|First posted 3/28/2008; updated 12/1/2020.|
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Released: August 25, 1998
Peak: 14 US, 16 RB, 2 UK, 12 CN, 2 AU
Sales (in millions): 8.0 US, 1.0 UK, 15.6 world (includes US and UK)
Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Total Running Time: 69:20
4.299 out of 5.00 (average of 20 ratings)
Quotable: “One of the best solo female albums ever recorded.” - Consequence of Sound
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
Lauryn Hill had distinguished herself as “most distinctive voice” AZ and “social heart” AMG of the rap group the Fugees on their albums Blunted on Reality (1994) and The Score (1996). The latter made the Fugees one of the bestselling hip-hop groups in history. She “proved her mettle as a vocalist to contend with” JM-10 on the trio’s cover of “Killing Me Softly.”
Still, “few were prepared for her stunning debut.” AMG It sold more than 15 million copies worldwide, was a number one album in the U.S., and landed her eight Grammys, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist. She took “seventies soul and made it boom and signify to the hip-hop generation.” RS
Miseducation “is infused with African-American musical history.” EW It “weaves a tapestry of sound that borrows liberally from soul, reggae, and hip hop.” JM-14 Not only does Hill serve up an “Aretha Franklin–caliber vocal,” TM but she “has the funky grunt of vintage Stevie Wonder” EW as well as the “uptown soul of Roberta Flack.” EW She also “recalls the moral fervency of Bob Marley;” EW the album cover even references Marley’s Burnin’. JM-48 However, “Miseducation is no withdrawal from the nostalgia bank.” EW
She also keeps things current, collaborating with R&B superstars like D’Angelo and Mary J. Blige, and “flowing from singing to rapping, evoking the past while forging her future.” EW Her “verses were intelligent and hardcore, with the talent to rank up there with Method Man” AMG and “she could move from tough to smooth in a flash, with a vocal prowess that allowed her to be her own chanteuse (à la Mariah Carey).” AMG “If her performing talents, vocal range, and songwriting smarts weren’t enough, Hill also produced much of the record, ranging from stun-gun hip-hop to smoother R&B with little trouble.” AMG
Hill wasn’t a cliché, rapping about the trauma of ghetto life – and she wasn’t trying to pretend that was her background. She was “one of the few middle-class rappers who was actually honest about it.” JM-19 She was an Ivy leaguer, “Columbia University English major blessed with a broad literary arsenal that simultaneously reflected her dexterity as a wordsmith and her acute understanding of the latent but deadly power in the economy of words.” JM-12
She “broke through to gain ‘mainstream acceptance’ in a way that never discounted or altered her blackness.” JM-46 “She was a conscious singer who wore dreadlocks” JM-41 and wouldn’t play into a misogynistic bitches-and-hoes stereotype. “She was the absence of the hoochie…the absence of the rap ho.” JM-117 “She was sexy, but she wasn’t selling sex.” JM-41 “She had the ability to elicit strong sorta familiar urges in men in addition to sexual ones.” JM-37
While she wasn’t shooting for a blockbuster, “she clearly realizes the benefit of wrapping even the harshest rhetoric in mesmerizing grooves.” EW “The swinging sermon” RS Doo Wop (That Thing) was a chart-topper which also was “an intelligent dissection of the sex game that saw it from both angles.” AMG That song’s line, “How you gonna win if you ain’t right within?’ also “turns out to be the defining question of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” TM
A chart-topping hit by a female rapper proved quite the rarity. The pop charts didn’t see it happen again for two decades, when Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” marked the first time since 1998 that a solo female rap single reached #1. JM-123
This is “a collection of overtly personal and political statements.” AMG “What Hill had traversed and triumphed in the two years before Miseducation all seemed to make its way to the studio.” JM-xiii In skits between songs, Ras Baraka, a poet and mayor of Newark, plays the role of a teacher. In the first skit, he reads Lauryn’s name during roll call and she is absent. In subsequent skits, he discusses “love” and what it means with the class. It sends a message about the theme of Miseducation that she “opted out of that protective environment and chose instead to learn those difficult lessons while being out in the world.” JM-120
Throughout the album, the listener “can hear and feel the messages she tries to get across about God, love, motherhood, and life.” CS To Zion, which features Carlos Santana, is about putting her family before her career. It was “a universally powerful moment of possibility, relatable for all women faced with pregnancy under unconventional circumstances. For black women…it was a deeply need affirmation.” JM-89
However, when she presented that song to Tommy Mottola, who was then the head of Sony Music and Entertainment, he “pronounced it dead on arrival. Mottola was anxious to replicate the Fugees’ success and thought this new mélange of soul, reggae, and relatively little hip hop from one of rap’s best emcees was too much of a departure from a proven formula.” JM-69
Jackson and her manager responded by taking Lost Ones to Ruffhouse Records cofounder Chris Schwartz. “In a genre where the battle record is a revered staple, this one brought the fire.” JM-70 It was “beautiful and bellicose, …showcased the best of Lauryn’s skills as an emcee, [and] was so purely hip hop that it appealed directly to her original fan base.” JM-70 “What was also unique about ‘Lost Ones’ was the quality of Hill’s rage. Its source of inspiration might have been a broken heart, but it was…completely sans or pleading…Hill’s delivery was calm, measured, and focused on her target.” JM-72
She also “speaks eloquently on how the creators of urban music could use a moral compass,” TM putting the industry – including her own former bandmates and record execs – for putting “more emphasis on the bottom line than making great music.” AMG “Yet the beauty of the album lies in Hill’s ability to make her self-righteousness ravishing.” EW She made “an album of often astonishing strength and feeling” EW which is “a perfect blend of hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and soul.” CS It is “one of the best solo female albums ever recorded.” CS
The Album’s Lasting Impact:
Miseducation is “arguably the greatest album of a generation.” JM-xvi In 2017, NPR ranked it the second greatest album made by a woman, only by Joni Mitchell’s Blue. JM-4 In Joan Morgan’s book She Begat This, the album is compared to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. “The same thing that made Thriller amazing was the same thing that made Miseducation amazing. It turned a corner and shifted the culture…Lauryn made herself so vulnteralbe that it was super-empowering and that uplifted women.” JM-121
“Women of the hip-hop generation were the frontliners of what we now know to be Wakandan warriorship.” JM-x Time magazine put her on the cover in 1999. Out of 525 issues in the ‘90s, only seventeen black figures made the cover – and only five worked in arts and entertainment. JM-31
The fame had a devastating effect, though. She “was a twenty-three-year-old girl who bared her soul and made a stellar, grown-ass-woman album.” JM-112 However, she struggled. “Lauryn Hill was messy, but she was exactly the kind of messy you’re supposed to be in your twenties.” JM-119 She had to deal with the stress of being in the spotlight, trying to balance motherhood and career, and dealing with being put on a pedestal as a model for black women. More than twenty years later, she has yet to record a follow-up studio album.
Still, she had her influence. In the final chapter of She Begat This, a slew of artists are noted as being influenced by Lauryn Hill. Among them are D’Angelo, Beyonce and Solange Knowles, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West.
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