You have to understand how it was back then. Lauryn Hill was theeeeeeeee bidness. The Fugees had done their classic album, The Score, and Lauryn Hill’s vocals had really shone through on songs like “Ready or Not” and “Killing Me Softly.” Besides that, Lauryn had spit some serious lyrics throughout the album, proving herself to be a capable emcee. But more than that, the album was a masterpiece–I loved “How Many Mics” and “Zealots” in particular. And then she was doing a little acting, showing up in Sister Act 2. Critical acclaim for The Score was nearly universal.
While Lauryn was excellent, there was no guarantee that her solo album would be as good, for two reasons: first, The Score really was the product of a group effort. Wyclef, Lauryn, and even Pras (no disrespect, man) actually had a recipe that cooked up something delicious. It wasn’t like, say, the Black Eyed Peas, where the weight falls mostly on will.i.am and Fergie, or like Destiny’s Child, where it was clear that Beyonce was always going to be the star. Pras was more like Flavor Flav–no one can say exactly what he was doing in the group, but we all know that Public Enemy wouldn’t have been the same without him. And second, the bar set by The Score was really, really high.
And then she dropped The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. If you’re reading this, then I don’t need to tell you how great that album is–but I might need to remind you of how great that album was. At the moment it hit, there was nothing else like it. There have been women who have sung and rapped on their album before, but no one has ever done both as well as Lauryn has. I will grant you the possible exception of Missy Elliot. You might pay to hear Nicki Minaj rap, but you aren’t really excited to hear her sing. Faith Evans can actually rap some (and in fact, she should rap more), but if you’re going to hear her, you’re trying to hear “Soon As I Get Home.” I theorize that Jill Scott, if she really wanted to, could probably put together a very good rap album. But Lauryn actually did–“Doo Wop (That Thing)” and “X-Factor” are both great songs and they are both representative of the body of work. When she sings the hook and raps the verse on “Everything is Everything,” it was only natural. “Nothing Even Matters” with D’Angelo is a Get Down Tape All-Star. And then there was the subject matter–not just the traditional themes for an R&B or hip hop album–but also motherhood, faith, spirituality, and some serious social issues.
A side question–why doesn’t more R&B and hip hop by female artists deal with motherhood? I mean, after “To Zion,” the next song I can think of is “Lovin’ You” by Minnie Riperton, and the next song after that I can think of is “Responsibility” by the Ghetto Twinz, which is really more about single motherhood and being angry at the absence of your children’s father. This is likely the first time the Ghetto Twinz and Lauryn Hill have been mentioned in the same sentence, and the circumstances under which that has happened are about as sad and pitiful as you would expect. Continue reading