Typing “what happened to Lauryn Hill” into Google results in no lack of think pieces positing that very question. Even me, someone who couldn’t name a single Hill song to save his life, knows that she was responsible for one phenomenal, ground breaking record, and not much else in the years since. In 2013, Stereogum posted an article titled Deconstructing: Lauryn Hill’s Rise And Fall, 15 Years After The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. At the time, Hill was in the middle of a three year prison stretch for tax evasion.
In the article, Sterogum states, “Despite the tumultuous, and at times mysterious, struggles surrounding the former Fugees emcee and Grammy Award winner, it’s easy to forget how much she mattered at the height of her career throughout the 1990s.” So, I’m trying to get an idea of just how much she did matter, by listening to the afore mentioned phenomenal, ground breaking record, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
While Lost Ones has a cool bass groove and killer vocal rhythms from Hill, it’s also built around a late 90s affectation that I never got on board with. The rhyming scheme where every single line of bar, after bar, after bar ends with the same phonetic sound. It’s the precise thing that meant I could never listen to Missy Elliot long enough to hear what all the fuss was about. And it’s almost enough here to mean it was difficult for me to stay invested enough in this song to actually make it to the far superior hook that doesn’t arrive until more than two minutes in.
Things get a whole lot more sexy and soulful on the RnB slow jam that is Ex-Factor. Complete with glissandos, it’s a (90s) modern sound, with a heavy 70s influence. The vintage influences get even stronger on the strange but effective mix of flamenco guitar, gospel chorus and RnB that is To Zion.
It’s time for hip hop with Doo Wop (That thing) and it’s the perfect injection t the perfect time. I was enjoying the cool groove of the earlier songs, but the drive and urgency here are a welcome addition to the sound of The Miseducaiton of Lauryn Hill. And when the hook kicks in, I realise it’s a song that I’m more than just a little familiar with.
After a flurry of driving hip hop and stinger beats, it’s back to the smooth and sexy sounds, with When It Hurts So Bad. And Hill’s vocals more than deliver on the deep, dark emotions and vulnerability that the song’s title would suggest. Then it’s time for something totally new to this record, a reggae backbeat on Forgive Them Father. There’s also an added husk to Hill’s voice that really works with this song.
Saving the best for almost last, the funked up Every Ghetto, Every City starts awesome and only gets better form there. I’m glad it comes so late in Miseducation, because if it was any earlier, I might not like the other song as much. It eclipses them that much.
Listening to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, it’s obvious why her many, many years in limbo inspired so much conversation. Lauryn Hill is amazing singer, a pretty great rapper, and with only one or two exceptions, everything offer here is next level stuff. It’s the perfect mix of hip hop and RnB, with neither ever suffering ta the expense of the other.