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Baker's Dozen

Beauty From Trauma: Paul Mendez' Favourite Music
Paul Flynn , October 7th, 2020 08:40

Pop is all over Rainbow Milk, the Gordon Burn Prize-nominated debut novel by Paul Mendez. Here he tells Paul Flynn how a love of Marvin Gaye, Beyonce, Solange, Joy Division and Missy Elliott gave him a clearer understanding of his sexuality and racial identity


Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly
I was reading a Missy Elliot interview by Hilton Als back in 1997 and she was talking about the videos for ‘The Rain’ and ‘Beep Me 911’. She said she and Hype [Williams] wanted to subvert the idea that Black women are only accepted as icons if they look like white women. Missy made music that was, yet again from trauma, though none of us knew it at the time. She was raped repeatedly as an eight-year-old. Her father was extremely violent. She was always trying to protect her mother. She comes from so much trauma and turns it all into this amazing Afro-futurist, Afrocentric sound and vision-scape that we’re still catching up with now.

Supa Dupa Fly still sounds so fresh. It’s a genuine classic, the best album of that period and one that crystalizes the early Timbaland sound. Post ‘Get UR Freak On’, it goes to another place but from ‘96-‘99, his output, beat after beat after beat sounded different than anything else you’d ever heard. I would compare him to Martin Hannett, spotting spaces, knowing when to deliberately leave them unfilled, his ability to drop an extra beat you don’t expect, his feeling for staccato, the way everything sounds so light on its feet, this beautiful gestalt moving.

Missy was an auteur, taking control in her black PVC suit, subverting the idea that Black women aren’t meant to be seen by making herself even fatter and even Blacker. That is so radical. You have to be an incredible artist in an incredible place to be able to see those things without questioning yourself constantly. There are no questions on this record. Its people allowing themselves the freedom to do what they want to do. Timbaland and Missy made Supa Dupa Fly in two weeks. Mic drop.