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The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: Ten-Year Anniversary

On August 28th, Lauryn Hill’s solo debut masterpiece, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill will officially become a decade young. There’s no “old” in this equation (minus the soul of its creator), as Miseducation has manifested itself in a number of artists who were so greatly touched by the experience Lauryn Hill created for them and the rest of the world. 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.IntroClass 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. Lost OnesThe 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. Ex-FactorLauryn 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?

To ZionCarlos 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.”

SuperstarLauryn 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. Final HourPure 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 BadHypnotic 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 HimIf 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 FatherLauryn 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 CityNew 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 MattersThis 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 EverythingThis 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 HillThe 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 YouLauryn’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.”Tell HimThis 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.Here are some loving words from artists who are also fans of Lauryn Hill:Lauryn Hill is one of the most inspiring artists that I’m lucky enough to hear. Her words and melodies are well worth every ounce of one’s attention. – Joss StoneI remember the day Miseducation came out. It seemed like people of all ages had a copy of the album! She managed to be an incredible MC, yet make one of the most successful soul albums of the ‘90s. – Von Pea, Tanya MorganTen years since Lauryn changed the game and no female has done it since! No wonder I’m still riding to the album to this day! She was such an inspiration to me…I was in high school when it came out, and I have so many memories around her songs! – Keri HilsonLauryn Hill is a genius, and it’s a shame people overlook the impact she had on music. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill exceeded all expectations and was a shining example of Hip-Hop on another level. Instead of gossiping about her personal life, we should hope she blesses us with another album of that caliber, because her music was/is positive! – CormegaMaking an album is a privilege. An opportunity to make a statement and create a legacy that can transcend any -ism of the time in which it was created. By doing just that Lauryn solidified her place in history as not only a musician, but an icon. If she never releases another formal studio LP, this album will be enough to hold me over. – Donwill, Tanya MorganI just thought it was great music. I thought [Lauryn] was bringing a different soul to music that had been missing from music for a minute. It really was exciting to me more than anything else. – Jill ScottLauryn Hill is probably my favorite singer of the past 20 or 30 years. The album was really great, and it was cool that it had such tremendous public success. – D.A. Wallach, Chester FrenchMiseducation demonstrated to me for the 1st time how the limits of Hip-Hop could be pushed and seamlessly fuse with other styles of music.  And the song “Everything is Everything” helped me get through something I was going through at the time. Spring does come after Winter…Thanks, Lauryn – Ilyas, Tanya MorganSoulDiggaz love the Miseducation album because that album inspired our generation, and the guys that produced her album were good friends of ours and Lauryn as well – we’re all from Brick City! – K-Mack of SoulDiggazThe name Lauryn Hill is synonymous with beauty, dignity, class, power, and raw uncut talent. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill changed my life. It was as if she read the pages of my diary. Songs like “Ex-Factor” were uncanny in its unique ability to tell the unspoken story of not only my relationship, but everyone’s relationships. It’s like she was a fly on the wall. “And when I try to walk away you’ll hurt yourself to make me stay.” What a writer. She then melts every girl’s heart when she “Marches to Zion. Beautiful, beautiful Zion.” The son everyone told her to abort. I love you, Lauryn. Hip-Hop needs you. Muah!” – Nicki MinajTo this very day, no matter what R&B artist I work with or any A&R exec I talk to, one thing remains the same. They all say, “I wish I could make a Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album.” – KwameWhere is Lauryn?? I’ve been waiting on some new music from her for a minute. A very talented lady who represents with pure talent. – C-MurderHonestly it’s one of my favorite albums. I think there are a lot of records on there that mean a lot. The “Lost Ones” record, the “Doo Wop” record; a lot of the records on there are crazy. Lyrically in my opinion Lauryn Hill was ahead of her time. She’s a female MC for one, she sings and she can spit about issues that really affect us. So you got to give it up. I think that’s definitely one of those flawless albums that will never go away. – MimsWhen I heard Lost Ones for the first time, I related so hard I felt like she took the words right from my heart. I like to pretend I wrote it. The whole album is stellar; not a misplaced note on the thing – it really is a masterpiece. It was the kind of record that was so instantly familiar, like you already grew up listening to it, so knowing it by heart just sort of comes naturally. – EstheroI remember the first time I heard “To Zion” one of my favorite songs off of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I was sleeping over a friend’s house, and I snuck and borrowed their walkman to listen to some music while I went to sleep. “To Zion” came on and I was immediately thrilled. I must have pressed rewind 100 times that night. – Emily KingOne of the best albums in the last ten years…and one of the dopest songwriter/producer/artists in the last 20 years…it is my pleasure to say congratulations to an artist who transcended the realm of the classic Hip-Hop artistry to become a staple in the world of music itself… – Adonis ShropshireThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a timeless trendsetter. We can listen today and still be inspired. That album was like therapy for the innercity, yet it became a permanent fixture in pop culture. We were all willing to go wherever lauryn took us musically. Lauryn Hill is a musical prophet. – Ezekiel “Zeke” Lewis of the ClutchI think Lauryn Hill is fantastic. I think she is an incredible artist and no one could ever be Lauryn Hill. There’s just no way. I loved the whole entire [Miseducation] album, I can’t just listen to one song. It’s an experience. – Janelle MonaeLauryn’s Miseducation spoke for so many women across class, age, gender, music genre etc. That’s why it’s a true classic. It was not only timeless but all inclusive. It takes an extraordinary individual to make something of that magnitude and that is something that can never be taken away from her (not even by a judge). – Amanda DivaWhen I first ripped open the packaging off the CD, I was amazed by the lyrics, melody, and production from start to finish. I can’t even name a favorite song because the whole album was like a movie based off a true story. It wasn’t missing one element. It had love, hurt, pain, heal the world music, gospel, fun, hard Hip-Hop…man! She will never be touched nor will any album come close to the hard work and efforts that Lauryn put into this classic record. This is definitely one of the top albums in the soundtrack to Don Cannon’s life. – DJ Don Cannon

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