The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill’s debut album was forged in emotional fire. After seven years as the voice of the politically cogent, critically acclaimed hip-hop trio Fugees—and in the aftermath of a protracted, tumultuous relationship with bandmate Wyclef Jean—Hill set out to document a period of major life transitions, including the slow erosion of the group she’d been with since high school. With that trauma came new beginnings: Hill was inspired by the physical and mental transitions of pregnancy, as well as the recent birth of Zion, her first child with Rohan Marley. This potent emotional crossroads led to 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Hill’s sole solo studio album, and one of the rawest albums ever created in hip-hop. To this day, it remains an artistic beacon for musicians across genre—and a document of the moment in which the whole world recognized Hill’s once-in-a-generation talents. Miseducation’s opening track, in which a teacher announces a classroom roll call—and finds that Hill is absent—speaks to the album’s thesis: That the most crucial lessons of Hill’s life were the kind that could only be learned through lived experience. “When I thought I was [at] my most wise, I was really not wise at all,” she said in an interview two years after the album’s release. “In my humility, and in those places that most people wouldn’t expect a lesson to come from, that’s where I learned so much.” As Hill weaved through painful eviscerations of an ex—which, even at the time, were understood to be directed at Jean—she redefined the way gritty, sharp rapping and lavish R&B harmonies could fuse together in an era of nearly catholic separation between the two genres. (Even three years after Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s landmark “All I Need” remix, hardcore rap was still largely teeming with misogyny, and R&B was seen as a softer, more feminine pursuit.) But the DNA of these songs, and a key to their endurance, draws on a classic Motown/Stax sound, one that showcases Hill’s immaculate vocal approach: The layered “Doo Wop (That Thing)” won Hill two of the five Grammys she took home in 1999—a validation of the freshness of her sound, as well as the way her music spoke to the emergent feminism of the Hip-Hop Generation. Miseducation is also proof that pure intention and unflinching emotional truth can be a path to deliverance unto itself. As Hill raps on the politically charged koan “Everything Is Everything”: “My practice extending across the atlas/I begat this.”

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  • Lauryn Hill

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