The year is 1998; Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown are still mourning the loss of the Notorious B.I.G and working on new music. Missy Elliott is fresh off the success of her debut album and gaining more notoriety as a hitmaker thanks to her work with SWV, 702, and, most notably, Aaliyah’s second album, One in a Million. Da Brat is making guest appearances on some of the hottest tracks and remixes in that year. Left-Eye is being her wild self and getting ready for TLC’s Fanmail album. Queen Latifah is still making her mark in film and tv, but most of the veteran female rappers who came out with her (i.e, MC LYTE, Yo-Yo, Salt-N-Pepa) seem to fade away. Then there’s Lauryn Hill; New Jersey native who, as at 13, was a constant Amateur Night on It's Showtime at the Apollo, and by 18 already made appearances in the soap opera, As the World Turns, and the hit film, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.
While still in high school, Hill was approached by Pras Michael to start a band with his friend, Wyclef Jean. Together they became The Fugees and released their debut album, Blunt in Reality, in 1994, and their Grammy Award-winning album, The Score, in 1996. After this group broke up in 1997, Hill began to work on an album that would cement her place in hip-hop and tap into an unspoken voice amongst female hip-hop.
During the recording of the album in Kingston Jamaica, Hill was romantically involved with Rohan Marley, as well as pregnant with his child. The pregnancy, as well as other aspects of Lauryn’s life, inspired the creation of the album. By the beginning of the summer of 1998, the album was complete. By the end of the summer, the world was ready for what Lauryn had to offer. On August 25th, 1998, a 23-year-old Lauryn Hill released her first (and only) solo project, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The album titled, inspired by the autobiography, The Education of Sonny Carson, and the Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro, Lauryn Hill used a blend of hip-hop, R&B, reggae, and neo-soul to convey a story of black love, heartbreak, self-awareness, self-love, motherhood, and the pull & tug war between men and women. The album also conveys how love from good and bad ends of the spectrum effect us and how much love dictates the decisions and actions we make in our own lives. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill set Hill apart from her misogynistic male counterparts, as well as her hypersexual female counterparts who, along with the male rappers, promoted more European clothing brands, body image, and lifestyle.
How did the world accept this album?
The world accepted this album with open arms. Music fans, critics, and the music industry praised the album for its positive message to the youth (especially young girls), its hip-hop elements, Lauryn’s vocals, production, and lyricism. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, along with Erykah Badu’s Baduizm, and Janet Jackson's The Velvet Rope, is also seen as a key album during the neo-soul music scene. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill debuted at number one at the time of its release and broke the record for highest first-week sales by a female artist at that time (422,624 copies). The album has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and had three hit singles, “Doo Wop (That Thang)”, “Ex-Factor”, and “Everything is Everything”. Songs such as “Nothing Even Matters”, “Lost Ones”, “To Zion”, “Tell Him”, and her renditions of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” have become fan favorites and develop a cult following.
The album helped Lauryn Hill win 5 Grammys, the most by any female rappers, including, Album of the Year, NAACP Image Award nominations, a Billboard Music Award, an American Music Award, and a Soul Train Award. The album is considered one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone and of the Best 100 Albums of the 90s. In 2015, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was deemed culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress and selected for inclusion in the National Recording Registry.
The aftermath and influence of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill are still prevalent to this day. Female rappers such as Oshun, NoName, Jovan, Rapsody, Princess Nokia, Eve, and Nicki Minaj have all taken a piece of from the blueprint Lauryn created; whether it be trying to duplicate Lauryn’s intricate storytelling message and voice for women or mimic her way to incorporate R&B and hip-hop into one. Other musical acts including Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, SZA, H.E.R, Drake, The Internet, and Janelle Monae have either sampled her work, created songs inspired by the songs off the album, or have used this album as a template and inspiration to be able to express themselves and their soul. In a time when the standards in female hip-hop, or hip-hop in general, seems to be going backwards, we can always rely on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to remind us where the culture started, how far it can go, and why it is important for young black girls and creatives to have a voice and showcase whatever is in their soul. As Ms. Hill put it, “if you look closely, you’ll see what you become.”