The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill Continues To School Us 16 Years Later
Lauryn Hill couldn’t have been more accurate when she told Touré in 1999 that “music is about to change.” Frustrated and fresh from her break from the Fugees, Lauryn Hill made her solo debut in 1998 with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Where reggae, hip-hop and soul meet, Hill created an album that showcased her consciousness documented through her burning creativity. In an era where most of the female emcees were rapping about sexuality, Lauryn sang about love, politics, men, family, God, motherhood as well as directly addressing the issues between herself and her previous band mates. Without cursing due to her pregnancy at the time of recording, Hill created musical content that held pride in its intelligence and in its strength.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the first cassette tape I ever owned. It was 1998 and I remember walking into Skippy Whites, my local record spot in Boston, and I was immediately fascinated by the artwork. The different shades of orange and brown were warm and inviting while Lauryn’s dread locked hair fluttered behind her with a sense of freedom. Lauryn Hill’s soul and passion and bars captivated me every single day and continue to do so sixteen years later.
That following year, Lauryn Hill was nominated in ten Grammy categories and won five, including ‘Album of the Year’ and ‘Best New Artist.’ The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill completely shattered the divisions between music genres and restored hip-hop’s original mission in producing a soundtrack that represented the people. Their struggles and their triumphs were eloquently balanced between her tender vocals and powerful rhymes.
The album begins with a school bell ringing and a teacher taking classroom attendance. His repeated call of “Lauryn Hill” completes the “Intro.” “Lost Ones” follows and fuses Patois with hip-hop cadence and rhyme. “It’s funny how money change a situation” Lauryn forcefully spits as she works out her anger about both her breakup and the group dynamic with Wyclef Jean. Refusing to be silent any longer, Hill’s lyricism rings power as she recognizes her value and demands respect as both an artist and women.
“Doo Wop (That Thing)” was one of the biggest singles from the album. The record schooled both men and women about gender roles, self-respect and empowerment. Lauryn assured women of their real beauty with this track, “don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem.” Rather than speaking from a condescending place, Hill is compassionate and understanding. Her vocals kill the hook with beauty and soul while her bars attack with purpose. The keys accompany the two sounds brilliantly with the saxophone and trombone on assist.
“When It Hurts So Bad” has elegance in its simplicity. Lauryn Hill heartbreakingly sings of a love lost and the pain that comes with a relationship gone bad. The sound is reflective of the story, incorporating live drumming that represents the intensity of love as well as a harp that expresses grace and serenity. Lauryn tells of a love so deep that she painfully discovered wasn’t reciprocated and no matter how much she loved, “she couldn’t make it right.” Even at eight I felt the power of this record and I remember experiencing chills as I internalized her agony. The diversity in emotion on this album encompasses the spectrum of human passion and played a huge role in its timelessness and the recognition of the album in general music history.
The sentiment that The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was really for everyone was also articulated in “Everything Is Everything.” Lauryn provides a glass half full perspective urging the listeners to understand that what will be will be. “I wrote these words for everyone who struggled in their youth,” Lauryn harmonizes and the bass is as profound as the message. “Where hip-hop meets scripture” was Lauryn Hill’s description and the album’s eclectic sound and content was pivotal in the evolution of hip-hop.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is one of those albums that you always have on your iPod, that you play at least once a week and an album that continues to resonate new ideas and sounds in hip-hop. In Decoded, Jay Z talked about his respect for Foxy Brown and Lil Kim’s music, but the only female emcee he played constantly and sang along every word to was Lauryn and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. There isn’t a music lover on this planet who can deny the legacy of this album and its concept as well as sonic brilliance can be studied as a blueprint no matter the genre.
Because of its groundbreaking artistry, we all have hoped for another album from Ms. Hill, however, her genuine frustrations with the politics of the industry prevented that from happening. Nevertheless the size of her discography, because the album’s organic creation produced one of the greatest albums in the history of music. Today we honor The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, continue to reap the lessons from the music and praise Lauryn Hill for for forever changing the divisions of sound and hip-hop.