Following the sample on Drake's smash hit, 'Nice for What?' and its 20 year anniversary, we decided to have a look at Lauryn Hills masterpiece, 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.' An album that is very relevent in today's Ireland.
Firstly, let’s start off with giving the album context. Lauryn Hill was 23 at the time, fresh from recording sessions with Aretha Franklin in Capital Records, had been writing songs for Whitney Houston, had a bust up with her Fugee bandmates and newly single but pregnant. This really helps with understanding this album. It is an album when Lauryn was in between things in her life. Professionally she now was on the same level as her heroes, personally she was at odds with the people who were there when she first tasted success and around that her love life was all over the place.
The Miseducaction of Lauryn Hill is therefore a break up album; breaking away from her early successes, moving onto new professional opportunities and coping with the new found success, to dealing with the men in her life who constantly broke her heart. It should be viewed as much as a liberation of herself as much as an album that connected with a lot of young women then and even now.
Musically the album is incredible. Hip-Hop in 1998 was different; rappers were mainly spouting on about their women, expensive cars, jewelry and whatever else was lavish in their lifestyle. You had a post Biggie death Bad Boy Records just dropping club bangers, a death row that couldn’t distance themselves from the gangster scene that it involved itself with in the early 1990’s. You even had NAS, the one MC lauded for his self-conscious bars rebranding himself as ‘Esco’ and discussing things that made him more like everyone else in the scene than the prophet he came to be regarded as.
So in steps Lauryn Hill. A female. Someone who was respected with her hard hitting bars on ‘The Score’ in songs like ‘Ready or Not’ or Fugee-la’ but still heavily regarded as a singer more than anything, especially with that commercially success cover of Roberta Flacks ‘Killing Me Softly.’ The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill changed all this. We saw the growth of an artist going through some tough times at a young age. It would have been a fake move for her to try to be like her male counterparts and rapping about what she is doing with her money and fame. Instead she done what only a woman could do…make an album that deals with the problems of being a women, personally and in society. How her body was a burden to her. How it created fear for her and her career.
Deep rooted in the album, past the soul, motown and hiphop infleunces, we can see a deep connection with reggae. Most of the album was recorded in Bob Marleys own Tuff Gong Records, her babys father was his son, Ziggy Marley and Lauryn herself really vibed with the mentality and philosophy of Bob. How black people were created in the eyes of God, how they must live pure to be rewarded in the afterlife but at the same time they should not accept the ‘bullshit’ from their oppressors.
It is from this we can see how Lauryn delivered an album with the courage of a lion. The metaphors to God are apparent throughout the album but there are bigger drives for her. How to deliver an album in a male dominated industry that would be respected. To be fearless in her bars but not show her own vulnerability at this time, to tell her own story but do it positively, to be soft enough to mother a newborn baby but hard enough that nobody will take her for her weaknesses. It is this what makes this album a classic, because she just done it so well. Seriously, like so well. In the first track ‘Lost Ones’ we hear her go hard over a Sister Nancy ‘Bam-Bam’ sampled beat with the intention of grabbing the attention of Wyclef Jean, the co-founder of the Fugees. She discusses the breakup of their relationship, professionally and artistically. ‘L been this way since creation/ a groupie call, you fall from temptation/ now you wanna bawl over separation/ tarnish my image in the conversation.'
Ex-Factor is about a personal loss rather than professional. Here Lauryn delves into her soul mode, pulling inspiration from those Aretha Franklin recording sessions to deliver an absolute stunner. It’s probably the albums most successful attempt at introspection, content wise, but its done in such a way. The melodic variants she brings in, the breaks in the beat, even the guitar solo at the end. It just works so well. Like I couldn’t fault this track at all. All time RnB favourite.
The album continues on this topic of hearts; looking at the men in womens lives and how they seek to break them. It really shows how she was personally at this time. In the Mary J Blige featured ‘I Used To Love Him’, Lauryn spells out the connection between having your heart broken and being a victim. It is songs like this that make it impossible for me to not compare this to Lemonade. Or at the very least a big inspiration for Beyonce in the foundation of that album.
On Doo-Wop (That Thing) Hill gives us another side of the story, how girls should be proud of themselves, be powerful, ‘Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem baby girl’, even addressing the same message to the boys suffering with esteem issues, ‘how you gonna win when you aint right within?’ Also dem harmonies…jaysus. It’s like listening to the Supremes go over some boom bap. Amazing.
From tracks like ‘To Zion’, she learns to love God again through the love she has for her child. On ‘When it hurts so Bad’ She learns about how painful it is when looking at the love of others and on the title track she learns the difficulties of learning to love oneself. This then moves onto an optimistic outlook for her love life with a cover of 'Can't Take My Eyes Off of You.' A song that is meant to show she is ready to try to let people in and love again.
Following the albums release, Lauryn kinda began to distance herself from the public eye, with legal battles ensuing with her Fugee counterparts, to personal liberation battles with her ‘oppressors’ to expanding her family with Ziggy. One thing stays today, that Lauryn is one of the coldest MC’s to step to a mic. Male or female. In the Cardi B world of today, Lauryn showed these aspiring MC’s how to be tough but still be female. Be expressive of emotions but powerful in their delivery. Her biggest success is that she never tried to be like anyone other than herself. In a patriarchal industry she made it cool to be a woman. She made her body a weapon rather than a figure of her oppression in the eyes of others and it is this that makes this album artistically viable then and even more so in a modern day Ireland and indeed the world.
Author: Adam Nolan-Horan
Sources: Pitchfork, Genius, Me own ears