Culture Re-View: 25 years of ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’
It seems fitting that during the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, we can take a moment to celebrate one of the genre’s most important albums, released at the mid-point between that original DJ Kool Herc set and today.
On this day in 1998, American rapper and singer Lauryn Hill released what would be her sole solo studio album ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’. At the time of recording, Hill was a pregnant 22-year-old reeling from her whirlwind introduction into showbiz.
In her teens, Hill became an actor and appeared in multiple films including Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit alongside Whoopi Goldberg. It was around the same time that the band she’d formed with schoolmate Pras Michel and his cousin Wyclef Jean gained traction. The Fugees first album wasn’t a success, but their sophomore attempt 1996’s ‘The Score’ went to No. 1 in the US. Of the trio, Hill was especially singled out for her singing ability.
When the Fugees split in 1997, Hill was in a relationship with Rohan Marley and pregnant with their first child. While pregnant, Hill was hit with a bout of creativity. From an attic studio in New Jersey, she wrote 30 songs that would form the basis of her 1998 album.
If you haven’t listened to ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’, you’re in for a treat. You’re also living under a rock, as everyone else who already knows and loves this seminal album will attest to its multifaceted brilliance.
A chameleonic album, it incorporates Hill’s powerful rap lyricism with her sultry soulful singing. From the massive bops of ‘Lost Ones’ and ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’, all the way through more meditative ‘To Zion’, Hill is operating on a higher level than ever before. Inspired by the same themes of universality her partner’s father (Bob Marley) philosophy, Hill’s songs also bring a perspective on motherhood.
Hill had melded so many cornerstone genres of Black music into one cohesive whole. R&B, reggae, hip-hop and soul all came together form an album that was immediately adored critically and commercially. ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ was the first album by a solo female rapper to debut at No. 1 in the US. By the end of the year, it had sold 2.9 million copies. As of 2021, it is a Diamond certified for selling 10 million copies, earning Hill a Guinness World Record as the first female rapper to do so.
Today it’s considered one of the greatest albums of all time and the number of artists who rank it among their inspirations is endless. Her ability to combine rapping with singing inspired a generation of rappers to embrace more melodic elements in their records. The album is credited with bringing soul back into popularity, leading to figures like Amy Winehouse’s discovery.
A follow-up album never truly materialised. Multiple projects came up but fell apart at the wayside. In 2001, as part of an MTV Unplugged recording, Hill chose to play new songs. The album of the session ‘MTV Unplugged 2.0’ is the closest thing to a second album Hill has released. Otherwise, Hill has removed herself from the public eye. She has continued to tour though and has announced a 25th anniversary tour to celebrate her phenomenal album.