The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill wasn’t just a run of the mill work from an already established musical genius. It was the effortless fusion of Hip-Hop and Soul in a way that never happened before and never will again.
Perhaps the album was intensified because Lauryn was with child throughout the birthing of this project. Her rich vocals held such emotion that the entire experience became intimate. Like she cooed in the past, she was singing our lives with her words.
Everyone related to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in some way, shape, or form the way everyone related to Lauryn Hill. Ten years later, the album holds just as much value as it did on the day that it was released.
Thematically, Miseducation represented a heightened awareness, personally for Lauryn Hill. Having lost love and found it once again, Ms. Hill set her life to music – releasing every note of anger, mistrust, love, and happiness. It was a matter of education – Lauryn was schooling us, but most of all, schooling herself. From the school themed album art to the classroom discussion interludes, Lauryn Hill taught a course on life with this album.
Even the cover – with wood designs inspired by Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Burnin’ reflected an etched image of Lauryn Hill on a desk top…complete with a pencil. Whether this album created some Biblical experience or merely was just a collection favorite, there isn’t one person on this Earth who has listened to this album and hasn’t made at least one song their own.
Class was in session. The school bell was ringing, but Lauryn Hill was absent. She had her own class to teach. These interludes conducted by Ras Baraka echoed throughout the work, reminding us that listening was learning.
The rumor mill concluded that “Lost Ones” was directed toward Lauryn’s former Fugee-mate Wyclef Jean. From the ever so powerful opening “It’s funny how money change a situation” to the very end “You just lost one,” the song hits hard with organic drums mixed with thorough basslines. The Toots and Maytals meets Sister Nancy samples add a tinge of reggae to this track filled with biting wit and passion. Whoever Lauryn was referring to had their hat handed to them by the close of this song. This is perhaps one of the most slept on "beef" tracks in Hip-Hop history.
Lauryn Hill said once in an interview that she intentionally tuned the instruments on Miseducation slightly off-key to create this sound that touched your soul. “Ex-Factor” depicts that intent clearly. The song opens with a haunting bassline that introduces Lauryn’s textured vocals about a love that she can’t simply bear to live with…or without. It’s amazing to think that Lauryn originally wrote this song for Aretha Franklin, but Lauryn kept it because it felt all too personal to give away. The chimes add this whimsical air to Lauryn’s deep pool of emotion. This song undoubtedly tugged at the world’s heartstrings. Not to mention, who else but Lauryn could sing the word “reciprocity” completely on-beat?
Carlos Santana’s guitar licks on “To Zion” were nothing short of a religious experience. Once the snares kicked in, the result was this heartfelt marching music that was thought provoking even before Lauryn entered on the track. Many love and respect this song for the powerful vocals and instrumentation, but the lyrics held a ring of social commentary.
Lauryn was pregnant, at the prime of her career…and people wanted her to get an abortion. Zion was single-handedly the muse for this great masterpiece of a song, and he almost didn’t have a chance to be. But Lauryn didn’t listen. “Look at your career they said. Lauryn, baby, use your head. But instead I chose to use my heart.” In preparing for the birth of Zion, Lauryn mothered this beautiful song.
Doo Wop (That Thing)
When New York’s Hot 97 first aired this song, it was during Funkmaster Flex’s show, and Lauryn was at the station with him. She explained that the keys on “Doo Wop (That Thing)” literally came from a tiny old school kiddie piano. These were the subtleties that made Miseducation so phenomenal. Lauryn did everything in her power to produce this body of work where every chord and lyric really meant something.
The keys and horns on “Doo Wop” were like a musical time machine that even the song's video accurately captured. Lauryn spoke of proceeding with caution in love, because both men and women can be silly heartbreakers. She should know, she had been there before. After all, “Lauryn is only human.”
Lauryn Hill credited both Jose Feliciano and Jim Morrison for their individual versions of “Light My Fire” which was sampled at the beginning of “Superstar.” As Lauryn slid through the track harmoniously, there was this air of snarkiness and wit as she addressed all of the quasi-artists. It was almost like Lauryn was saying, “Really?” to the world in a way that was so far from arrogant but so close to the truth. The rap in the middle is comical and classic. “I used to work at Foot Locker, they fired me and fronted. Or I quitted, now I spit it…however do you want it.” Her Foot Locker referee uniform should be hanging on their wall like Jordan’s jersey at the Chicago Bulls Stadium.
Pure fire. Guitars, flutes, and a backbeat: that was all Lauryn needed to remind the world that she hadn’t gone soft. She was one of the greatest MCs of all time and had no problem admitting that. But even in the midst of claiming her braggin’ rites, she still informed that nothing you managed to have in wealth would matter once the 11th hour rolled around.
Further, it was message to all of the nay-sayers. She was gonna do her...years before Rocko coined the phrase. There was no stopping L-Boogie, and whether singing or rhyming, she was going to push on. “…and even if there are leaks you can’t capsize this ship, ‘cause I baptize my lips every time I take sips.”
When It Hurts So Bad
Hypnotic harps opened this song. Then Lauryn proceeded to sing the first part of her rap verse on “Manifest” off The Score. The recurring theme of “when it hurts so bad, why’s it feel so good,” was present all throughout Miseducation, but this song encapsulated it. Lauryn softened the truth of people's tendencies to be masochists in love. It was a personal story for Lauryn to tell; a purging of emotions. If by now you didn’t realize she was bruised but never broken, then you missed the point of the album.
I Used to Love Him
If there was anyone on the planet at the time that Lauryn should have teamed up with to discuss being women scorned, it was Mary J Blige. Mary held a perfect role in the song as a co-sign. She was that best girlfriend who openly admitted, “Yeah girl, I’ve been there before.” When they sing in dialogue toward the middle of the song, it’s so fluid, but their vocals are so beautifully distinguishable. Having Mary beside her for support, Lauryn was slightly more vulnerable on this song. And Mary, well, she is the purveyor of songs about pain, so she knew what she was doing.
Forgive Them Father
Lauryn collaborated with Reggae badass Shelly Thunder on this “Concrete Jungle”-sampled track. The church organs and religious undertones send warning shots once again to those who make a career out of wronging others. It became very obvious by this song that the Miseducation had a very specific tracklist. Lauryn was through with discussing her pain and on the road to forgiveness, but she’d never forget, and through both singing and rhyming, she’d found her strength to move on. But like she cryptically cooed, “A friend once said – and I’ve found to be true – that every day people, they lie to God too. So what makes you think that they won’t lie to you?” She was a Hip-Hop confessional!
Every Ghetto, Every City
New Jersey, stand up! This ode to the New Jerusalem was a little piece of nostalgia that anyone from anywhere could relate to like it was their block Lauryn was singing about. For the Jersey folks (like myself), “Every Ghetto, Every City” was very personal with specific points in the life of New York City’s close neighbor. It felt good to hear Lauryn sing about her stomping grounds, while at the same time make poignant remarks about the timeline of her people – not just her Jersey people, but Black people.
Nothing Even Matters
This song was so romantic, it’s a surprise that people didn’t think L-Boogie and D’Angelo had a secret love affair going on. "Nothing Even Matters" marks the turning point for Miseducation – not only was Lauryn no longer sad, but she had found love again. It was almost cinematic, like the star of your favorite film finally getting what she wanted all along. Cue the applause.
Everything Is Everything
This song was perhaps the most uplifting on the entire album. Lauryn channeled Stevie as she expressed her ability to accept the things she couldn’t change, the courage to change the things she could, and the wisdom to know the difference. It was musical serenity at its best, and the award-winning video was the icing on the cake. The city as a turntable served as a reminder that even in the midst of mixing song with rap, this was Hip-Hop music. Lauryn urged us to demand more from the universe and to abide by the classic metaphor "develop a negative into a positive picture."
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
The title track embodied Lauryn’s realization that every answer she needed to find was found within herself. This was Lauryn’s “ah-ha!” moment, and she shared it with all of us. We’ve all had one, so it was completely relatable and kept within the theme of the album.
Can't Take My Eyes Off of You
Lauryn’s take on this Frank Valli classic was so light and sweet with its airy horns and flavorful beatboxing, that despite it being a cover, it was nice to hear Lauryn so cheerful. The only track with lyrics that weren’t Lauryn’s, she made them her own and in doing so created another classic cover like she had with “Killing Me Softly.”
This song was arguably everyone’s favorite album cut. Intended to be a bonus track, “Tell Him” was so much more. Lauryn was singing hymns for the real “man” in her life: God. “Tell Him” was so classic Lauryn at the time – God-loving without being preachy, mellow without being weak, and spiritual without being overbearing. This song concluded the Miseducation and sealed it. It was the final cut that rounded off the perfect album. When Lauryn would perform this song live, there was never a dry eye in the building. We had taken this emotional journey with her – laughed with her and cried with her – up until the very end.
Ten years later, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill has stood the test of time. Lauryn crafted a classic, and even if we are never blessed with another note again, this work has left an irreplaceable mark on music history. Often imitated, never duplicated, Lauryn Hill we miss you and hope to share another journey with you again. Until then, thank you for this gift.
A very special Lauryn Hill themed Soulful mix by DJOhSoKool
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