20 Years Later, Missy Elliott’s Groundbreaking Video Is Still Supa Dupa Fly
On June 1, 1997, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott’s iconic music video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” made its television debut. Visually, it was a delicacy, offering up fashion-forward treats for the senses. It also served as the Portsmouth, Virginia’s rapper’s solo introduction by way of her debut album, imbuing her with the groundbreaking qualities she retains in her artistry today, 20 years later. In it, she dons an inflated garbage back, a mundane household item reinvented thanks to the video’s creative team. Directed by Hype Williams, the video’s signature earmarks not only broke ground, but also lay the foundation for new generations of visionaries eager to push the envelope.
For the June issue of Elle magazine, cover girl Missy spoke on the video’s significance, two decades since its release. As Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah explains, the video was much more than a daring visual piece of work meant to promote and sell records. It was, in many ways, a work of personal triumph and healing for Misdemeanor. “What no one seems to realize is that Missy, like most shy Black girls, had long ago been forced to master a certain skill: to hammer down her shyness, along with any fear, to some low, unseen place deep inside of herself, and keep it there until she could step over it, again, again, again,” she writes. Missy herself says she finds strength in being seen as a Black visionary, and she wouldn’t have it any other way, despite the obstacles littering her early life. “We are survivors, and once we know that, we are unstoppable. I always said I wouldn’t be no other color, because if there’s one thing about us, we never really had, but we know how to—we know how to survive,” she says.
“Shy” is not a word that comes to mind when discussing the artistry of Missy, described by Elle as altering “the spectrum and the range of Hip-Hop,” making it “wild and hyperdimensional.” In particular, “The Rain,” argues Ghansah, “was what Hip-Hop would sound like if it were conceived inside of the calyx of an African violet, unfurling and wet.” Pharrell echoes that sentiment, speaking to Elle on Missy’s fearlessness and ingenuity. “We came up in a time where we were always told no. Where we were always placed in a box. And she defied it. Over and over again. She defied the physics that were dictated to us. She ignored the gravity of standards and prejudices and stereotypes. She ignored that gravity,” he says of his fellow Virginian.
“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” in all its glory certainly defied physics – and was, indeed, a way for its main character to fight back against the self-doubt pulling down on her. The infamous trash-bag outfit, Missy says, “was a way to mask my shyness behind all the chaos of the look. Although I am shy, I was never afraid to be a provocative woman. The outfit was a symbol of power. I loved the idea of feeling like a hip-hop Michelin woman. I knew I could have on a blow-up suit and still have people talking. It was bold and different. I’ve always seen myself as an innovator and a creative unlike any other.”
Being an innovator in 1997 is alone an accomplishment nobody can take away from Missy Elliott. But what is truly exceptional about her is that today, in 2017, she remains as creative and exciting as ever. Though she hasn’t released an album since 2005‘s The Cook Book, her 2015 video for the Pharrell-assisted “WTF” is arguably one of the most incredible of the decade. Further suggesting that her return is imminent, she enlisted Eve, Lil Kim, and Trina for a remix to her latest single “I’m Better” just two weeks ago. But whether or not a new Missy album is on its way, she reminds us that, either way, “to have me, yes you lucky.”