Remembering ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill': ‘It Was My Roadmap to Womanhood’
It was the summer of '98 when Lauryn Hill released her debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
At the time, my entire world revolved around my friends, family, and Brooklyn. I was a tomboy who loved hip-hop and R&B. Back then the highlight of my day was printing out lyrics from the famous Leonies Lyrics site and memorizing them so I could repeat a song back to my friends without a mistake. It was a very serious thing—one slip-up meant you weren't a real fan of whatever artist you were trying to imitate.
That summer, the anticipation was high for the release of Lauryn's first solo album. It had been two years since the release of The Fugee's smash album, The Score, where Lauryn was the obvious standout in the group that consisted of Wyclef Jean and Pras.
The summer was off to a great start, Monica and Brandy had released their huge hit, "The Boy Is Mine." Cam'ron and Ma$e had us doing the bounce to "Horse & Carriage," Big Pun and Joe had us learning a little Spanish with, "Still Not A Player," and Diddy still had us dancing to "Mo Money Mo Problems," at the block parties. I didn't think music could get any better until Lauryn Hill came and changed the game.
It was clear just from the album cover—a simple brown school desk with Lauryn's image etched on the front, accented by a no. 2 pencil—that she was ushering in something new, fresh and soulful.
It was simple but bold. Lauryn didn't use her sexuality to sell the cover—she used her femininity. When I listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill for the first time, I felt as if my older sister was sitting me down for some girl talk.
Using her life experiences and hard lessons learned, Lauryn was giving me the blueprint. This was in part because my mom and aunt's advice on life, love, and heartache were falling on deaf ears at the time. After all, we all know parents just don't understand. They simply weren't as relatable to me as Lauryn was. Those same pieces of advice that my mother and aunt so desperately tried to give, Lauryn effortlessly dropped into my ears using her beautiful voice and dope lyrics that were infused with hip-hop, reggae, and R&B.
By the time I got to high school, Lauryn had infiltrated my circle of friends and we were beginning to understand The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill with a depth that we hadn't known prior.
"Doo Wop (That Thing), "Ex-Factor," and "Everything is Everything" were the three singles released from the album, and each song spoke about having self-love, self-respect, cultivating healthy relationships and taking responsibility for your own actions. Most of all, the songs urged listeners to look beyond the surface for deeper truths.
I wrote these words for everyone who struggles in their youth Who won't accept deception, instead of what is truth It seems we lose the game Before we even start to play Who made these rules? (Who made these rules?) We're so confused (We're so confused). -"Everything is Everything" by Lauryn Hill.
Songs like, "Lost Ones," "Forgive them Father," and "Superstar," made my friends and I sit and question the culture of hip-hop and ourselves as individuals. The lyrics weren't self-indulgent, but rather, conversation starters that begged us to rethink our own assumptions. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill had become a roadmap leading us to womanhood. The album filled in the gaps between what we knew for sure and things we had no clue about.
When I hit senior year, I found out that one of my friends had gotten pregnant. Our young minds had only been trained to think about prom, graduation, and college. As we sat in a group discussing the future, it was clear that my friend wanted to keep her child.
In our group, the answer to every problem could be found in a song, and this situation was no different. We turned to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill not just for guidance, but for comfort. Lauryn's lyrics in "To Zion," gave my friend the courage to stand firm in her decision.
Unsure of what the balance held I touched my belly overwhelmed by what I had been chosen to perform. But then an angel came one day told me to kneel down and pray for unto me a man child would be born. Woe this crazy circumstance I knew his life deserved a chance but everybody told me to be smart. Look at your career they said Lauryn, baby use your head. But instead, I chose to use my heart. -"To Zion" by Lauryn Hill
In 1999, Lauryn won five Grammy's for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I was too young at the time to realize the impact this one album had on women of all ages and races. Lauryn had been everyone's sister, imparting wisdom whenever her record was played.
It wouldn't be until my freshman year in college in 2003 when I realized the magnitude of this album. I was in my predominantly white English 101 class when our professor assigned us a five-page paper to write.
We had to select a random name from a hat, and the instructions were clear, write about a societal conversation that began based on the work of the person that we selected.
As the hat went around the class, students began to announce the people they were assigned—Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Gloria Steinem were all names I heard other students calling out. When I stuck my hand in the hat I pulled out, Lauryn Hill.
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