Tomorrow I will start a countdown of my favorite albums of the decade. If this were 20 years ago — 1999 instead of 2019 — that list would include Lauryn Hill’s ’97 classic The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill somewhere near the top.
This blend of hip hop, soul and R&B sounds as bold and vital today as it did when it made such a splash 22 years ago. It is even more special for remaining the only solo studio recording Hill ever released (her one follow-up record was a live recording of an MTV Unplugged appearance).
One-hit wonders are awfully common, but one-album wonders are a bit more rare. And 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill might be the best example.
This thing was a monster hit, a cultural touchstone, a Grammy winner for Best Album. And it was the last memorable thing Lauryn Hill ever did.
In fact, the only other solo album she ever released was a live recording of her appearance on MTV’s Unplugged. That was in 2002.
Nas’s sophomore album, It Was Written, is described by Wikipedia as more “polished” and “mainstream” than its predecessor.
Those might sound like bad words to most indie or rap music fans, but I see it as a sign of hope. Polish is exactly what the first two songs I featured this week were lacking.
Today’s track is a duet with Lauryn Hill, another fact that has me excited. The song was recorded in 1994, when Hill was starting out with The Fugees, three years before her acclaimed Miseducation.
Best Albums of the 90s – #19
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill (1998)
Lauryn Hill’s short stint with The Fugees didn’t prepare anybody for the burst of soulful creativity she unleashed on her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The album, a mix of rap and R&B balladry, was a bona fide hit, going platinum eight times over and winning five Grammys.
I wanted to include a woman during this week on rap artists, so I did what every modern-day computer literate person does when seeking knowledge — I Googled it.
A search for “best female rapper” returns a lot of candidates, most of whom I’ve never heard of. Among those I do know, I found repeated references to Missy Elliot, Eve, Lil Kim and Queen Latifah. But the most mentioned and most lavishly praised of them all proved to be 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 started this week talking about Carly Simon, who put out a burst of great music early in her career and then a lot of mediocre music for the thirty years that followed. Today I’m looking at Lauryn Hill, who is another sort of mystery altogether.
After some interesting work with The Fugees (including a lovely cover of Roberta Flack’s ‘Killing Him Softly’), Hill dropped a bomb on the music world with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. A powerful and seductive blend of hip-hop, soul and R&B, it became an instant classic, topping the charts and winning a bunch of Grammys.
That was 10 years ago. And since then… nothing.