rePLAY: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill is back on tour this year celebrating the 20th anniversary of her solo debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.  Upon first hearing the news, I realized that I haven’t actually listened to the entire album once in the past 10 years.  The thought of that alone caused me to feel anxiety.  I remember when that album brought me through my teenage angst.  Then I wondered, does the album still have the same impact or feeling that it gave me in 1998? So I decided that maybe it’s time to sit down and re-visit Ms. Lauryn Hill.

One minute I’m riding in my car, and then the bell rings and it’s time for class as the album opens with a teacher calling roll. The first song is “Lost Ones”, which in hindsight is probably the classiest diss track I’ve ever heard in my life.  Rap beefs aside, this song is a warning shot that feels timeless: its themes and lyrics can easily translate to anyone. 

Miseducation then switches gears to the aftermath of relationship at its end. “Ex-Factor” is easily an album favorite and was rightly released as the second single from the album.  The song deals with the anger, the pain of separation, and the moment of realization that she needs to break up with an ex for the last time. The lyrics are still therapeutic in some ways, and that guitar solo is still enough to pull my heartstrings every time.

Lauryn Hill collaborated with Carlos Santana to dedicate the fourth track “To Zion”, her firstborn son.  She shares her struggle against industry pressure to pursue her career and abort her pregnancy. I thought, how many women were touched as she spoke of the joy of choosing her family first?  The classroom theme continues and it’s refreshing to hear the kids discuss what it means to be in love.  It reminds me of how simple the concept of love can be, even when 20 years of living complicates things. 

The first single from the album, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” is a blend of soul, hip-hop, and R&B that continues to stand the test of time.  The production is amazing and there hasn’t been anything similar since. Due to some of the lyrics, I wonder if it were released today, would harsh culture critics consider it to be a little hotep-ish?  Either way, it’s still a solid song and would easily be a hit single on the radio today.  The two other hip-hop tracks on the album “Superstar” and  “Final Hour” prove that Lauryn is a skilled and quick-witted lyricist.  Her lethal bars challenged hip-hop artists to step their game up and still rings true in 2018.

“I cross sands in distant lands, made plans with the sheiks… Why you beef with freaks as my album sales peak?  All I wanted was to sell like 500 and be a ghetto superstar since my first album Blunted.  I used to work at Foot Locker, they fired me: I fronted or I quitted, now I spit it, however do you want it.  Now you get it, writing rhymes, in the Range with frames lightly tinted, then send it to your block to have my full name cemented…” – Lauryn Hill

Every track on Miseducation is a song with purpose and intention.  Channeling the very soul of Lauryn Hill, she drops gems like “When It Hurts So Bad” and  “I Used To Love Him” featuring Mary J. Blige.  The heavily reggae produced “Forgive Them Father” schooled me to be cautious of those who claim to be brothers and sisters in this life. The Stevie Wonder-influenced song “Every Ghetto, Every City” reminds me not to forget where I come from in my journey to success.  

At the album’s climax is “Nothing Even Matters” featuring D’Angelo.  It is a sensual duet that plays like a recipe for what the greatest love in the world should feel like.  It is clearly one of her best works on the album and skillfully demonstrates love and intimacy without even mentioning sex.

“These buildings could drift out to sea, some natural catastrophe… Still, there’s no place I’d rather be ‘Cause nothing even matters to me”

“Everything is Everything” still drives confidently, years later and features the piano stylings of a young John Legend.  Lauryn teaches us not to worry and to be encouraged, push forward, and plant seeds for the spring. The title track, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, neatly wraps the album into a bow with a moment of self-reflection and revelation that we all have strength and that we must define our own destiny.  Don’t forget the hidden tracks “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (a remake of the 1967 Franki Valli classic)  and “Tell Him”, a melodious prayer to God for a lost lover.

By the time the album closes, I realized why this album has survived and continues to be considered a classic.  The themes of love and the lessons of heartbreak, survival, triumph, and self-preservation are eternal.  As long as humans beings roam the earth, people will identify with the album’s subject by the millions.  The impact of Miseducation is evident when, 20 years later, artists like Drake, J. Cole and Cardi continue to sample its tracks.  

Listening to this album all over again confirms why The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, spawned two gold singles, went 8X platinum, and won Lauryn Hill a record-breaking five of the ten Grammy nominations.  Since its release, the album has sold 19 million albums worldwide.  Miseducation is arguably the best album of 1990’s. 

Lauryn Hill is currently on her 20th anniversary album tour, however if you aren’t fortunate enough to live that experience, you can always close your eyes and rePLAY The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Trey Payadue is a contributing blogger and curator of music for The Black Unicorn Project. He was raised on the west bank of the New Orleans Metropolitan Area in the small town of Marrero, Louisiana. Brought up in the Black Catholic church, Trey was completely immersed in New Orleans music and Black culture through local fairs and famous celebrations like Mardi Gras, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and the Essence Fest. He was also exposed to various styles of music, such as gospel, pop, rock, funk, hip-hop, bounce and his first love, rhythm & blues, at a young age. His inherent love and appreciation, paired with his exposure to New Orleans Culture and events, ignited an infectious passion for music. Trey quickly became known as “The Music Man”, amateur house party DJ and the mixtape go-to guy for new music. Currently, Trey juggles a 9-5 while moonlighting as a curator of good music, a patron of popular music and Black culture, and a student of where all three intersect. Follow him on Instagram & Twitter @SumthinSevere and get access to shared playlists on Spotify.

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