What Millennials Should Know About… Missy Elliott’s ‘Supa Dupa Fly’

VIBE spotlights some of music’s most essential timepieces for Gen Y to get hip to

Supa Dupa Fly (1997)

Most Slept On:
-“Friendly Skies” (featuring Ginuwine)
For the first half of the album, Missy delivers her trademark kinetic, rapid-fire lyrics and in-your-face bravado. But midway through, she drops a full-on ballad, a duet with singer Ginuwine. In general, her singing abilities are often an overthought when discussing this album—but it’s one of her greatest strengths as an artist. The lyrics here are forgettable. (She’s comparing sex to a plane ride—turbulence, buckle up, yada yada yada). But the vocal arrangements and harmonies are flawless. Although she’s always lent her singing voice to hooks, for herself and others, sometimes it’s forgotten that she doesn’t just sing, she sangs too.

Also Most Slept On:
-Timbaland’s production
There was a time when artists would stick with a single producer for an entire album. Doesn’t happen much these days. But in the ‘90s, Missy and Timbaland were so in sync that they were essentially a duo. Timbaland produced this album from start to finish; not a single outside producer is credited on any song. This lent a cohesiveness that today’s music seldom has, making this album as much a success for Timbaland as it was for Missy. Later, Missy began to branch out and use other producers and the result was… noticeable.

Lines Best For Status Updates:
-“My hormones jumping like a disco/ I be poppin’ mess like some Crisco” (“Sock It To Me”)
-“Beep beep, Who got the keys to the Jeep?” (“The Rain”)
-“Your worst mistake/ Is to try to duplicate anything Timbaland make” (“Pass Da Blunt”)
-“Lord have mercy on all these groupies/sorry cutie/why you go and shake your bootie?” (“I’m Talking”)
-“You might chastise/but you can’t stop my enterprise” (“Gettaway”)
-“I hurt like cold souls/My style polishes like nails and toes.” (“I’m Talking”)

Bet You Didn’t Know: Missy strongly resisted doing a solo album. She’d formed a group in high school, eventually got a record deal, recorded a complete album—and it was never released. She was so traumatized by the whole experience that she vowed to only write and produce for other artists. (In 1995, she and Timbaland wrote and produced almost the entirety of Aaliyah’s double-platinum album, One In A Million.) It was Sylvia Rhone, the head of Elektra Records, who insisted that she release a solo album. Missy said no—she just wanted a label imprint so she could sign artists. Rhone said she’d give her a label deal—but the first release would have to be her own solo album. Missy gave in and began recording Supa Dupa Fly.

Bet You (Also) Didn’t Know: Although Lauryn Hill is largely credited for ushering in the concept of an all-in-one solo artist who sings, raps, writes and produces, Missy Elliot actually beat her to the punch, releasing her debut nearly a year earlier. Missy’s album wouldn’t have the crossover, Grammy-winning success of Lauryn Hill’s debut, but she pre-dates Lauryn’s takeover.

Synopsis: Every so often, an artist will make the music industry do a collective double take with a single line. For us old folks, it happened when Busta Rhymes barked rawr rawr like a dungeon dragon on 1992’s “Scenario. The entire hip-hop generation knew in that moment that Busta was here to stay, (and indeed, he appears on the intro to Supa Dupa Fly).

Back in 1996, Missy did the same thing when she dropped a verse on a song called “The Things That You Do”. Out of nowhere, she spits out: “Hee-hee-hee haw/Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-haw.” It was a random, non-sensical adlib. But her delivery and originality made us sit up and take notice.

Missy’s entire contribution to hip-hop is often underrated; you’ll most likely find her relegated to the list of the best *female* rappers. In part, it’s because she sings and because her style was heavily visual. (The trash bag suit she wore in her first video brought her as much notoriety as the hit song itself, not to mention her finger waves and dancing.)

But a deep listen to her debut, which holds up well nearly two decades later, cements Missy’s place as one of the few artists (of either gender) to completely change the musical landscape forever. Not bad for a chick from Virginia who got her start writing for a six-year-old rapper named Raven-Symone.

Aliya S. King’s is the author of two novels and three non-fiction books, including the New York Times Bestseller, Keep The Faith, with recording artist Faith Evans. She had written for VIBE since 1998. Find her at aliyasking.com and @aliyasking. You can also cop Missy Elliott’s debut album on iTunes here.