THROWBACK THURSDAY: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
On August 25th 1998, at the age of 23, Lauryn Hill released her iconic debut album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”; cementing her as the first superstar to excel at both singing and rapping. Winning five awards at the 41st GRAMMYs, including Album of the Year, Ms. Hill became the first hip-hop artist to win this category. The critically acclaimed album remains Ms. Hill’s only solo career release however, it’s legacy lives on marking it as a classic in the music industry.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: Manifestations of Love
Inspired by Cater G Woodson’s book, The Miseducation of The Negro, and the film, The Education of Sonny Carson; the term “miseducation”, aims to explore Ms. Hill’s life lessons outside of academia. In an interview with the Guardian, she explained that:
"The title of the album was meant to discuss those life lessons... those things that you don't get in any text book, things that we go through that force us to mature. Hopefully we learn. Some people get stuck. They say that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and these are some really powerful lessons that changed the course and direction of my life."
The 15-track album is a continuous ensemble, diving into the different manifestations of love; bringing together the experiences of Ms. Hill. Influenced by the sounds of hip-hop, R&B, soul and reggae, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill not only explores the topic of love but also, feminism, religion, black womanhood and the black struggle. Ms. Hill chose to document her experiences of womanhood in a manner that is not only honest and transparent but also bridges the gap between the old school and the new school.
‘To Zion’, talks about feelings of joy, despite the struggle of ridding the assumption that women cannot have both a successful career and kids. Ms. Hill sings, “Look at your career they said Lauryn, baby use your head but instead I chose to use my heart…” Twenty years later, her lyrics still reign true for many working women who find themselves in positions where they are told they cannot have the best of both worlds.
'Lost Ones’, speaks to the feelings of disappointment, whereas ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You' and ‘Sweetest Thing’ points to feelings of optimism and the intense emotions of being deeply in love. In contrast, Doo-Wop (That Thing)’ is more of self-respect anthem. Doo-Wop, the lead single from the album, is a public service announcement aimed at both men and women; letting them know that the way they carry themselves can attract certain types of people. The song warns against submitting to opportunistic relationships and the pitfalls of “that thing”, whether this be sex or money. Additionally, ‘Forgive Them Father’, brings in a religious influence - reciting the words of Jesus Christ in Luke 23:34; "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Despite being known as more of a rapper, Lauryn Hill showcases her skills as a Neo-Soul/R&B singer; matching up to the likes of D’Angelo, on ‘Nothing Even Matters’, and Mary J Blige, on ‘I Used to Love Him’, Ms. Hill demonstrates that she is a well-rounded musician switching successfully between rapping and singing.
Creating a project that provides listeners with lessons about the definition of love, what it means to be in love and the emotions felt during the good and bad times, it’s clear why the album has touched so many. The knowledge gathered from Ms. Hills’s “miseducation”, enabled her to put pen to paper and ultimately teach listeners how to deal with different life situations. In a classroom setting, Hill is the teacher using her own life experiences to formulate her lesson plan for the world.
The Legacy Lives On
Today, the constant sampling of Ms. Hill’s work by popular musicians has kept her sound alive. The list of artists to sample Ms. Hill’s music includes: Cardi B - Be Careful (Ex-Factor), J. Cole - Cole Summer (Nothing Even Matters), Drake - Nice for What(Ex-Factor) and Kayne West - All Falls Down (Mystery of Iniquity). However, Ms. Hill has not only managed to influence others through the sampling of her music, but also the careers of artists who grew up listening to the album.
In an interview with Billboard, singer and rapper, Lizzo stated that:
“Lauryn Hill taught me to say everything. My debut album Lizzobangers was my attempt at doing what Lauryn Hill does naturally: rapping, singing, being political…I didn’t have a release for my anger and all of my hurt of being a black woman, a big woman. So I just let it out in music, and I said everything I wanted to say. And Lauryn Hill taught me that.”
In the same Billboard interview, singer and songwriter, Anne-Marie also explained how Ms. Hill influenced not only her but the world, stating that:
“Music helps people, and that’s exactly what she did for people by being honest. She spoke about real shit. She wasn’t scared to challenge the world. This album will never be out of fashion, and it will live on as a classic for as long as the human race lives."
Overall, Lauryn Hill – a singer, rapper, instrumentalist, producer and one-third of The Fugees, is a pioneer in the music industry. Although it has been 21 years since the release of the album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill continues to influence and inspire. In 2015, it was included in the US’ National Recording Registry – a list of recordings that “are culturally, historically or aesthetically important”; and in 2017, the album was also ranked No. 2 on the US’ National Recording Registry list of, The 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women. Despite never releasing another body of work the album has cemented Ms. Hill in history, as one of the most influential and respected musicians of our time.