Album of the Week: “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” by Lauryn Hill

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Lauryn Hill
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Columbia, 1998

Daniel’s Thought

Though Lauryn Hill was the catalyst that drove the Fugees commercial and critical success, no one was ready for her debut solo LP, a stunning record clouded in hip-hop neo-soul that is encased in a sheath of love, religion and turmoil. Beyond the gilded trim of the album itself, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill finds the MC fighting off two reeling relationships (that of the Fugees and Wyclef Jean), and because of this the album itself shows its audience the inner-reflection of a woman swirling in emotion. From “Ex-Factor” to “Everything is Everything,” The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill stands as an album that tracks pure sentiment sprawling from the ideals of motherhood, relationships, remembrance, heartbreak and God.

The idea of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill being lauded a classic could stem from how brilliantly and personally the lyrics mix with the luscious melodies; it could stem from the fact that the album itself is a genre-bender, a piece that infuses hip-hop, soul, R&B and reggae into a variable drum of mind-transforming tunes; or it could stem from the record’s background, and how Hill turned to God and motherhood as a means of transforming a dark period into a worthwhile one. However, the main mechanism behind the album’s success is simply its emotion.

The album’s second single “Ex-Factor” is a touching song that willingly tugs at Hill’s emotions and pours her insecurities into an open bowl for listeners to dissect. “To Zion” is a Carlos Santana-backed track dedicated to Hill’s son that slithers from the tip of her tongue to the headphones of the listener. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” is a lifting piece built on horns and a quick-tapping piano pointing out the differences between men and women. And “Lost Ones” is the first proper track of the album that sets the medium for the rest of the record. “Never underestimate those who you scar, because karma comes back at you hard.

Delving into The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is as simplistic as the emotion pouring from the album itself because it’s a modern classic that comes with straightforward authority. The majority of the record paints a vivid picture of vital emotions and feelings. Add that to Lauryn Hill’s vocal strength and production and you have an album comparable to Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul or Stevie Wonder’s I Was Made to Love Her. At the base of this record however stands an original piece of work that was fueled by reckless emotion and faith, something that is rarely seen anymore.

Gus’ Thought

Lauryn Hill’s solo debut from 1998, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, was released to immense critical acclaim. Topping the billboards charts and winning Grammy awards including Album of the Year, Ms. Hill’s Miseducation stands as a decisive hip-hop/soul record with it’s original sound. The impact of this masterpiece cannot be understated; without this album, hip-hop and neo-soul would sound completely different. With classics such as “Everything Is Everything,” “Doo-Wop (That Thing), “Ex-Factor,” “Every Ghetto, Every City,” “Final Hour” and “Forgive Them Father,” Ms. Hill discusses the ups and downs of love, success and The Fugees, all the while demonstrating her talents as a songwriter, MC and singer. Produced almost exclusively by Lauryn herself, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill stands the test of time and continues to inspire artists of all genres.

The album begins with the familiar sounds and commotion of a classroom. In this moment, attendance is being taken and as the teacher calls for Lauryn: there is no response. As the record progresses the listener is repeatedly taken back to this classroom and the teacher is heard engaging the students in discussion. At the end of “Lost Ones” the class is heard spelling out the word “love”. From there, the teacher asks if the students know any songs or movies about love. In this outro/skit the students react as most grade-schoolers would and don’t take the question very seriously, as they laugh, joke and throw out examples such as The Titanic. Instead of resorting to some sort of disciplinary measure, the teacher continues to inquire about love. Later, after the jams “Ex-Factor” and “To Zion” the teacher asks the students, “How many of y’all have ever been in love” and adds jokingly, “I know none of the guys have ever been in love, we don’t get in love right?” This time the students respond with more focused answers that move the discussion forward. Again we are left with a cliffhanger as the teacher clearly knows he can get deeper answers from the students. However, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” begins and the discussion is forgotten as Ms. Hill takes you away with her musical brilliance.

After “Doo Wop (That Thing)” the listener is taken back into the classroom. This time the teacher addresses the young women, “Hey, we got some very intelligent women in here, man. Do you think you’re too young to really love somebody?” The teacher is met with emphatic rejection of this question and from this inquiry the dialogue is able to begin. One of the students describes being in love; “There’s a difference between loving somebody and being in love. You can love anybody but when you’re in love with somebody you’re looking at it like this: You’re taking that person for what he or she is no matter what he or she look like or no matter what he or she do.” Yes, the music on this record was revolutionary and changed hip-hop and neo-soul forever. Nevertheless, this moment and the other instances in the classroom are as important.

These flashes in the classroom are as significant as the music because they demonstrate how a classroom can be set up to encourage dialogue. In these short sketches the teacher acts as a facilitator, creating the safe environment needed for students to share their experiences. What emerges are students that are wise beyond their years and feel comfortable sharing their story. Beyond that they are able to connect their learning within the classroom to the knowledge they have gained outside of it. When this happens, teachers and students are able to learn from each other and think critically about subjects such as math, science, English and social studies. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill reached critical acclaim because of its innovative approach to hip-hop and neo soul. That being said, it should also be praised for its glimpses into a classroom where an environment of empowerment is created, critical education is embraced and learning is able to occur.

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