Good media is a best-seller. Good media is a blockbuster. It’s reaching platinum and noticeably selling on the charts. Great media is timeless. Great media gets archived in the United States Library of Congress. Whether a book has been published in 1949, a movie being released in 1941, or an album released in 1998, what makes them all correlate is that they impact our society more than during the time that they were released. And hey, maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe society truly notices someones greatness before the world can be ready for it. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was well-received upon release-sending shockwaves throughout the music industry. Ms. Hill jump started hip-hop to a point where it’s never been before from its profound clarity and truth behind her music. Seventeen years later her album has received critical amounts of attention and has grown so well with age it impacts our generation at an even stronger level than when it was released.
“The music industry is just a microcosm of the world. so whenever you stand for something and you stand for goodness and truth you will always get resistance. That’s period.“
When I first listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill I didn’t really understand what I was dealing with. I let Doo Wop spin behind my speakers while I whipped up a grilled cheese in my kitchen and had to put it on hold. The skit at the end of the song had me step back and let me know. This wasn’t an album to just half-mindedly digest. This was something bigger than that.
I walked up the stairs to the roof of my apartment building and listened to the entirety of the album. Leaning back on a rickety black fold-out chair with an overview of the Chicago Skyline made me realize how true this album spoke. I reflected and looked within the themes of Ms. Hill’s album and saw that this was the Ms. Hill Talib Kweli saw. All the weight bearing on shoulders from the love and pain, the album displayed deeper symbolism to themes of feminism and religion.
“Her first album sustained who she was and what she wanted and how she was figuring it all out”
During the time that she was recording her album, Lauryn Hill was determined to make her voice be heard despite the initial doubts band mate Wyclef Jean had. You can name many artists that do their best to instill their life and heart into their albums, but with Miseducation there’s something different about it when you compare it to others. When I asked my friend about what he thought stood out about the album, he said that when you hear it it’s about personhood in every aspect. What it means to answer to yourself, to others, and to a higher power. The ardent thing about what he said struck a chord in my mind because this isn’t just prevalent in one song. This is seen throughout the whole album. The first time he saw it was when his brother got the CD upon release. By the time he decided to listen to it front to back he was older, and, like me and many others, a bell rang within his head.
“The album’s so important. There’s nothing else. That is the Lauryn Hill album. It stands alone as just one piece.”
My other friend that I asked identified herself as a punk rocker/metal head/grungie fan at the time and she shared a disdain for urban music like most of her teenage peers she had back then. When she first heard the album her cousin was into R&B and was playing it, and although she didn’t see eye to eye with him when it came to music, what caught her right away in her words was that “Lost Ones was…Heavy. It was heavy the same way the metal I love is, oddly. Intense, fierce, unapologetic. Also, if that beat don’t make your hips move, you are probably quadriplegic.”
What all three of us agreed on was that it was ahead of its time. It was prophetically striking, heavily musical in all aspects of the sort, and deeply conscious in ways no other album would be able to touch. Lauryn Hill talked about love, faith, problems, experiences, and brought feminism to a genre of music heavily predisposed to the disrespect of women.
“She did a lot for black female artists as more than just eye candy but profound creators with full authorship of their own work.”
Feminism has had strong waves in the past, and these recent few years the movement’s been gathering more attention and strength throughout communities. The Miseducation and Lauryn Hill have both been proven to be prominent in themes of feminism, the album being more apparent now than when it was released. Her single, Doo Wop, displayed a direct message to the women listening to the album to be careful about distinguishing what love is and can really be. It provoked thoughts of love, of past relationships and illustrated an image of her falling into her mistakes as she became this sturdy, independent female to be relied on. With To Zion, Lauryn’s first verse talks about the troubling doubts of having her first child with forks in the road on whether or not she would abort her son. Throughout the song it becomes obvious with what path she took, and from what seemed like a somber song at first evolves into a beautiful unraveling of love and faith, capturing the experience of following her heart. Every song stood alone and yet together as they all had touches of love, religion, and independence. This album was her life. It was her album and everything about her. She realized that there are times where it doesn’t matter what your friends tell you, what your label wants you to be, or what your audience wants to see you as next. She put her whole heart and soul into her album, and what we got was as transparent as Lauryn can get.
In an interview with Lauryn Hill, she paralleled life with the matrix where she “was always confused about it. I always thought that The Matrix was battling the enemy out there. Picking him out, I’m gonna find those enemies…Until I realized that until you conquer the enemy in yourself, you can’t deal with anyone.” Ms. Hill teaches us a lot about love, but her album truly shows learning how to love yourself first and foremost. Throughout the album she brought all these problems and experiences she had to display and you can see that despite bumps in the road life is beautiful and is led by love, where “love is that confidence…Love is an incredible thing and we don’t know love like we should.”
As powerful as her songs may be, what brought it all together were the skits that took place within a classroom. A teacher prompts the question at the end of Lost Ones, of what truly is love? These skits aren’t wasted at all as they aren’t sounds of cassette tapes popping in, they aren’t altered voices of the artist poking fun at his or herself or at other rappers. They aren’t interludes or shout-outs, they’re engaging breaks from music that utilize their essence of negative space, allowing you to digest the song you just listened to all while prompting an understanding through the engagements within the classroom. A student at the end of Doo Wop says that “there’s a difference between loving somebody and being in love with somebody. You could love anybody, but when you in love with somebody you looking at it like this. You takin that person for what he or she is no matter what he or she look like or no matter what he or she do.” Artists if you’re reading this right now, THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO DO. Ms. Hill had a concise theme and plan throughout the whole album and every single song and skit unified the album with graceful execution.
“I think it really set the bar high for mainstream hip hop.”
There are few artists that can impact the world so well with just one album. Whether or not she’ll make another is up in the air. In no doubt is she still writing, and if she does make an album it will probably be as politically charged as her singles have depicted. She has continued to influence other artists and to this day her album still holds up. In hip-hop there honestly needs to be another artist like her to rise to the occasion. There are women in hip-hop that have a strong following, why not break away like she did and follow her heart? Nicki Minaj, Iggy(Probably not to be honest), Snow, Detroit Che, you already have a following. Now show your fanbase and the world that you can access an angle within our hearts that you haven’t shown us before. Show the world YOUR world. The risk Lauryn Hill held within her when she was making this album was without a doubt huge, with the payout being bigger than what she most likely conceived.
If you haven’t listened to her album yet, with summer rolling around I strongly urge you to spin it front to back. There’s a lot you can learn from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.