Where were you 17 years ago? I, like Lauryn Hill, was a young mother full of questions about Love, Life, and Faith in God. 1998 was a year chock full of classic hip-hop releases, Aquemini, Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Blackstar, Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life to name a few. Yet, in a genre dominated by men one album emerged as one of the most memorable of this epic year: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
“It’s a timeless record, pure music. And that’s what we don’t hear anymore. She birthed her sound, and that’s timeless. She didn’t try to be cool, she was already cool. She didn’t have to fit in with any style, she was the new style, and it’s a positive style,” Nas XXL on the opus’ 15th anniversary.
Nas, a Hill collaborator, goes on to say, “And then I’ll go beyond that. It’s a piece of work that’s needed in your deck, in your CD chamber, in your iPod. It’s one of those records that you need, like Legend like Bob Marley, or all those Stevie Wonder albums.” The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill truly defines the idea of a “classic” hip-hop album. It was relevant and timely, critically and commercially successful, and it has lasted the test of time.
In celebration of Ms. Lauryn Hill and her many achievements to hip-hop music and culture, here are 10 Miseducation Traits All Rap Albums Should Have:
• Humility: A wise man once said that humility is, “the noble choice to forgo your own status and use your influence for the good of others before yourself.” The Miseducation was the epitome of humility, Lauryn gave her listeners insight into her deepest hurts, fears, and frustrations and the result was pure honesty that people fell in love with.
• Vulnerability: While the overarching theme of the album is love, the secondary theme would have to be experiencing the wrong love. Lauryn’s vulnerable realness drew listeners on. She bared her soul about her past relationships without bashing the other parties involved.
• Skits: The classroom theme of the title and cover art continued through the album with skits recorded by now-Newark, NJ Mayor Ras Baraka speaking to a group of kids in Lauryn’s living room about love. Skits have made their exit from most rap albums, but they are sorely missed.
• Versatility: Recorded largely at Tuff Gong studio in Jamaica, Lauryn played around with a number of delivery patterns. She traveled seamlessly between her East Orange Fugee sound, and a Jamaican patois. See: “Lost Ones.”
• Affection for the Opposite Sex: “Doo Wop (That Thing)” remains a classic hip-hop song and video where Hill sang a cautionary tale for both young men and young women. The split-screen video spoke to the spirit of the neo-soul movement of the times—a fusion of past and present.
• Genre Variance: Miseducation is often categorized as a neo-soul album, but is really hip-hop soul. The album was the first time that we saw a rapper who was an equally adept singer.
• Respect for History: Bible passages, allusions to wars in the Middle East, references to black historical figures, and more. The Miseducation is full of respect for history, reviewing lyrics from the album all these years later still sends a listener to Google for an answer.
• Lyrical Dexterity: “My rhymes is heavy/like the mind of Sister Betty/L-Boogie spars with stars and constellations/then came down for a little conversation/adjacent to the king/fear no human being/roll with cherubim’s to the Nassau Coliseum/now hear this mixture/where hip-hop meets scripture/develop a negative into a positive picture.” –“Everything is Everything”
• Faith: The title track, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” straddles the line between soul and gospel. The moving chorus, “Deep in my heart/the answer it was in me/And I made up my mind to define my own destiny” brings the album to powerful close.
• Love: Above all things, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is about love. In the same way that The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson was motivated by love, this album is about love of oneself, love of ones people, love of past experiences, and love of the possibility of the future.
Also, the Men of Hip-Hop reminisce over Lauryn Hill and her Miseducation in this mini-doc.