This month 20 years ago in 1997, “Love Jones: The Music” was released. The album is the soundtrack to the 90s classic romantic drama. The soundtrack, like the film is something special. It included new music at the time from Xscape and Dionne Farris (“Hopeless“) andMaxwell, who’s single “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” was the only official single released from the soundtrack to retail.
However, there was one single that stood-out above the rest, “The Sweetest Thing” by the Refugee Camp All-Stars featuring chanteuse, rapper, songwriter, actress, activist and mother Ms. Lauryn Hill. It was her official solo debut, without The Fugees. The single reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot R&B singles chart.
That prepared us for what was next to come from L-Boogie, her debut solo album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” which was released the following year in August.
Now, almost two decades since its release, Ms. Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” remains a monumental moment in music, described by no less a force than Mary J. Blige as “one of the most incredible albums ever made”.
An album, which by 2015 the Library of Congress in Washington saw as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” enough to be selected for inclusion in the National Recording Registry.
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” had first week’s sales of more than 422,000 units, giving the album the largest first week’s sales of any female artist in the SoundScan at that time. The album quickly caught on with press from the underground to the mainstream.
At the 41st annual Grammy Awards held in February 1999 Ms. Lauryn Hill received 10 nominations, the most in a year for a female artist, and won five – Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Best R&B Album, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song (the latter two for “Doo Wop (That Thing)”).
“[I wanted to] write songs that lyrically move me and have the integrity of reggae and the knock of hip hop and the instrumentation of classic soul.”
– Ms. Lauryn Hill to Rolling Stone
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” is a deeply personal album, running the gamut from affairs of the heart to socio-political issues, set against a sonic backdrop displaying the remarkable talent. The title, according to her, shouldn’t be taken too literally, “the concept of ‘Miseducation” is not really miseducation at all. To me, it’s more or less switching the terminology… it’s really about the things that you’ve learned outside of school, outside of what society deems appropriate and mandatory. I have a lot of respect for academia… But there was a lot that I had to learn * life lessons * that wasn’t part of any scholastic curriculum. It’s really our passage into adulthood when we leave that place of idealism and naivete.”
Ms. Lauryn‘s eagerly-anticipated solo opus was a long time coming. Critics, who were first privy to her mellifluous, sometimes gritty alto on the Fugees’ 1993 debut, “Blunted on Reality“, at the time suggested she break free of the constraints of the group and go solo. The critics obviously missed the point. Undaunted, Hill stuck to her principles, which included fierce loyalty to the group, and went on to co-write, co-produce and serve as featured performer on the Fugees’ sophomore offering, “The Score.” The rest, so the adage goes, is history. The album went on to rack up sales of over 17 million units, making the Fugees the biggest-selling rap group of all time. With fellow cohorts, Prakazrel “Pras” Michel and Wyclef Jean, Ms. Lauryn also garnered two 1996 Grammy awards: Best Rap Album for “The Score” and Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for Ms. Lauryn‘s poignant cover of the Roberta Flack classic “Killing Me Softly.” That single became the hip-hop anthem of 1996 and firmly insuring the Fugees’ success in the upper echelons of pop music’s colorful history. The Fugees record sales would make them the second biggest selling R&B act worldwide since Michael Jackson.
The young woman — who Public Enemy‘s Chuck D admiringly described as “sunlight” and a “Bob Marley (of the) 21st Century,” had already made history but on her solo project she was able to document her glorious, multi-faceted life on record. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” — like its author/protagonist — is confrontational, strong, forthright, and intelligent, while retaining a delicate, sensitive balance. This young auteur steps fearlessly into the musical arena, dealing with subjects that are close to her heart. At times, her humor is wry and candid and her pain and anger startling, but she is never bitter. She has been galvanized by her life experiences. “I’m close to all of them,” she said, almost maternally, about her songs. “Every time I got hurt, every time I was disappointed, every time I learned, I just wrote a song,” she further explained, “but the song that touches me the most is the one about my son.” “Joy of My World is in Zion” is for those “…who may have thought I was all that, but here is some of the pain I was going through. Here’s my human side… It was very strange to me how this became an issue * this decision of mine. But what began as something dark became the brightest and most important thing to me.”
The sound of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” displayed her wide knowledge of the workings of the studio as producer. She is undaunted by the fact that this area of recording is still considered mainly male territory.
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” is evidence of her self-assured attitude as a well-rounded artist and studio technician. Her skills as a prolific songwriter that led to her writing songs for various artists. She wrote and produced “On That Day” for gospel legend CeCe Winans and in addition to writing the smash hit title cut for Aretha Franklin‘s, “A Rose is Still a Rose,” Ms. Lauryn also directed the song‘s accompanying video. She has proven herself to be a versatile performer and producer. Her immense talent transcends gender-specific constraints. “Men like it when you sing to them. But step out and try and control things and there are doubts. This is a very sexist industry,” she stated for her label biography. “They’ll never throw the genius title to a sister. They’ll just call her ‘diva’ and think it’s a compliment. It’s like our flair and vanity are put before our musical and intellectual contributions.”
While an MTV Unplugged album followed in 2002 and she was featured on the occasional recording (including releases with John Legend and Method Man), to date “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” remains her only studio solo album. In 2013 she signed a new deal with Sony and released the single “Consumerism.” It’s said she is currently working on her follow-up album release.
Ms. Lauryn Hill did 6 new songs featured on the highly acclaimed, Nina Simone tribute album “Nina Revisited: A Tribute To Nina Simone” released in 2015 in conjunction with the documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” available on Netflix.
“I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel)” a song from her 2002 “MTV Unplugged” album was re-did and released on TIDAL last year, in response to the shooting of Amadou Diallo.
Born in New Jersey to a school-teacher mother and computer programmer/system’s analyst father, it was obvious from a young age that Ms. Lauryn Hill possessed extraordinary talents, abilities and propensity for creativity.
Walking and talking early, she would soon impress family and teachers alike with a seemingly quick mind and extended vocabulary. She excelled throughout school in all areas of academic, athletic, creative and extra-curricular activity. A venerable social butterfly, she used her talents and office as school president from 5th to 8th grade consecutively, to promote many concerns expectantly beyond her years like a school breakfast program intended for students her same age, who weren’t able to eat adequately enough before school.
This streak of community service would continue into high-school and beyond, eventually taking her into Africa and other parts of the world building wells in communities who lacked sufficient means to water and raising money, as well as sending food and clothing to the needy; not as a part of some school or social club’s prerequisite, but from her own private desire to make tangible change. To backtrack for a moment, all of this of course would ultimately be supported by a love that began as early as she can remember, her love of music—which would result in her becoming known throughout the world.
Ms. Lauryn grew up in a home where the sound of music was a household staple. She very early, probably in the second or third grade, discovered a treasure chest’s worth of 45 singles that belonged to her mother and father that chronicled the lives and careers of some of the world’s most renowned and soulfully successful musicians-from the offerings of Motown, Staxx, Atlantic, Capitol and Mercury Records and the like, who were at the time recording ‘the greats’ like Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, Little Anthony and the imperials, The Dreamlovers, Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson Five, The Last Poets, Aretha Franklin, Jackie Wilson, Doug and Jean Carne, Procol Harem, Santana, Alice Coltrane, The Delfonics, The Stylistics and a plethora of other world changing artists who were influencing music and recreating the world.
This love affair with music seemingly outside of her generational trajectory would extend in many different ways from jazz, to soul, to reggae, to rock to classical. An eclectic appreciation and voracious appetite for good music trans-genre, Ms. Lauryn Hill would establish her own categories that incorporated all types of unique and incredible sounds from both the past and the contemporaneous environment of her youth—this obviously included what was then known as hip-hop and R&B, but Puccini didn’t escape her either. She was an interesting and powerful hybrid of musical influences (and stylistic mastery). These influences would dramatically shape her own approach to self-expression.
Ms. Lauryn sang and deeply appreciated music at a young age, known for being very animated, she also acted, danced and enjoyed performance art of various kinds. She spent her formative years acting in plays and being cast in television commercials, as well as the daytime drama ‘As the World Turns’, Steven Soderbergh’s ‘King of the Hill’, and ‘Sister Act II’ with Whoopi Goldberg. Ironically all of this was done while she was still a full-time student. After graduating high school with stellar grades, she attended Columbia University in New York while a member of the then up and coming musical group the Fugees. Ms. Lauryn Hill was a great academician, but her unique gifts, interest and pursuits would take her in the direction of profound experience and great accomplishment not just in the classroom, but also beyond it. This of course would not negatively alter her life-long love of learning, invention and acquiring knowledge, but would enhance it.
She often envisioned herself as able to very naturally make the kind of great contributions that often come from people with great minds and the passion and discipline required in order to bring great things into fruition.
Ms. Lauryn Hill was the first “Neo-soul” artist to make a major impact on the mainstream. The commercially successful and critically acclaimed solo debut album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” solidified her spot in music history.
UB Gallery: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill Era