Zari Watts | Staff Writer
The legacy of Lauryn Hill’s album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” extends beyond its 15 years. A recent interview in The FADER revealed that the world may finally get what it has been waiting for: a new Lauryn Hill album. The interview was with one of Hill’s current producers, Phil Nicolo, one of the founders of the Fugees’ original label, Ruffhouse. According to Nicolo, “she is closer than ever to finishing the follow-up to Miseducation. And thanks to her involvement in a documentary about the late Nina Simone—perhaps her greatest forebear—Hill is on the brink of a genuine comeback.”
The album was released on August 25, 1998 as Hill’s debut solo album after she left the Fugees. It was an instant hit, racing to the number one spot on Billboard 200 the week of September 6.
Nomathemba Chapman-Armstrong, Hampton graduate from of the class of ‘92 from Chicago, gushed about the album saying, “ …everyone loved that album! I mean, it was just amazing how song after song you would just be popping your fingers… It was an incredible album.”
The excitement was by no means confined to the United States. Dr. Tanisha Burford, a Hampton psychology professor, was born and raised in Jamaica. She talked about the album’s presence that summer of ‘98 in the land where Reggae is king. “Folks were talking about Lauryn and played her album constantly.”
Hill masterfully wove together countless musical elements with such emotional and social intangibles, creating this “generation-defining” project. She combined a variety of genres, vocal styles and subject matter, and strung it all into a cohesive body of work with brief vignettes exploring love dispersed throughout.
Hill successfully produces three prominent genres, R&B, hip hop, and reggae, in this album primarily by way of her vocal diversity. While the music itself delivered a medley of confident rhythms and flexible melodies, it is her dynamic ability to transcend genre lines with her voice that truly constructs the three styles.
R&B is a natural component of the album because of her passionate, soulful singing. The hip hop roots are seeded in Hill’s skills as a lyricist. Her rapping style is defined by her ability to remain measured while asserting her tenacious, hard-hitting energy. This balance is indicative of her genuine intent to enlighten through sharing her experience. Dr. Burford detailed Hill’s role as an MC when she explained, “you have this female MC with such flexibility and range and complexity and social consciousness. Lauryn Hill was just doing it in a way that blew your mind.”
The undeniable Reggae feel was fitting as she was with Rohan Marley at the time, a son of the Reggae legend Bob Marley himself. Hill referenced the Jamaican artist Sister Nancy’s classic Reggae song by concluding “Lost Ones” with Nancy’s hit line “what a bam bam.” She teases us with a Reggae drum intro to “When it Hurts so Bad,” but then comes back to revisit and further develop the element two songs later with “Forgive Them Father.” She employs a strong Jamaican accent in the opening of the song and delivers a few rap lines in a relaxed style similar to the Reggae artist Anthony B to conclude the track.
A unique component of “The Miseducation” is the fragments of a classroom discussion about love among young Black students. Each of these skits alludes to the content of the following song, providing a raw space for listener introspection before, during, and after each track. Each skit is a carefully-placed, thought-provoking transition masked as casual background noise. At the end of “To Zion,” the students share why they love the people they do, and their responses lead into “Doo Wop (That Thing),” a hit single about self-respect and separating perceived romance from purely sexual intent.
Dr. Burford reflected on the dialogues, “I could see myself having those conversations with my friend. It felt very…real, very authentic. Those kids are insightful. There are so many ways that there is conflict between genders, and the person that was mediating the discussion allowed for that. It was a really powerful exchange that we the listeners got to benefit from.”
A prominent theme throughout the album is women’s empowerment. Lines like, “don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem,” encourage girls and women of all ages to maintain themselves for themselves. Chapman-Armstrong asserts, “for African American women, she spoke to feminism, the struggles of being a mother, a professional, and maintaining a level of self-confidence.”
When asked about the influence that the album had on the Black community, there was a unanimous response that this album had an immense impact on Black people to this day. Dr. Burford opined that , “[Lauryn] makes no apologies about being Black and loving our people. I think artists want universality, but she wanted Black folks to feel a connection and to wake up…There was an intention that as she was going through her consciousness, she wanted to invite you to go through that consciousness as well. ”
As big of a hit “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was in 1998, the timeless masterpiece never fell to the shadows as it is still listened to widely today. This will be a tough act to follow.