This anniversary salute goes to an album that transcended Hip Hop and became one of the most heralded pieces of music of all-time. A laid-back yet passionate Jersey girl that had all the talent one could ask for, emerged from one of the most successful Hip Hop acts to exist to becoming a cultural music icon. She delivered a project that was dripping with pain, pride, freedom, and transparency all in one and became one of Hip Hop’s most critically and commercially successful albums ever. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Lauryn Hill’s debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Already tasting worldwide success from her work with The Fugees, Hill was the clear and apparent star of the trio that consisted of her, Wyclef Jean and Pras. Their debut album, Blunted On Reality, was decent but not enough to where it would make a viable impact upon listeners ears (although the “Nappy Heads” remix is just flames). However, in 1996 the game was turned upside down when they released their epic sophomore album, The Score. A breathtaking release, this album sold over eleven million units and made them official household names, largely based off “Fu-Gee-La” and the solo cut by Ms. Hill, a reworking of the Roberta Flack classic “Killing Me Softly”. Many have stated that it was in fact that single alone that made the album soar as high as it did, which is a strong argument. But don’t get it twisted – The Score as a whole was, and still is, an amazing piece of work that stands the test of time. It was Lauryn’s chilled-out, b-girl persona that made the ladies relate to her as their sister, and brothas wanna to get with her and wife her. Equally talented in singing and emceeing, Lauryn was becoming THE star.
Anticipation was mounting like never before for a female Hip Hop artist to drop her solo debut album. In ’98, she dropped The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and it was simply awe-inspiring. Driven by the single “Doo Wop (That Thing)” as well as the subliminal rumored Wyclef-diss “Lost Ones”, Miseducation... started off blazing. Then came the painful ballad “Ex-Factor”, in which she pours her heart out over a slow reworking of Wu-Tang’s “Can It Be All So Simple”. From there, she dropped other singles such as “Everything Is Everything”, “I Used To Love Him” with Mary J. Blige, the sultry duet with D’Angelo “Nothing Even Matters”, and the touching ode to her then-newborn son “To Zion”, featuring excellent acoustics by legendary, Grammy Award-winning guitarist Carlos Santana.
Considered the ultimate woman’s album, filled with love, anger, and emotion, Lauryn showed it all to the world in a way very much resembling other amazing soul-bearing albums such as Marvin Gaye’s classic Here My Dear. Recorded and written while she was pregnant – regardless if hormones influenced the output – Miseducation… was special. Special as in a genre-bending bar-setting piece of work that is both jarring and exuberant, heartbreaking and victorious, political and homegrown. Cuts such as “Superstar”, “Tell Him”, and the cautionary “Final Hour” are so effortlessly poetic and vivid that they really embody the term “soul music”. Taking her direction, narrative, and guidance from God, Lauryn sometimes comes off prophesying, commanding the listener to heed her cautions, while embracing her truths at the same time.
While many today like to rap then sing and vice versa all over their projects, Lauryn was a pioneer who could do it and could master it seamlessly. Although the album was practically more R&B and Soul than Hip Hop, the Hip Hop isn’t far on several tracks, making it appealing to the cats on the corner as well. Much like icons such as Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and India Arie, fellas could gravitate towards her for her sense of being that down to earth, mellowed-out young woman, but the ladies saw themselves in her in some capacity, thus relating to everyone.
The legacy of this album is one of folk hero status. Lauryn’s album is considered a benchmark for artists in general who aren’t afraid to present and speak their truth as means of therapy. Lauryn’s debut made her a hero. An album that established her as one of the most important figures in all of music. Not only did 9th Wonder induct the album into the Harvard Library, but it was also included into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. You must know the highly important significance of this, as albums and recordings such as “My Girl” by The Temptations, “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” all reside there as being of historic cultural impact.
It doesn’t get much more timeless than The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Lauryn Hill gave us a treasure that will still be reveled twenty more years from now, and beyond. While her follow-up MTV Unplugged album was met with controversy in terms of quality, and in spite of her seemingly wanting to leave the spotlight alone, Lauryn will always be remembered for one of music’s greatest masterworks. Salute to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.