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Missy Elliott made hip-hop 'Supa Dupa Fly'

Missy Elliot performs at Lilith Fair at Jones Beach, New York, New York, July 16, 1998
Steve Eichner
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Getty Images
Missy Elliot performs at Lilith Fair at Jones Beach, New York, New York, July 16, 1998

In the 1990's, many of the women in rap videos were scantily clad (if they were clad at all.)

But Missy Elliotttook a different approach. In her first music video, she wore a comically large black body suit that was inflated like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon.

You want curves? Here's your curves.

Beyond her fashion sense, the music she and her partner Timbaland produced was unlike anything else.

On Morning Edition, cultural critic Kiana Fitzgerald looks back at some of the game-changing moments in Hip-Hop. One of her choices: Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott's 1997 debut album, Supa Dupa Fly.

Fitzgerald remembers being puzzled by her first experience with Missy Elliott: "When 'The Rain' video came out and she was in the inflatable patent leather suit, it was like, what is going on here?"

Fitzgerald credits Elliott with carving out a place for Black women who didn't fit the 'video vixen' mold.

"She's made a lot of things possible, just with her mere presence," she says.

Missy Elliott made hip-hop more welcoming for women rappers

Even though they have been foundational members of hip-hop every step of the way, women found themselves blocked by the gatekeepers at record labels and radio. who created arbitrary limits on the number of women who could pass through the door in any particular era.

By the 1990's, artists like Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown were popular, but Fitzgerald explains that "a lot of their material was focused on sex, explicit things. They didn't really have much opportunity to exist outside of that. And Missy presented herself to the world exactly as she was: a quirky, futuristic feminist."

Missy Elliott and Timbaland reportedly spent just two weeks recording Supa Dupa Fly. The result was dizzying at times — with off-kilter, spare beats and manipulated samples from other worlds.

Her flow was unhurried and unpredictable, with sound effects, animal noises, and when she felt like it, even pure nonsense.

Fitzgerald remembers the song 'Izzy Izzy Ahh.'

"She's just making up words!," she says, but it doesn't come off as unconventional just for the sake of it. It's like she's saying to her fans: "I want to draw you into my orbit and into my planet of off-the-wall, oddball, unexpected music."

Fitzgerald hears Elliott's playfulness all over the rap of today. "She has her fingerprints on so many careers, not just the 'female rap' of today, but rap at large. So much of what is possible today is because of Missy being, you know, one of one."

"Her ability to not depend on what everybody else is doing has made her one of hip-hop's most revered acts."

The digital story was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Phil Harrell is a producer with Morning Edition, NPR's award-winning newsmagazine. He has been at NPR since 1999.
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