“Hey, it’s my album! Who else can tell my story better than me?” says Lauryn Hill, chanteuse, rapper, songwriter, actress, activist and mother. She’s talking about The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (RuffHouse/Columbia), her solo debut album and one of the most hotly-anticipated records of 1998.
Produced by Lauryn herself, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a deeply personal album, running the gamut from affairs of the heart to socio-political issues, set against a sonic backdrop displaying the remarkable talent of this young native of South Orange, New Jersey. The title, according to Hill, shouldn’t be taken too literally. The doe-eyed 23-year old, who completed her freshman year at Columbia University, explains: “… the concept of ‘Miseducation” is not really miseducation at all. To me, it’s more or less switching the terminology… it’s really about the things that you’ve learned outside of school, outside of what society deems
appropriate and mandatory. I have a lot of respect for academia… But there was a lot that I had to learn * life lessons * that wasn’t part of any scholastic curriculum. It’s really our passage into adulthood when we leave that place of idealism and naivete.”
Lauryn’s eagerly-anticipated solo opus has been a long time coming. Critics, who were first privy to Hill’s mellifluous, sometimes gritty alto on the Fugees’ 1993 debut, Blunted on Reality, suggested she break free of the constraints of the group and go solo. The critics obviously missed the point. Undaunted, Hill stuck to her principles, which included fierce loyalty to the group, and went on to co-write, co-produce and serve as featured performer on the Fugees’ sophomore offering, The Score. The rest, so the adage goes, is history. The album went on to rack up sales of over 17 million units, making the Fugees the biggest-selling rap group of all time. With fellow cohorts, Prakazrel “Pras” Michel and Wyclef Jean, Lauryn also garnered two 1996 Grammy awards: Best Rap Album for The Score and Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for Lauryn’s poignant cover of the Roberta Flack classic “Killing Me Softly.” That single became the hip-hop anthem of 1996 and firmly insuring the Fugees’ success in the upper echelons of pop music’s colorful history.
The young woman — who Public Enemy’s Chuck D admiringly describes as “sunlight” and a “Bob Marley (of the) 21st Century,” has documented her glorious, multi-faceted life on record. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill — like its author/protagonist — is confrontational, strong, forthright, and intelligent, while retaining a delicate, sensitive balance. This young auteur steps fearlessly into the musical arena, dealing with subjects that are close to her heart. At times, her humor is wry and candid and her pain and anger startling, but she is never bitter. She has been galvanized by her life experiences. “I’m close to all of them,” she says, almost maternally, about her songs. “Every time I got hurt, every time I was disappointed, every time I learned, I just wrote a song,” she explains, “but the song that touches me the most is the one about my son.” “Joy of My World is in Zion” is for those “…who may have thought I was all that, but here is some of the pain I was going through. Here’s my human side… It was very strange to me how this became an issue * this decision of mine. But what began as something dark became the brightest and most important thing to me.”
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill forays into hip-hop territory with cuts like “Doo Wop” and the Jamaican-tinged grooves of “Lost Ones.” Throughout the album, Hill’s delicious vocals engage and captivate. Musically, she brings a warmth and sensitivity to the sound of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and displays her wide knowledge of the workings of the studio as producer on this stunning debut. She is undaunted by the fact that this area of recording is considered mainly male territory. “Men have a hard time taking direction from women, but when you pay somebody, you pay them to get it right, ” she says. “I think that women will be called ‘bitches’ and ‘hard to work with’ if they ask for and get what they want. So I don’t pay attention to that at all. Music is so important to me and how I come across in music is so important. I’m a perfectionist. If I have to do it a hundred times, I’ll do it a hundred times!”
And though men’s attitudes towards women in the industry riles her, she forges ahead. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is evidence of her self-assured attitude as a well-rounded artist and studio technician. Her skills as a prolific songwriter have led to her writing songs for various artists. She wrote and produced “On That Day” for gospel artist CeCe Winans, and, in addition to writing the smash hit title cut for Aretha Franklin’s current album, A Rose is Still a Rose, Lauryn also directed song’s accompanying video. She has proven herself to be a versatile performer and producer. Her immense talent transcends gender-specific constraints. “Men like it when you sing to them. But step out and try and control things and there are doubts. This is a very sexist industry,” she opines. “They’ll never throw the genius title to a sister. They’ll just call her ‘diva’ and think it’s a compliment. It’s like our flair and vanity are put before our musical and intellectual contributions.”
Having spent her much of her formative years in the nation’s spotlight, first as an actress (she appeared in a recurring role in “As the World Turns” and was featured in “Sister Act II: Back In the Habit”) and now as a multi-platinum artist who still finds time for charitable causes (she is the founder of non-profit organization, The Refugee Camp Youth Project, whose manifesto is based on giving back to the community and improving the quality of life for inner-city children), Lauryn Hill has very much come into her own and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is the musical proof. As Lauryn Hill, the hip-hop groundbreaking genius, puts it, “I want my music to touch real people. I’m still trying to figure myself out, like most people…. because I’m still living and learning…”