Hip Hop Ladies Night – Classic album Review – Lauryn Hill_The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Studio album by Lauryn Hill

Released – August 25, 1998
Recorded – 1997 – June 1998 at RPM Studios, Chung King Studios, Sony Music Studios, The Hit Factory, and Right Tracks Studios in New York City; Perfect Pair Studios in (New Jersey; Marley Music, Inc. and Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston; and House Studios in Miami
Genre – Neo soul, hip hop soul[1]
Length77:39
Label – Ruffhouse, Columbia
Producer – Lauryn Hill, Vada Nobles, Che’ Guevara

Lauryn Hill chronology

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
(1998)
MTV Unplugged No. 2.0(2002)

Singles from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

“Doo Wop (That Thing)”
Released: July 27, 1998

“Ex-Factor”
Released: December 8, 1998

“Everything Is Everything”
Released: May 4, 1999

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is the debut solo album by American recording artist Lauryn Hill, released on August 25, 1998, by Ruffhouse Records and Columbia Records. Recording sessions for the album took place from late 1997 to June 1998, and were held primarily at Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica. The album’s lyrics deal with Hill’s pregnancy at the time, the turmoil in her former group the Fugees, themes of love, and God. A neo soul album, its music incorporates R&B, hip hop, soul, and reggae. The album’s title was inspired by the film and autobiographical novel The Education of Sonny Carson, and Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro.[2]

Upon its release, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill received rave reviews from music critics and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 422,624 copies in its first week. It went on to sell over 19 million copies worldwide. The album produced three hit singles—”Doo Wop (That Thing)”, “Ex-Factor”, and “Everything Is Everything”—and was promoted with an international supporting tour by Hill in 1999. At the 41st Grammy Awards, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill earned her five Grammy Awards, including the award for Album of the Year.

The album’s success propelled Hill to superstardom and helped bring hip hop and neo soul to the forefront of popular music. The Miseducation has been ranked in numerous best-album lists by critics.

Background

While on The Score Tour with her former group the Fugees, Hill met Rohan Marley, son of reggae musician Bob Marley. The two gradually formed a close relationship, and while on this tour, Hill became pregnant with his child.[3] This pregnancy, along with several other circumstances, would inspire her to make a solo record which would eventually become The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. In late 1996, fellow Fugee member Wyclef Jean began writing and recording his debut solo album The Carnival, which Lauryn would lend a hand with production, as well as guest verses and vocals. After the album was completed, Lauryn took time off from touring and recording [4] due to her pregnancy and cases of writer’s block.[5]

This pregnancy, however, would later revive Hill’s artistic flow, as she’d recall in an interview several years later “When some women are pregnant, their hair and their nails grow, but for me it was my mind and ability to create. I had the desire to write in a capacity that I hadn’t done in a while. I don’t know if it’s a hormonal or emotional thing […] I was very in touch with my feelings at the time.”[6] Hill also went on to say “Every time I got hurt, every time I was disappointed, every time I learned, I just wrote a song.”[7]

While in this creative zone, Hill wrote over 30 songs in her attic studio in South Orange, New Jersey.[4] Many of these songs heavily drew upon the turbulence in the Fugees, as well as a past love experience that ended sour. In regards to this, Hill stated “I spent so many years working at a relationship that didn’t work, that I was like; I’m gonna write these songs and pour my heart into them.”[8] In the summer of 1997, as Lauryn was due to give birth to her first child, she was requested to write a song for gospel musician CeCe Winans.[4]

Several months later, she went to Detroit to work with soul legend Aretha Franklin, writing and producing the song “A Rose is Still a Rose.” This song would turn out to be Franklin’s up-coming single for her album of the same name, and Aretha would later have Hill direct the song’s music video.[9] Shortly after this, Hill did writing work for Whitney Houston.[10] Having now written songs for musical acts ranging from hip hop to gospel, to R&B, Lauryn brought all of these influences and experiences to bear upon an album of her own.[11]

Recording

Julian Marley was one of several members of Bob Marley’s family to be present at recording sessions for The Miseducation.
Recording for the album began in late 1997 at Chung King Studios in New York,[12] and ended in June 1998 at Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica.[13] In an interview, Hill described the first day of recording, stating “The first day in the studio I ordered every instrument I ever fell in love with: harps, strings, timpani drums, organs, clarinets. It was my idea to record it so the human element stayed in. I didn’t want it to be too technically perfect.”[14] Initially, Wyclef Jean did not support Lauryn recording a solo album, but eventually offered his production help, which she did not accept.[15][16]

Aside from doing work at Chung King Studios, Lauryn also recorded at Perfect Pair Studios in New Jersey, as well as Sony Studios,[17] with some songs having different elements recorded at different studios.[17] The bulk of the album, however, was recorded at Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston, Jamaica, the studio built by reggae legend Bob Marley.[18] Regarding this shift in environment, Hill stated “When I started recording in New York and New Jersey, lots of people were talking to me about going different routes. I could feel people up in my face, and I was picking up on bad vibes. I wanted a place where there was good vibes, where I was among family, and it was Tuff Gong.”[19] Many members of the Marley family were present in the studio during the recording sessions, among them Julian Marley, who added guitar elements to “Forgive Them Father.”[18]

In an interview, recording engineer Gordon Williams recalled the recording of “Lost Ones,” stating “It was our first morning in Jamaica and I saw all of these kids gathered around Lauryn, screaming and dancing. Lauryn was in the living room next to the studio with about fifteen Marley grandchildren around her, the children of Ziggy, and Stephen, and Julian, and she starts singing this rap verse, and all the kids start repeating the last word of each line, chiming in very spontaneously because they were so into the song.”[20]Columbia Records considered bringing in an outside producer for the album and had early talks with RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. However, Hill was adamant about writing, arranging, and producing the album herself: “It would have been more difficult to articulate to other people. Hey, it’s my album. Who can tell my story better than me?”[21] She recalled Ruffhouse Records executive Chris Swartz ensuring her artistic freedom while recording the album: “I had total control of the album. Chris Swartz at Ruffhouse, my label, said, ‘Listen, you’ve never done anything stupid thus far, so let me let you do your thing.'”[22]

Music and lyrics

A neo soul album,[23][24]The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill incorporates musical styles such as R&B, soul, hip hop, and reggae.[25] Some songs are based in hip hop soul.[1] “When It Hurts So Bad” is musically old roots reggae mixed with soul. While mostly in English, “Forgive Them Father” and “Lost Ones” both feature singing in patois, which is the common dialect in Jamaica. Although heavily R&B, the song “Superstar” contains an interpolation of the song “Light My Fire” by the classic rock band The Doors. In an interview, Hill said that she “didn’t want to come out with a Refugee All-Stars type of sound”, but create “something that was uniquely and very clearly a Lauryn Hill album.”[22] She also said that she did not intend for the album’s sound to be commercially appealing: “There’s too much pressure to have hits these days. Artists are watching Billboard instead of exploring themselves. Look at someone like Aretha, she didn’t hit with her first album, but she was able to grow up and find herself. I wanted to make honest music. I don’t like things to be too perfect, or too polished. People may criticize me for that, but I grew up listening to Al Green and Sam Cooke. When they hit a high note, you actually felt it.”[26]

The majority of The Miseducation’s lyrics were written in Hill’s attic during her first pregnancy, with much of the content dealing with motherhood, the Fugees, reminiscence, love, heartbreak, and God.[4] Commenting on the album’s gospel content, Lauryn stated “Gospel music is music inspired by the gospels. In a huge respect, a lot of this music turned out to be just that. During this album, I turned to the Bible and wrote songs that I drew comfort from.”[27] Several of the album’s songs, such as “Lost Ones,” “Superstar,” “Ex-Factor” and “Forgive Them Father” were widely speculated as direct attacks at Fugee members Wyclef and Pras.[28][29] “Ex-Factor” was originally intended for a different artist, however, Hill decided to keep it after it was completed, due to its personal content.[30] Although a large portion of the album’s love songs would turn out to be bitter from Hill’s previous relationship, “Nothing Even Matters,”[31] a duet performed by Hill and D’Angelo, showcased a brighter, more intimate perspective on the subject. The song was inspired by Hill’s relationship with Rohan Marley. Speaking about “Nothing Even Matters”‘ lyrics, Hill remarked “I wanted to make a love song, á la Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, and give people a humanistic approach to love again without all the physicality and overt sexuality.”[32]

“To Zion,” among the more introspective tracks on the album, spoke about how Hill’s family comes before her career[33] and her decision to have her first child, even though many at the time encouraged her to abort this pregnancy, as to not conflict with her blossoming career.[34] In an interview she discussed the song’s origin and significance, commenting “Names wouldn’t come when I was ready to have him. The only name that came to me was Zion. I was like, ‘is Zion too much of a weight to carry?’ But this little boy, man. I would say he personally delivered me from my emotional and spiritual drought. He just replenished my newness. When he was born, I felt like I was born again.”[35] She further stated “I wanted it to be a revolutionary song about a spiritual movement, and also about my spiritual change, going from one place to another because of my son.”[36]

Throughout The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, several interludes of a teacher speaking to what is implied to be a classroom of children are played. The “teacher” was played by Ras Baraka (poet, educator and politician) speaking to a group of kids in the living room of Hill’s New Jersey home.[2] Lauryn Hill requested that Baraka speak to the children about the concept of love, to which he improvised in the lecture.[2]Slant Magazine’s Paul Schrodt remarked on the title’s reference to Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro: “[Hill] adopts Woodson’s thesis and makes it part of her own artistic process. Like the songs themselves, the intro/outro classroom scenes suggest a larger community working to redefine itself.”[37]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
Allmusic[33]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[38]
Entertainment WeeklyA[39]
NME8/10[40]
Pitchfork Media8.0/10[41]
Rolling Stone[42]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[43]
Slant Magazine[37]
Spin9/10[44]
USA Today[45]
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill received rave reviews from contemporary music critics,[46] and was the most acclaimed album of 1998.[47] Reviewers frequently praised it for Hill’s honest presentation of a female’s view on life and love.[47] Eric Weisbard of Spin called Hill a “genre-bender” whose confident singing and rapping is balanced by vulnerable themes and sentiment.[44]Ann Powers of The New York Times found it “miraculous” and “exceptional” for Hill to use “her faith, based more in experience and feeling than in doctrine,” to “connect the sacred to the secular in music that touches the essence of soul.”[48]Allmusic’s John Bush was impressed by how Hill produced most of the album, “not as a crossover record, but as a collection of overtly personal and political statements”, while demonstrating “performing talents, vocal range, and songwriting smarts”.[33]David Browne, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called it “an album of often-astonishing power, strength, and feeling”, and praised Hill for “easily flowing from singing to rapping, evoking the past while forging a future of her own”.[39]Dream Hampton of The Village Voice, said that the album is “majestic” in “the seamlessness with which [Hill] travels her realm within any given song.”[49]Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune felt that, despite its “between-songs interludes and skits”, the album is a “vocal tour de force” with arrangements that “bristle with great ideas”.[50]

Pitchfork Media’s Neil Lieberman said that, “striking lyrics” and “beautiful melodies” notwithstanding, the album has some flaws, including a diffuse running time, “tiresome” ballads, and Hill’s occasional “sweet tooth for cheesy ’70s tunes”.[41] John Mulvey of NME felt that the album is “essential” even with “churlish” quibbles of certain elements, including redundant skits and Hill’s “propensity” for histrionics and declarations of “how brilliant God is”.[40] In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau gave the album a three-star honorable mention,[51] indicating “an enjoyable effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well treasure.”[52] Christgau cited “Lost Ones” and “Superstar” as highlights and quipped, “PC record of the year—songs soft, singing ordinary, rapping skilled, rhymes up and down, skits de trop, production subtle and terrific”.[51]

Accolades

At the 41st Grammy Awards in 1999, Hill was nominated ten times, making her the first female to ever be nominated ten times in one year. She won five Grammys, including Best New Artist, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Album and Album of the Year,[53] making The Miseducation the first hip hop oriented album to ever receive that award. Lauryn Hill set a new record in the industry, as she also became the first woman to win five Grammys in one night. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill also earned her several other awards, including several nominations at the thirteenth NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Female Artist, Outstanding Album, Outstanding Music Video (for “A Rose Is Still A Rose”), and finally, competing against her own self, for Outstanding Song, nominated for both “Doo Wop” and “A Rose Is Still A Rose.”[54]

At the Annual Billboard Music Awards, The Miseducation won for R&B Album of the Year, while at the 20th Billboard Music Awards, “Doo Wop” won Best R&B/Urban New Artist Clip.[55] On January 11, 1999, at the 26th Annual American Music Awards, Hill won the award for Best New Soul/R&B artist.[56] She also won a Soul Train award, and a nomination for Best International Female Solo Artist at the Brit Awards.[57]

Commercial performance

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart in the week ending August 30, 1998,[58] on sales of 422,624 copies.[59] The album’s debut broke the record for first-week sales by a female artist.[59] It topped the Billboard 200 for a second consecutive week, during which it sold 265,000 copies.[60] In less than a month, the album had sold one million copies.[47] On September 29, 1998, it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for shipments of 500,000 copies in the United States.[61] The album spent 81 weeks on the Billboard 200,[62] and topped the Billboard Year-End Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.[63]

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was promoted with three singles—”Doo Wop (That Thing)”, “Ex-Factor”, and “Everything Is Everything”—all of which became hits and produced popular music videos.[64] “Doo Wop” charted at number 1 and number 3 in the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively, and “Ex-Factor” reached number 22 and number 4, respectively.[38] The album’s sales increased after Hill’s appearance at the Grammy Awards, as it sold 234,000 more copies in the week of March 3, 1999,[65] and 200,000 copies the following week.[66] The album had sold 10 million copies worldwide, including nearly 700,000 in Canada, by August.[67] On December 17, 2001, it was certified 8x platinum by the RIAA.[61] By 2009, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill had sold over 19 million copies worldwide,[68] and by April 2012, it had sold over 7,106,000 copies in the US.[69]

Tour

Hill toured worldwide to promote the album, starting at Budokan in Japan
Initially, there was no immediate tour planned due to the album not needing the promotion, and also, Lauryn was pregnant yet again, and the child was due in September 1998.[56] Her first live performances of the songs were at Saturday Night Live and the Billboard Music Awards.[70] In January 1999, Lauryn recruited a band and began rehearsals for what would become The Miseducation Tour.[71] As soon as the tour was announced, tickets immediately sold out.[56]

The Miseducation Tour began at Budokan in Tokyo on January 21, 1999. Hill performed there again the following night, and played at two other Tokyo venues in the following week.[56] One week later, she flew to London for her performance at the Brixton Academy on February 8, 1999.[56] With 20 U.S. dates total,[72] the American part of the tour, which featured Outkast as the opening act, started on February 18 in Detroit, and ended on April 1, 1999 at Lauryn’s hometown Newark, New Jersey.[72] After the U.S. dates, she flew to Japan, where the tour was finished.[57]

Impact

Due to the large success of the album, Lauryn Hill became a national media icon, as magazines ranging from Time to Esquire to Teen People vied to place her on their front covers. In a February 8, 1999 Time cover-story, Hill was credited for helping fully assimilate hip-hop into mainstream music, making her the first hip hop artist to ever appear on the magazine’s front cover.[73][74] In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill number 313 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[75] Jon Caramanica, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), called it “as earnest, unpretentious, and pleasantly sloppy an album as any woman of the hip-hop generation has ever made”, and said that, by appealing to a wide spectrum of listeners with hip hop filtered through a “womanist lens”, the album propelled Hill to superstardom “of epic proportions” and “the focal point at hip-hop’s crossover into the mainstream.”[43] Music journalist Peter Shapiro cited it as “the ultimate cross-over album of the hip-hop era.”[76]

Along with Erykah Badu’s 1997 debut Baduizm, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was also an important release in the neo soul music scene.[77] It brought neo soul to the forefront of popular music,[78] and became the genre’s most critically acclaimed and popular album.[1] According to the Encyclopedia of African American Music (2010), “the record is filled with live musicians and layered harmonies, and therefore it is a trendsetting record that connects modern hip hop, R & B, and classic soul music together, creating groundwork for what followed it in the neo soul genre.”[1]

Lawsuit

Though The Miseducation was largely a collaborative work between Hill and a group of musicians known as New Ark (Vada Nobles, Rasheem Pugh, Tejumold and Johari Newton), there was “label pressure to do the Prince thing,” wherein all tracks would be credited as “written and produced by” the artist with little outside help.[15][79] While recording the album, when Hill was asked about providing contracts or documentation to the musicians, she replied, “We all love each other. This ain’t about documents. This is blessed.”[15]

In 1998, New Ark filed a fifty-page lawsuit against Hill, her management, also her record label, stating that Hill “used their songs and production skills, but failed to properly credit them for the work.”[80] The musicians claimed to be the primary songwriters on two tracks, and major contributors on several others,[81] though Gordon Williams, a prominent recorder, engineer, and mixer on The Miseducation described the album as a “powerfully personal effort by Hill” and stated, “It was definitely her vision.”[81] In response to the lawsuit, Hill claimed that New Ark took advantage of her success.[82] New Ark requested partial writing credits, and monetary reimbursement.[83] The suit was eventually settled out of court in February 2001 for a reported $5 million.[84]

Track listing

No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1.”Intro”   Lauryn Hill0:47
2.”Lost Ones”  Lauryn HillLauryn Hill, Che’ Guevara, Vada Nobles5:33
3.”Ex-Factor”  Lauryn HillLauryn Hill5:26
4.”To Zion” (featuring Carlos Santana)Lauryn HillLauryn Hill, Che’ Guevara6:08
5.”Doo Wop (That Thing)”  Lauryn HillLauryn Hill5:19
6.”Superstar”  Lauryn Hill, Johari Newton, James PoyserLauryn Hill4:56
7.”Final Hour”  Lauryn HillLauryn Hill4:15
8.”When It Hurts So Bad”  Lauryn HillLauryn Hill5:42
9.”I Used to Love Him” (featuring Mary J. Blige)Lauryn HillLauryn Hill5:39
10.”Forgive Them Father”  Lauryn HillLauryn Hill5:15
11.”Every Ghetto, Every City”  Lauryn HillLauryn Hill5:14
12.”Nothing Even Matters” (featuring D’Angelo)Lauryn HillLauryn Hill5:49
13.”Everything Is Everything”  Lauryn Hill, Johari NewtonLauryn Hill4:58
14.”The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”  Lauryn Hill, Tejumold NewtonLauryn Hill4:17
U.S. bonus tracks
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
15.”Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”  Bob Crewe, Bob GaudioLauryn Hill3:41
16.”Sweetest Thing” (Mahogany Mix)B. DeVorzon, Wyclef JeanLauryn Hill4:42
Import bonus / hidden tracks
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
15.”Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”  Bob Crewe, Bob GaudioLauryn Hill3:41
16.”Tell Him”  Lauryn HillLauryn Hill4:38
TitleNotes
“Lost Ones”
Samples “Super Hoe” by Boogie Down Productions
Interpolates “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy
“Ex-Factor”
Samples “Can It Be All So Simple” by Wu-Tang Clan
“To Zion”
Samples “And The Feeling’s Good” by José Feliciano
“Doo Wop (That Thing)”
Samples “Together Let’s Find Love” by The 5th Dimension
“Superstar”
Interpolates “Light My Fire” by The Doors
“I Used To Love Him”
Samples “Ice Cream” by Raekwon
“Forgive Them Father”
Samples “Concrete Jungle” by Bob Marley
“Every Ghetto, Every City”
Interpolates “Heaven and Hell Is on Earth” by 20th Century Steel Band
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”
Fra

Red Everything Movement

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