Monday, January 7, 2008

No. 312: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Band: Lauryn Hill
Album: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: A self-critical look at black culture at the end of the 20th century, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" is a neo soul landmark. Hill's frankness of speech predates Chris Rock's most famous criticisms of black America by a few years, yet sounds just as good.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The songs are good, but, by the end of the record, it gets tedious.
Best song: "Doo Wop (That Thing)" is, of course, the highlight of the album, but the title track is also very good. "Every Ghetto, Every City" has tinges of Stevie Wonder in it.
Worst song: "Final Hour" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Yep.

People need to understand that the Lauryn Hill they were exposed to in the beginning was all that was allowed in that arena at that time. There was much more strength, spirit and passion, desire, curiosity, ambition and opinion that was not allowed in a small space designed for consumer mass appeal and dictated by very limited standards. I had to step away when I realized that for the sake of the machine, I was being way too compromised. I felt uncomfortable about having to smile in someone’s face when I really didn’t like them or even know them well enough to like them.

I normally would call Hill a moron for saying this nonsense, but I have some level of respect for her because she did duck out of the limelight. Basically, being an entertainer means you have to do interviews and smile for people you may not like. If you want a large level of success, you will have to deal with this nonsense. If not, get out of the game.

Hill did that. She hasn't released a ton of material and appears to be happy with her life outside of the music industry. She'll play a show, get everyone riled up and fall back into the ether. I respect that, on some level.

(Of course, she did address herself in the third person. No one should ever do that.)


Named after a 1933 racial tome and with a cover referencing a Bob Marley record, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" lays its cards out on the table within the first few songs. Lauryn Hill is outspoken, smart and opinionated.

The record takes Hill's personality and puts it on a record. The story of putting her baby before her career is the story of "To Zion," while her breakup with Wyclef Jean is recounted on "Ex-Factor." D'Angelo turns "Nothing Even Matters" into a gem while Mary J. Blige makes "I Used To Love Him" into a great sad love song.

"Doo Wop (That Thing)" is the highlight of the record, as Hill takes on both genders, saying women need to stop looking towards men for worth and men need to actually think about something other than cars.


Chris Rock ranks the record as the 23rd best hip hop album of all time:

Lauryn Hill was groundbreaking because for the first time since Salt-N-Pepa the world was hearing a heterosexual woman rap an couldn't believe it. This is a masterpiece of a record. I know there's a lot of singing on there, but there's a lot of rapping, too. People don't have a problem with conscious rap; they have a problem with conscious beats. If you make some ignorant beats, you can say all the smart shit you want.

(Emphasis is mine)

Overall, I can't disagree, but I'm always left wanting something a little better from Hill. Maybe it's because the album is long (almost 78 minutes) and has a ton of filler, but this album could be better.

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