A first-time review on the 20th anniversary classic.
Time to go into the way-back machine.
Go back 20 years. I had a $20 gift certificate to Best Buy, a self-edict to make the most of my newfound cash, and an edict from my father to not buy something heavy metal. I did alright: Husker Du’s Warehouse, Songs and Stories, Matchbox Twenty’s Yourself or Someone Like You, and Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Time to get out of the way-back machine.
I don’t get $20 gift certificates for report cards any more and Best Buy barely exists, let alone with a dedicated CD section. Lauryn Hill, however, remains the best CD I bought on blind, dumb luck.
Hill describes herself on “Everything Is Everything” as “More powerful than two Cleopatras.” And she was right, then. Hill isn’t old either. We only think that because the culture has been waiting two decades for an album that will never come again. It can’t. “Miseducation” has become one of those albums like AC/DC’s Black Album or Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction where it’s an inflection point for that artist. AC/DC is legendary and G’N’R is a tale of what could’ve been because AC/DC decided to put out the next album the following year, not a decade later.
While we’re still waiting for Hill to produce the “next” album, the 20th anniversary is a proper time to re-examine a stone-cold stunner, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
This album gives you what you want, just not in the way you expect it to. There is no bombast of “The Score” (from Hill’s former group, The Fugees). If anything, it’s closer to Frank Sinatra: a singer who knows her voice delivering different genre fare tailored to her vocal strengths.
Miseducation kicks off in earnest with “Lost Ones.” Hill was, and remains, a ferocious rapper. The East Coast rap sound is obvious with the trademark rapping and singing with melody in equal measure. No one does what she does. The album settles in with “Ex-Factor,” which has exponentially more soul than contemporary Aaliyah. It’s just a more mature sound. You can feel a woman pleading in this torch song. If Aaliyah is the lust of a one-night stand, Lauryn is there for the morning after. “To Zion” has the spirituality that seems to have the singer since this release.
“Doo-Wop (That Thing)” is, capital letters, THE SONG. This is easily the crystallization of Hill. Rap, melody, singing but on a higher level than “Lost Ones.” Overtly political and statement-making, acoustic instruments. This still bangs at any house party.
The rest of the album is stellar but it’s clearly a slow decent from the ethereal jam of “Doo Wop.” We get to hear different shades of Lauryn Hill. “Superstar” is funky Lauryn. “Forgive them Father” is rap Lauren. “Every Ghetto, Every City” is treble-funk Lauryn. The only skippable track is “When it Hurts So Bad.”
“Everything Is Everything,” in hindsight, is completely skippable, hot take as that may be. The lyrical and emotional depth is just lacking compared to the rest of the album. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill title track is the low-key stunner. The falsettos, the church organ, the faux record popping, like Sinatra, this is all to say she’s going to do it her way.
While there are definite takes on what has happened with everything after this release, this is not that article. Frankly, it’s too contemplative to break down what could have been. Or better yet, what I wish it could’ve been.
Twenty years later, this much is true: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill keeps getting better with age.