioning how it was a simpler time, but simply put, records were found by perusal, the radio, MTV, or whomever had possession of their adult’s credit card long enough to request a song on the Box. The album’s single “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” was released just ahead of the album on July 2nd.
Taking a sample from Ann Peebles track “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” I still do incredibly off-brand shoulder shakes to the “The Rain.” It begins with a simple drum machine drop and expands with layers upon layers of sound without sounding like sneakers in the dryer, complete with Timbaland’s “uh huh” nods that would later become eponymous with tracks he touched. In comes Missy’s lyricism, her delivery full-bodied and laconic, mirroring the topic of the first verse:
When the rain hits my window
I take and inhale, cough me some indo
Me and Timbaland, ooh, we sang a jangle
We so tight, that you get our styles Tango
Sway on dosie-do like you loco
Singing Can we get kinky tonight? Like CoCo, so-so
You don't wanna play with my yo-yo
I smoke my hydro on the dee-low
One can’t talk about huge albums of the ‘90s without discussing the videos that accompanied them. MTV VJ’s were minor celebrities themselves, and programming around music video releases resulted in the creation of Total Request Live about a year after the album’s release. “Da Rain” is a case study in late ‘90s music video mastery, courtesy of the “it” video director of the time, Hype Williams. With cameos from Puff Daddy, 702, Lil’ Kim, and others, it included rampant use of fisheye lenses, luxury cars, backup dancers, and notably watching Missy in an exaggerated garbage suit pop-locking against an industrial backdrop that will forever live in my consciousness.
Follow up single “Sock It 2 Me” is a perfect storm of lyrical prowess, laced with samples from the Delfonics “Ready or Not,” and production that still evokes head nods 20 years later with the chorus:
Ooh ahh, sock it to me like you want to, ooh, ooh
I can take it like a pro and you'll know (know)
Do it long bro with a back stroke
My hormones are jumping like a disco
Again, another video masterpiece from Hype Williams in the form of a Megaman video game homage. Songs like this are automatically revolutionary and an earworm: The chorus is tight, the production is intricate, and lines like “This is the motherfucking bitch era” spat by Da Brat stay with you.
Missy Elliott, along with a lot of the performers apart of Supa Dupa Fly, made the late ‘90s. Busta Rhymes, with a burgeoning solo career kicks off and closes the album, along with other mega stars like Lil’ Kim, Ginuine, and Aaliyah lending their talents. The album reached both the R&B and hip-hop charts, and Missy toured on Lilith Fair. Looking at the album cover of Missy leaning back in opulent upholstery looking out into the camera, it’s as if she’s saying, “I’m here; buckle up and get ready for what I’m about to show you.” If it weren’t for her boundless talent, and her partnership with Timbaland, we would lack a great deal of the tracks that cracked the top 100 in the last 20 years.
Certainly, hip-hop and popular music wouldn’t be the same. By creating a different sound outside of the box, and getting into an inflated black jumpsuit, Missy Elliot created new inroads for a new Millennium. Watching her perform tracks (albeit from later albums) against a national stage at Super Bowl 2015, I’ll forgive the naivety of today’s younger girls who wonder, “Who the hell makes that sound”?