Song of the Day #656: ‘Every Ghetto Every City’ – Lauryn Hill

Every once in awhile, my wife (an English teacher) will seek my help in compiling a lesson plan. It’s usually a fun exercise for a couple of reasons: one, I don’t have to actually teach the lesson or grade any of the resulting work; and two, her requests usually revolve around music.

Like most people, high school students really respond to music. It’s easier to get their attention out of the gate with a song than with a poem. Ideally, music can serve as the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.

Lauryn Hill’s ‘Every Ghetto Every City’ is a song I suggested to Alex once when she was looking for a good introduction to autobiographical poetry. As an example of lyrics dropping you into a specific time and place it’s hard to beat this song.

I also love the funk-soul music, and the way the song always feels like it’s about to fly off the tracks before Hill brings it back in with the chorus. I find this track to be the best example of why I considered Hill the next Stevie Wonder when this album came out.

I suppose that promise went unfulfilled, though she’s still a young woman and I’d like to think the door hasn’t yet shut on her artistic contributions.

I was just a little girl
Skinny legs, a press and curl
My mother always thought I’d be a star
But way before my record deal,
The streets that nurtured Lauryn Hill
Made sure that I’d never go too far

Every ghetto, every city and suburban place I’ve been
Make me recall my days in the New Jerusalem

Story starts at Hootaville grew up next to Ivy Hill
When kids were stealing quartervilles for fun
“Kill the guy” in Carter park
Rode a Mongoose ’til it’s dark
Watching kids show off the stolen ones
Every ghetto, every city and suburban place I’ve been
Make me recall my days in New Jerusalem

You know it’s hot, don’t forget what you’ve got
Looking back,
Looking back, looking back, looking back
You know it’s hot, don’t forget what you’ve got
Looking back
Lookin back, Lookin back, Lookin back

A bag of Bontons, twenty cents and a nickel
Springfield Ave. had the best popsicles
Saturday morning cartoons and Kung-Fu (wa ta!)

Main street roots tonic with the dreds
A beef patty and some coco bread
Move the patch from my Lees to the tongue of my shoe
‘Member Frelng-Huysen used to have the bomb leather
Back when Doug Fresh and Slick Rick were together
Looking at the crew, we thought we’d all live forever

You know it’s hot, don’t forget what you’ve got
Looking back
Lookin back, Lookin back, Lookin back
You know it’s hot, don’t forget what you’ve got
Looking back
Lookin back, Lookin back, Lookin back

Drill teams on Munn street
Remember when Hawthorne and Chancellor had beef
Moving Records was on Central Ave.
I was there at dancing school
South Orange Ave. at Borlin pool
Unaware of what we didn’t have

Writing my friends’ names on my jeans with a marker
July 4th races outside of Parker
Fireworks at Martin stadium

The Untouchable P.S.P., where all them crazy nigga be
And car thieves got away through Irvington

Hillside brings beef with the cops
Self-Destruction record drops
And everybody’s name was Muslim
(Children grow and women produce and)

Sensations and ’88 attracted kids from out-of-state
And everybody used to do the wop

Jack, Jack,Jack ya body
Nah, the Biz Mark used to amp up the party
I wish those days, they didn’t stop

Every ghetto, every city and suburban place I’ve been
Make me recall my days in New Jerusalem

You know it’s hot, don’t forget what you’ve got
Looking back
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back
You know it’s hot, don’t forget what you’ve got
Looking back
Lookin back, Lookin back, Lookin back

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9 thoughts on “Song of the Day #656: ‘Every Ghetto Every City’ – Lauryn Hill

  1. Dana says:

    Hill is, undoubtedly, talented, but thinking she could be the next Stevie Wonder is a bit of a stretch.

    I wonder if Hill has to share royalties on this song with whoever wrote the “Welcome Back Kotter” theme song.:)

  2. Dana says:

    For those who wish to compare:

  3. Clay says:

    Her debut album was as exciting, groundbreaking and bursting with talent as any of Wonder’s early work. If she’d gone on to do it over again five times in five years, she’d absolutely earn the comparison.

  4. Dana says:

    Well, sure, but the same can be said of many artists with strong debut albums.

  5. Clay says:

    Her sound and vibe is similar to his (at least one her one and only album). But yeah, many a promising debut wound up being much ado about nothing.

    In her case it’s a bit different because she just stopped making music. It’s not like she put out a series of albums that didn’t live up to the hype. She just disappeared.

  6. Dana says:

    Yeah, but my sense is that Hill had more assistance in writing her songs and producing her sound, while Stevie was a child prodigy who grew into a prolific songwriter. I think when you are someone like Stevie Wonder (or Costello or Springsteen or Byrne), you can’t stop writing and performing music. It seems to me that Hill’s ability to walk away suggests that she simply does not have in her that same level of “genius” that Wonder possessed.

  7. Clay says:

    She has sole writing credit on almost every song on the album… why do you think she had assistance?

    I agree that she lacks the passion for writing and performing that made Wonder so prolific, but I don’t know if that drive goes hand in hand with immense talent. I think there are mega-talents in every art form who simply don’t enjoy the creative process enough to keep at it.

  8. Amy says:

    My students used this song/video for a project this year:

    I was so pleased that they knew of Laurny Hill and the Fugees, and everyone in the class just loved it. The comments on the video suggest that she had some sort of nervous breakdown? I don’t know anything about her personal life or why she isn’t more prolific. However, I completely agree with Clay that her talent is enormous. I don’t think the fact that one artist (of any type) produces much more than another necessarily means anything. There are any number of reasons why someone might “stop” producing (or at least sharing) their art.

    I just hope we will ultimately hear more from Hill.

  9. Amy says:

    I just discovered this, and I have to admit that I’m a bit traumatized on behalf of the very young Ms. Hill:

    She was 13! And they were booing her! Sheesh.

    Seems as though she’s a tough cookie there. I sure hope she didn’t have a nervous breakdown. Maybe she started having Apollo flashbacks?!

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