Ah, the ’90s, a decade that is overly loved, reminisced and idolised by those who lived during the great decade or those who wished they had. Fortunately for me, I did live during the ’90s albeit for the first 7 or so years of my life, but I still remember a few things from it. I remember watching Barney on cable and the 1998 World Cup in France, oh and I remember when Missy Elliott released her debut album Supa Dupa Fly in 1997.
Thankfully, even though I hadn’t realised at the time, but having an older sister and having many older family friends around allowed for me to have the excellent taste in music that I now commonly share with you here on Bespoke. Although I probably unknowingly listened to a copious amount of R&B music during the ’90s, I don’t remember how those tunes were received at the time. But I certainly remember Missy Elliott’s Supa Dupa Fly and I think most ’90s babies like myself do. Supa Dupa Fly is one of the most iconic albums of modern history and undeniably changed the game for hip hop and R&B music for years to come.
Pre its release, Missy along with her much-trusted best-friend, companion and super-producer, Timbaland, had built a name for themselves where Missy had signed with DeVante Swing of Jodeci’s new label. Here Missy alongside her girl group Sista had their stab at breaking the record industry with Timbaland supplying the beats, but their sound wasn’t well received and forced Missy and Timbo to act as a dynamic duo that wrote and produced for other artists. The list included Jodeci, SWV, Destiny’s Child and of course Aaliyah who with her Aaliyah album the pair received global recognition for their unique take on R&B. With their hype building, Missy signed to Elektra where she was given her own label and was encouraged to make her own solo debut album that would be entirely produced by Timbaland.
1997 was the year hip hop and R&B truly became commercial, spearheaded by Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy label, the sounds at the time became quite cheesy with the oversampling of classic tracks from the ’70s and ’80s or the over saturation of slow jams (I can’t believe I said this). There was a clear sound at the time and in order to stand out from the rest you had to be totally different and that’s what Missy Elliott and Timbo were. They made the most futuristic sounding album ever, the production on Supa Dupa Fly was way beyond its years with Timbaland’s now iconic scattered drums, weird sound effects and beatboxing alongside Missy Elliott’s singrap style, audacious lyrics and unique melodies created this whole new sound of hip hop & R&B that never existed prior to its release.
Songs like “Beep Me 911” up to now still baffle me, it has Timbo’s beatboxing being the bulk of the production also with a mesh of random sound effects but at the same time the most beautiful melody that’s coupled with 702 and Missy’s alluring vocals. It’s truly R&B in every aspect but at the same R&B in the most unorthodox way possible. And that’s like the majority of the songs on the album (I mean just listen to “Gettaway”) even the most angelic song on the album “Friendly Skies” has Timbo placing some weird effects on his voice but it works and creates this infectious melody that Missy and Ginuwine croon effortlessly over. But whilst it has all these unique sounds, the pair has songs that feature traditional sounding hip hop & R&B tracks like “Bite Our Style”, “Best Friends” or “Hit Em Wid Da Hee” but lyrics particularly in the former and latter are so original.
The majority of the album’s subject matter deals with Missy having to prove her worth, seemingly due to constant disappointment at the beginning of her career. But she does it with the most bravado but not like how other female rappers did during her time either by sexualising themselves or how much road stripes they had. With Missy, she does this with being arrogant about her and Timbo’s unique sound, where throughout the album you’re reminded about all the ‘biters’ who’ve copied their sound at the time and how futuristic their music is. And rightly so, even 20-years later I don’t think we can all Supa Dupa Fly ‘old-school hip hop & R&B’ it’s in its own lane and the production still sounds as fresh as it did in 1997.
Going back to my original point of it being one of the first real albums I remember being released and loved, I think why it sticks in so many people’s memories is visually and sonically it was so left field that it’s left a print in our lives. The music videos for the lead tracks on Supa Dupa Fly deserve their own modules at universities. The video for “The Rain” and “Sock it to Me” are ridiculously creative and were so different to anything of its time that even 2017, with all the technology that’s available to us, it’s still different. The costumes, the narrative, the colours, the choreography were all so flamboyant and outlandish but again it worked so well. It worked because it’s iconic to Missy and only Missy and has now gone onto define her decorated music career. Hence why I feel so many ’90s babies who at the time were too young to really take in her music, have such an affinity with Missy because her music and videos were so striking that it’s left a mark on our lives. I mean, look at the M on her costume on “Sock it to Me”, that’s definitely the M Google use for Gmail.
All in all, Supa Dupa Fly is a classic album that completely changed popular sound, it brought the world the first project that presented Missy and Timbaland’s unique sound that would go on to dominate the late ’90s and early ’00s, as well as produce hip hop’s greatest selling female rapper as Missy is still the only female rapper to have 5 platinum albums. In sum, you have to look at music as popular music before Supa Dupa Fly and popular music after Supa Dupa Fly as it totally redefined music forever. Happy 20th anniversary to Supa Dupa Fly.