Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
It was initially a joke that prompted a mate of mine to give me this album. He was convinced that I was so anti-hip-hop I wouldn’t even take it off him, let alone listen to it. Forever willing to be challenged, I took it and put it straight in the CD player when I got home. After that I never looked back. Hip-hop became a ‘thing’ in my musical dictionary.
I think the thing that grabs me most about this record is the power in which Ms Hill delivers her no bullshit stand against dickhead men who can’t stop hurting the women that adore them. It’s a record that bellows liberation from the rooftops, and bellows it LOUD. It’s a self-serving, self-healing album that just so happens to connect with millions. I’m not at all surprised that, moving into 23 years later, there still hasn’t been a follow-up. I mean, what do you say after this – when, as an artist, you’ve basically exercised your soul in one almighty blast? And, while we’re on the subject, the other thing that grabs me is the fact that I instantly imagined the likes of Roberta Flack, Aretha, Bob Marley, Donny Hathaway, and a whole host of Motown artists. That’s the point; this record has got serious Soul.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill won a record five Grammy Awards from 10 nominations – there’s your retirement pot right there. It also reiterates how important this was as a cross-over record. I, for example, had never cared that much for or listened to hip-hop before this album slapped me round the chops. Hip-hop is at the core of Hill’s work, just as it was in her previous incantation, The Fugees, but it’s her ability here to garnish the record with bonafide Soul, elements of Reggae, splashes of Funk and some startlingly powerful Gospel that smashes the doors wide open to a huge audience. Ex-Factor, my favourite song on the album, is one of the great cross-over tracks I’ve ever heard, meandering between genres and blowing your musical mind skywards. Intensely personal, it’s one of those songs that never leaves the brain-worm jukebox.
The album is about the many manifestations of love. The emotions communicated here are complex and varied. I Used To Love Him is drenched in pain, though Nothing Even Matters is quite the opposite – a realisation laced with joy. It’s fascinating that both Superstar and Forgive Them Father could even be interpreted as attacks on Hill’s former bandmates, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel – relations declined rapidly after they both claimed Hill needed psychiatric help.
The astuteness of To Zion is staggering, and the beautiful optimism in Can’t Take My Eyes Off You really endearing. Having not been a broad consumer of hip-hop, there are a few tracks on here I still find testing, but generally the artistry and sensitivity pervading these songs completely submerge me. Lauryn Hill is a poet, and a damn good one. She’s also got a voice that, at times outspoken, commands your ear.
The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill is self-indulgent without being self-obsessed – and though that may seem like the biggest oxymoron ever, I know what I mean (LOL!). It’s an incredible skill to bare your soul whilst remaining universal. It’s a profound album that was forward-thinking at the time in its reaching for the new millenium, and displays the songwriting craft of the likes of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon to name a few – yes, Lauryn Hill has climbed the ladder into that bracket of greatness as a result of this one record. I got to see her 20th anniversary performance of this album in Manchester, and though she strolled on stage typically late, it had all the traits of a cultural event, not just a gig.
I never thought I’d be writing this review, but here I am. I’m saying it out loud – hip-hop has made my classic cult album blog. I didn’t think I’d ever go to North Korea or jump off the world’s highest bungee either. Isn’t life strange?!
Top track trio:
Doo Wap (That Thing)
Can’t Take My Eyes Off You