Hip-hop is a very masculine and braggadocious genre at its roots, with artists always trying to prove that they are the better emcee. With this, it can be difficult to touch on personal topics and very difficult if you’re a female artist trying to make waves. There have been many legendary female hip-hop artists, such as Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah and MC Lyte, but when people think of top artists, very rarely do they bring up one of the many successful women in hip-hop’s history.
However, thanks to her one, but incredibly successful album, Lauryn Hill is considered one of the greatest. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” released in 1998, is thought of by many as one of the best albums of all time and is next in Part Two of this four-part series, Archived, about the albums being archived into the Harvard Library.
All of these albums are classic in their own right. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” isn’t being put in the Harvard Library because it’s one of the few classic albums by a female emcee. It’s being put in because of its importance to the history of hip-hop, just like the other three archived albums, and also because of its message of love.
Throughout the record, there is a long running skit in which a teacher, played by revered poet-turned-politician Ras Baraka, is teaching a class. The main topic of the class is simply, love. But throughout the course of the album, the listener learns through the kids attending the class that it really isn’t so simple. Love is different and has a different meaning for all people across Earth. As a result, the concept of love throughout the album is far from simple.
Lauryn Hill tackles many subjects of love. With the first song “Lost Ones,” she is aiming her broken heart at an ex-lover and former group mate Wyclef Jean. She talks about how she loved him, and loved all of him with all she had, but now he messed up and missed out on that love. But in many songs, love is not confined to a romantic relationship.
The most touching song on the album, “To Zion,” stands out the most. Hill dedicates the song to her son, Zion, and sings about his birth. She talks about her uncertainty with her pregnancy and the love she found for her son after he arrived. It’s one of the most touching songs in hip-hop and had never been done before, nor has it been done again. People told her not to get pregnant and have a kid and, instead, to focus on her career. Hill ignored those people. As a result, she discovered this newfound love.
Her love for her hip-hop shows in “Final Hour,” where she proves that just because she’s a woman, doesn’t mean she can’t rap with the best of them. On “Superstar,” Hill talks about her love for music and the need for artists to love themselves. She tells artists not to conform to how the industry wants them to make music, but, instead, to make music they love and use it to inspire and enlighten anyone who hears it.
One of the most successful songs of the album is “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Here we get Hill talking to both men and women. She tells them to watch out for the opposite sex and not get caught up in the idea of love. If you get too caught up and let yourself get blinded by the idea of love, you can and will be exploited. One thing that makes this album so great, is that sonically, it’s a universally appealing album. Any gender can listen to it and not feel awkward or unsettled by it. She just makes a great and appealing sounding record.
Lauryn Hill does a great job touching on things that, at the time, no one was talking about. She is telling everyone to embrace love but be wary of it as well. She warns to not just try to find the love they portray in movies and songs but to love yourself and family first and then you can find love from another. She also says to find something you can love like music. She talks about the love she had for her past while growing up in New Jersey and says to always love the moment you’re in.
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” is an album like no other. It perfectly blends soul with singing and rap while still having hip-hop at its core. It talks about a subject that some emcees might never touch, almost considering it to be taboo.You can feel her heart and passion in the album. She made all of hip-hop stop when this record came out, and it has stood the test of time; no other album has been done like it since. With it, Hill inspired both men and women and helped teach everyone who listened about one of the most important things to have in yourself and your life — love.