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An Album You Must Own: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

posted Mar 25, 2011, 10:21 PM by Golden Knight

By Christian Romo


The first minute or so of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill seems innocent enough. A teacher calls roll in a classroom and all of the children are present except for a young Lauryn Hill. The rest of the album is dedicated to her “miseducation” by omission. Attending a spontaneous grammar school lecture about love may have robbed her of the material that created this wonderful album, but it also may have given her the wisdom to avoid the tumultuous romantic events of her life. After all, there is only one Lauryn Hill album, and as great as it is, no artist should be reduced to one piece of work.

Although the album is considered the crowning achievement of the neo-soul movement of the 1990’s, it can also claim the title of one of the best records of the 90’s and one of the best female solo records ever. It’s hard to imagine any artist as talented or conflicted as Hill, one of the few that can flow and belt with the best of the best. Her opener “Lost Ones” shows a Missy Elliot confidence and the ability to shred any male challenger to pieces with her strength, wordplay, and insight.

“Ex-Factor” is a heart-wrenching and simultaneously beautiful song that presents a songwriting talent matched only by the most pitiful in the music industry. “To Zion” is her heart-over-matters blast of feminism that is equally praiseworthy and disappointing (she has stopped recording due to her duties as a parent).

As the album continues, pieces of the lecture on love are interspersed between songs making it seem as if the tracks themselves are the filler to the simple childlike wisdom on love. “When it Hurts So Bad” and “Nothing Even Matters” are Hill’s consequences of her unexplained truancy, and though it seems she has learned her lessons (through “Doo Wop (That Thing)” her #1 single), she had to go through an immeasurable amount of pain to attain them.

Songs like “Every Ghetto, Every City” and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” are endlessly fun and show that Hill has the ability to spread her gospel through the boomboxes of the city and the nationwide waves of Clear Channel. Her rapping talent is spread throughout, notably on the haunting “Final Hour” and the swaying “Superstar”, and her voice, though not at a diva level, can be simply beautiful at times.

Between “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and “Superstar” is the most important line of the album: “There’s a difference between loving someone and being in love with them”. Delivered by any ten-year old girl your imagination creates, it props up the energy and leaves the lecturer speechless. It’s the centerpiece of the album, and though Hill does an admirable job of trying to match that girl’s bliss, her impressive endeavor can’t help but land short.

Some other noteworthy tracks include “Everything is Everything” and “Forgive Them Father”, but her most impressive effort is her cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes off You”. It’s full of the passion that Frankie Valli lacked when he first recorded the American standard, and Hill’s version far surpasses his and the hundreds of covers made since.

As was the problem of many classic 90’s albums, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is way too long to listen to in one sitting. Fortunately, like the Gospel, there is no one way to take it in. Shuffling the tracks or even picking and choosing when and what you listen to will prove to be just as gratifying as weathering it from cover to cover. Lauryn Hill is not Jesus Christ, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she is the one who understands his pain and love the best.