Flashback Friday: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

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Lauryn Hill's 1998 debut sold eight million copies in the US, but this wasn't enough to keep her in the music industry. Fifteen years later, it is her only studio album.
Lauryn Hill’s 1998 debut sold eight million copies in the US, but this wasn’t enough to keep her in the music industry. Fifteen years later, it is her only studio album.

The Introduction: The bustle of school. Roll call. The teacher calls out the names. “Tamia Caldwell? Tameka Marshall? Lauryn Hill?” Everybody responds, except Ms. Hill. Where’s Lauryn? She’s busy making music that will shake up the world. Your Miseducation is about to begin.

The Miseducation: In the studio from 1997-1998, undefinable singer/rapper Lauryn Hill released her debut, and so far only, album in August 1998. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was unconcerned about popularity, but still she amazed everyone.

She made a #1 summer hit out of “Doo Wop (That Thing),” a song meant to inspire young girls to make smart decisions and young men to respect them. This is the exact opposite of 2013’s summer hits, such as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Sage the Gemini’s “Red Nose.”

The album is listed as “neo-soul,” but there are too many influences here to label it one genre. There is raw hip-hop on “Lost Ones,” and sad guitars on “When it Hurts So Bad.” She samples ’60s rockers The Doors on “Superstar,” ’70s reggae stars Bob Marley & the Wailers on “Forgive Them Father,” and ’90s Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon on “I Used to Love Him.” Every diverse influence and sample flows wonderfully under Hill’s stunning voice and thoughts.

The entire album is pure perfection, and that’s not only this one writer’s opinion. Perfection is shown by its five Grammys (including Album of the Year) and 81 weeks in the Billboard 200. However, one song in particular deserves a title higher than mere perfection. Maybe “wopj5l6rtijh?”

“To Zion” is, in simple biased terms, the most beautiful, wopj5l6rtijh-worthy song ever written from a mother to her son. In 1997, while pregnant with what would be Bob Marley’s grandson, many called for Hill to abort the baby. They said a child would ruin her promising career.

Never one to cave to pressure, Lauryn kept the child and named him Zion. The song is backed by tear-worthy guitars and a chorus crying “The joy of my world is in Zion.” Music was no longer the love of her life; that title now belonged to the baby boy. This combination love letter / subliminal “I QUIT” note to the music industry led the, um, rapper Chance the Rapper to call the song “the most beautiful resignation letter” in music history.

The Aftermath: “To Zion,” and the rest of “Miseducation,” was exactly that: a resignation letter. In 2000, Ms. Hill quit. She disappeared, angry at American society, angry that she couldn’t run errands without being mobbed, just plain angry.

She returned shortly for an MTV Unplugged live album in 2002 with nothing but a guitar. It was a move that ranged from Kanye West re-recording parts for “All Falls Down” off his album “The College Dropout” to Rolling Stone magazine calling it a “public breakdown.” She went largely unnoticed from 2002 to 2013, when she went to prison for unpaid taxes on $1.8 million.

The Renewal…? On October 4, Hill was released for good behavior. Immediately, she released a song titled “Con$umeri$m,” tearing apart what she sees as hypocritical America. With rumors of an album release possible in 2013, a whole new generation might properly learn from Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation.”