The Legacy of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Miseducation’
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill broke barriers for hip-hop. Revisit Hill’s first and only solo album as it celebrates its 25th anniversary.
Before the release of her debut solo album, Lauryn Hill had already made a name for herself amongst hip-hop fans. As a founding member of hip-hop trio Fugees, Hill honed her talents as a raspy, alto singer, nimble rapper, and socially aware lyricist. By the late 1990s, that skillset had pushed her to the forefront of the Fugees and hip-hop’s consciousness.
The Fugees released their second and final studio album, The Score, in 1996. The record received widespread acclaim and was responsible for Hill’s first two Grammy wins, but tensions among the group — including a deteriorating romance between Hill and Wyclef Jean, her first pregnancy, and the members’ desire to pursue solo projects — led to the Fugees disbandment in 1997.
“Sony never wanted her to make a solo record; they wanted her to make another Fugees record.”— Audio engineer Gordon “Commissioner Gordon” Williams, Rolling Stone
Later that year, Hill began work on her debut solo album. Used to working collaboratively, she assembled a core team of musicians — producer Vada Nobles, songwriter Rasheem “Kilo” Pugh, pianist Tejumold Newton, and guitarist Johari Newton — whom she dubbed New Ark (after Newark, New Jersey) to help write and produce the album. For nearly a year, Hill worked alongside the New Ark guys to create moving music that had the “integrity of reggae and the knock of hip-hop and the instrumentation of classic soul.”
While recording at Chung King Studios in New York, Hill had to fight off interruptions and suggestions about the album’s creative direction from her label. To protect her vision, she moved production to Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston, Jamaica, where she could be near family and create freely.
The lyrics of that record really struck a chord with everybody, it really touched a lot of souls. The best songs are testimonies of life that everybody can relate to.— Songwriter & Producer James Poyser, Rolling Stone
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released on August 25, 1998. On it, Hill tackled topics like love, heartbreak, motherhood, and faith with assistance from Mary J. Blige, Carlos Santana, D’Angelo, and then-student John Legend on some of the album’s most poignant and memorable songs.
Hill has said that Miseducation was about finding herself. She wrote about her experiences and what she felt as a young, Black woman at the intersection of adolescence and adulthood. Several of Miseducation’s tracks seemed to be centered around Jean, the collapse of their professional relationship (“Lost Ones”), and the demise of their romantic one (“Ex-Factor”), while other songs celebrated the power of love (“Nothing Even Matters”) and the strength of her beliefs (“Final Hour”). However, the album’s most significant moment comes in the form of a lullaby to her newborn son where she chronicles her decision to have and raise him against the advice of those around her.
On Miseducation, Hill showed listeners that she was soft enough to share her unguarded feelings, yet tough enough to stand firmly on her own two feet — both as an artist and an individual. Her honest approach to songwriting made Miseducation more personal, more vulnerable, and more unlike anything else in hip-hop at that time. Hill and her music became the blueprint for a new era of conscious rappers and neo-soul singers.
“Lauryn had that blend of toughness and soulfulness, melody and swagger. She did it better than anybody has done it. People are still trying to capture that moment.”— Singer-songwriter John Legend, Rolling Stone
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill went on to become the most acclaimed album of 1998 and, to this day, remains one of the most celebrated albums of all time. In addition to topping the Billboard charts and garnering rave reviews from critics, Miseducation broke barriers for rappers and the hip-hop genre. The record earned Hill five Grammy Awards, including the awards for Best New Artist and Album of the Year — Miseducation was the first hip-hop album to receive the honor.
Although Hill never released another studio album, the music and messages contained in her debut are still as fresh, urgent, and influential as they were 25 years ago.
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