When I was younger, I remember taking car rides with my father around Greensboro. He always played great music by exceptional musicians, ranging from Lil Wayne to Adele. However, during one of these car rides, I heard a song that made my ears perk up. This song was “To Zion” by Lauryn Hill. This song was on her first and only solo album, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.’ It had a warmth to it that I couldn’t explain.
Since I was quite young at the time, it didn’t take me very long to forget who made the song, let alone what album it came from. Once I got older and reconnected with my dad, those car rides happened again and that song played again. After that, I made sure I remembered. I went to listen to the entire album on my own. I was obsessed with Lauryn Hill’s voice and the beautiful, homey melodies that were in each one of her songs. ‘Till this day, I revisit her album. The striking nature of this album is why ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ deserves its flowers.
‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ is a classic within the neo-soul and R&B community for a reason. It’s a nearly faultless piece of art that does an amazing job of emphasizing the vocal talent and lyricism that Lauryn Hill possesses. Even though it came out over two decades ago, it has a quality about it that makes it timeless.
The album’s lyrics touch upon her pregnancy and some of the issues she had with her former music group, The Fugees. They’re also laced with themes surrounding God, romance and heartbreak. The melodies and her styles of singing and rapping incorporate the music styles of gospel, reggae and hip-hop soul which help create a unique sound that is distinct to her.
I love every single song on the album, but there are a few that definitely stick out to me. The title track “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” is my favorite. It’s an absolutely gorgeous song that highlights the vocal capabilities of Ms. Hill. It’s about her taking a step back to look at her life as a whole, questioning how her reality became this way and finding a way to grow from it. She also acknowledges how strength from God allows her to understand that life is about more than shallow things.
In a quote from Ms. Hill herself, she says “The song is called, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,’ and it has a lot to do with how I figured out some things from my life. It doesn’t necessarily mean miseducation like I didn’t do well in school– as I did do good in school– but it has a lot to do with finding out about your own aspirations and your own dreams, and not those dreams and those aspirations that some might have for you. It’s a song about movement and growth and inspiration.” With this kind of meaning behind it, it’s bound to touch the deepest roots of your soul.
Another personal favorite of mine is ‘Lost Ones’ which displays her rapping ability. It’s a diss widely believed to be directed at her former Fugees bandmate, and romantic interest, Wyclef Jean. While not calling him by name, she completely puts him on blast and emphasizes his loss of both a business and romantic partner. With lyrical warfare and a subtle sample from the dancehall classic “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy, it’s hard for this song not to stick with you. As the first track on the album, it really sets a striking tone for every track that follows.
Looking at the album as a whole, it’s impressive to see Ms. Hill addressing the turmoil she had with Wyclef Jean, her pregnancy and her close relationship with God altogether. It seamlessly flows together to create a masterpiece that radiates love and creativity. Her blended styles of hip-hop, neo-soul, reggaeton, Motown and rhythm & blues make the entire album a diverse, introspective experience that communicates messages about heartbreak and growth. Despite this being Ms. Hill’s only solo studio album, it boosted her up as a female musician who could pave the way for artists on a similar path.
‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ is arguably one of the most influential neo-soul albums of all time, and at the time of its release, it was considered definitive in bringing the neo-soul genre to light. It has rightfully been the subject of artistic praise and received numerous accolades, most notably five Grammys, which made her the first woman to receive five Grammys in one night.
‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ is well-known amongst the Black community and is well-respected due to it specifically making the subject matter from the perspective of a Black individual, specifically of a Black woman. As a Black woman myself, listening to the album when I got older helped me appreciate and love my Blackness even more; as it has for various other Black women. It gives a sort of humanity to a Black woman’s narrative which is not often seen within genres of art.
The album is a sacred listening experience encased with a sense of Black womanhood and feminism, whilst also touching on the profound personal experiences that Ms. Hill had dealt with up until the album’s release. At only 23 years old, Ms. Hill released a mastery of musicality and lyricism that has motivated so many people, including me. Normani, Rapsody, Lizzo, Ella Mai, Teyana Taylor and other musicians have cited ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ as a source of inspiration for their artistry; and despite it being released over 20 years ago, I’m sure it will continue to inspire more people.