Da Real World

‘Da Real World’ at 25: Celebrating a Missy Elliott Classic

A quarter of a century ago, Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliott dropped one of the finest hip hop albums, ‘Da Real World‘. Despite her accolades and platinum plaques, Missy’s influence is criminally underplayed in music. She’s undeniably one of the greatest MCs ever, male or female. The word ‘unique’ is over-used today, but this rap superstar fits the bill. Truly a one-of-one, there was no one like her when she stepped on the scene, and there’s still no one like her now. Whilst her debut album ‘Supa Dupa Fly‘ introduced her experimental and irreplaceable sound to hip-hop, ‘Da Real World‘ was something different. It’s my favourite album from Missy – brimming with freaky hits, fly features, and slick talk.

Da Real World‘ was always going to be a challenge. Missy felt the pressure to avoid a ‘sophomore slump’ after her epic debut. Perhaps this is why she enlisted so many of her A-list friends to this project. The features list reads like a who’s who of hit-makers in the late 90s: think Lil’ Kim, Beyonc√©, Eminem, Redman, and Aaliyah.

Da Real World
Missy Elliott and Aaliyah

Album Theme

This album sees the Virginia native reject the narrative that strong women are aggressive and crazy. “It’s a build-self-esteem album,” she stated, “…’cause it’s still a male-dominated world…”. In this album, the songstress creates a world where women are equal because females are just as inventive and impressive. Even the cover art illustrates the darker, powerful, sexy tone of the project. Missy looks down the lens like a mastermind world leader, making groundbreaking moves on her quintessential 90s flip phone.

Missy never shied away from supporting other female artists. She never felt threatened by the success of others and never felt the need to diss another woman to win. ‘Da Real World‘ set the stage for the theatrics of Nicki Minaj and the sex-positive agenda of the City Girls to be accepted decades later. This album took only a year to go platinum, dialling up inspirations from her childhood (James Brown and Michael Jackson) to justify musical experimentation and following her creative instincts.

Hot Boyz

She’s said this is one of her favourite records she’s ever recorded. The world agrees. To me, this song plays like a part two of ‘Sock It 2 Me‘ from her first album – but upping the ante. The ‘go ahead, impress me then’ attitude is effortless. It’s hard to believe this single didn’t perform well upon initial release. Poor performance saw radio stations take it off the airwaves before eventually making a comeback and spending a then record 18 weeks at the top of the US rap chart. If you haven’t heard the Hot remix with Nas, Q-Tip, and Eve, you haven’t lived. That verse from Eve is sensational!

She’s A B***h

The MC bites back at haters in this empowering track. The 90s were a particularly male-dominated rap era, but Missy isn’t fazed. She reclaims the term ‘b***h’, spits rhymes better than the best of the boys, and makes it quite clear what’ll happen if you step over that line – “Anybody gotta get they whole body peeled?”. ‘She’s a B***h‘ was the original album title, making this song feel like the nucleus of this whole alpha-female project. This song also housed one of Hype Williams’ greatest music videos ever. It plays like cut scenes from The Matrix. She’s bald with gemstones on her face, dressed like a country music star visiting from the future, and in an all-black get-up with an oversized fur coat… in the same video.

All N My Grill

Missy shows her versatility in the second single from the LP. She is not just a supreme rap lyricist but can entice listeners with the catchiest of R&B hooks. She embodies the afro-futuristic diva role, whilst Outkast legend Big Boi drops some Dungeon Family dynamite at the end. The message of this song is loud and clear – it’s the turn of the century, and women won’t put up with trash men anymore.

The Timbaland Touch

Ever humble, Missy never forgets to credit super-producer Timbaland as her partner. The pair have undeniable chemistry. It feels like they live in their own bubble, free from too much outside influence, and make room for playfulness. The way they both hear and engineer sound is genius, and they are two halves of the same whole. No one has replicated an artist-producer match-up in the same way since, and maybe never will again.

Da Real World‘ has Timbaland’s trademark production all over it. The futuristic, zappy, technical sounds of a digital future can be heard throughout. Upon release, this album housed a fresh and exciting sound, and you can still say that about it today.

Da Real World

Final Thoughts

After 25 years, the experimental nature of this album maintains it as an amazing listen. ‘Da Real World‘ came at a time when originality was the winning formula. To stand out in the hip-hop space at that time, you had to be different. Looking like a model was never Missy Elliott’s number one priority. It was about being the most creative vessel she could be. Eminem said, “Missy doesn’t try to sell herself on anything other than her musical talent.”, and this made him want to work with her.

In today’s over-saturated musical landscape, standing out pays dividends. Missy has laid the blueprint, so it’s key that current artists put her on the pedestal she deserves. She was the first female hip-hop artist to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and it’s clear to see why. If you haven’t already, give ‘Da Real World‘ a listen – for a taste of experimentation at its best and a few bonafide classics.

Missy Elliott is on Instagram, X, and TikTok. Stream the album below and read more anniversary reviews here.

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