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100 Albums: "The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill" by Lauryn Hill

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Lauryn Hill
Title: The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
Released: 1998
Genre: neo-soul hip-hop r&b reggae

Hill broke in the mainstream as a member of the Fugees, alongside Pras and Wyclef Jean. She was the featured vocalist on the group's most successful hit, a cover of Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly that blended the original soulful melody with hip-hop and reggae influences. After the group rocketed to stardom on the success of their album The Score, they immediately split up to pursue solo projects. Miseducation is Hill's only solo studio album, and is something of a minor masterpiece--a deeply personal record that features commentary on motherhood, race, and culture (while she is dedicated to equality, Hill's personal politics are, not to put to fine a point on it, reactionary). The ostensible main theme of the record is capital-L Love. As was trendy in late 90s hip-hop, the album is sprinkled with skits. The ones on this record are all audio from a class where the teacher is discussing the concept of love with his students. In the intro, you can hear him taking attendance and Hill is absent. And that's the joke--Hill was absent the day they taught about love in school.

Miseducation straddles sub-genres deftly. Classic 60s R&B is clearly a big influence on Hill, one that she explicitly calls out on Doo Wop (That Thing), a late-album track that was also the first and arguably best single. The arrangements have drum-and-bass that evoke reggae, and Hill's vocals are a blend of soul and hip-hop, and she excels at both. Her soulful wail is at its most poignant on Ex-Factor, a heart-wrenching song. She gets to exercise both on Everything Is Everything, singing the first verse and delivering a blistering rap on the second that is thick with internal rhyme and wordplay. One of the things that makes her vocals so distinctive is the way she doubles crooning over atonal spoken word. The effect is dissonant, but she makes it work. The best songs are unquestionably the singles. The non-single album tracks are decent--mostly. The post-intro starter Lost Ones doesn't really hold together that well, but the title track closes out the album beautifully. Oddly, my copy has two bonus songs that seem tacked-on. There's a cover of Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You that's not bad, but it feels like pandering to fans of Killing Me Softly, and then a light-weight and forgettable ballad called Tell Him. They're curios, but stop at the title track if you just want to get a good listen of the whole disc.

Hill seemed to be uncomfortable with the spotlight. She never recorded another proper album and only toured sporadically. This was her opus, one that she wrote and produced largely by herself. It's honestly a shame we didn't get to hear more music from this talented artist.

Further listening: If you haven't heard The Fugees' take on Killing Me Softly, go listen to it right now.


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