On Aug. 25, 1998, Lauryn Hill, a young and talented singer-songwriter, released her debut album, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’. At only 23 years old, Hill, unknowingly at the time, produced a heavily influential and culturally iconic album.
It is a multifaceted project featuring slow, dreamy ballads heard on tracks like “Nothing Even Matters” or to fiery guitar solos, like the one at the end of “Ex-Factor,” to aggressive rapping heard on tracks such as “Lost Ones” and “Final Hour”.
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” both effortlessly and seamlessly layers elements of hip-hop, R&B, soul, funk, jazz and pop, to create an emotionally dense project dealing with themes of insecurity, romantic shortcomings and a newfound identity as a mother. It was groundbreaking for its time and was one of the major catalysts in the neo-soul movement.
Needless to say, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” completely shook the music industry, winning five Grammys in the process, including Album of the Year, Best R&B Album and Best New Artist.
After 20 years, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” has proven itself to be a timeless piece, still thriving and as relevant as ever. Hill’s musical influence can still be heard directly today, for famed rapper/singer Drake and his song “Nice For What” features a looping vocal sample from Hill’s “Ex-Factor.”
Whether rapping outspoken and blunt lines as heard on the opening four lines of “Lost Ones” or unveiling her vulnerabilities in heart-wrenching, soulful vocals, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’s unsung hero is Hill’s artistic versatility.
Through emotive storytelling and ingenious deliveries, Hill expresses her worries, her feelings and her hopes over warm and rhythmic instrumentals in a way that does not suggest any sign of difficulty or unfamiliarity. The ability of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to create a colorful sonic realm which articulates such intimate emotions catches more than just the listener’s ear. Herein lies the genius of Lauryn Hill and subsequently, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
The instrumentals on “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” are simple and smooth; sensual and intimate. They are the thoughtfully colored canvas for which Hill can freely paint over. The funk-inspired bass line on “Every Ghetto, Every City” is groovy and infectious. The soft and somber backing keyboard chords of “Nothing Even Matters” provide the song with a subtle, soothing presence.
If nothing else, the Hip-Hop inspired “Everything Is Everything” instrumental straight bumps, and sets up Hill for some of her hardest-hitting bars of the whole album. The Spanish-style guitar on “To Zion” is a melancholic, reflective contribution from Carlos Santana that gives life and color to the album thus far in the track listing.
Lyrically speaking, Hill proved that she can not only hold her own, but more importantly, she established herself as a gifted, thoughtful storyteller.
The story told in “Doo Wop (That Thing)” is a prime example of Hill’s storytelling prowess. Hill details all that she feels is wrong with both women and men when it comes to sex and relationships, but does so in a way that is concise, clever and catchy.
Much of what makes this album so timeless to date are the widely understood themes of love, intimacy, pain, and honestly, not giving a damn. It is one thing to have an album largely dealing with love and romance; it is another thing, however, to craft such a piece in a manner that is altogether articulate, thought-provoking, relatable and most importantly, enjoyable.
What has separated “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” from other albums in the past is that where others have failed in relevance, substance or quality, Hill succeeded.
All in all, 20 years in, we are still seeing the influence of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, both culturally and musically. Many artists today who have found fame and success since the album’s release, from Beyonce to Teyana Taylor to Kendrick Lamar, credit Hill and her work for influencing their music.
The album that is The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is impactful because of its raw, yet refined quality. The world hasn’t heard anything quite like it since, and probably never will.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment