Welcome to Timeless Affairs, the corner within Steppin' Into Tomorrow, where we'd like to shine a spotlight on essential albums that have shaped our culture (and lives in some cases). We lovingly revisit, explore and zoom in on these gems in their full length. Digging out stories and fun facts from the making of the masterpieces that have built the foundation of the music today and continue to shape the future.
May 26th is the birthday of Lauryn Noelle Hill a.k.a. L-Boogie, former third of The Fugees, one of the most important and most talented MCs to ever bless the mic. This summer will mark 23 years since the release of her first and only solo record The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, one of the most acclaimed albums of all time. So let’s dive a little bit into the background of this masterpiece and remind ourselves why it is so significant.
After the Fugees disbanded in 1997, Lauryn Hill turned the page, opened the next chapter and released her solo debut the following year. Most of the album was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica at the legendary Bob Marley’s own Tuff Gong Studios. At this time, she was involved with Rohan Marley (Bob’s son) and became pregnant with his child. ‘To Zion’, with Carlos Santana on the guitar, is dedicated to him.
Some of the tracks feature star appearances line piano by John Legend on 'Everything Is Everything', a love duet 'Nothing Even Matters' with D’Angelo and 'I Used To Love Him' with Mary J. Blige. All alongside incredible production and arrangements that also gathered live instruments such as harps, clarinets, tampani drums, organs and strings. On top of that, interludes with the poet and current Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Ras Baraka teaching children about love in a classroom setting.
This deeply personal concept album’s lyrics are centered around love. Touching on themes of heartbreak (previous relationship with Wyclef Jean), starting a family, spirituality, accepting oneself and dealing with the emotional turmoil of fame, the tension and the frustration. The bold and unapologetic realness and passion is definitely a common theme throughout this whole music piece. She crafted an LP that demonstrated a way to achieve enormous commercial success while still staying true to herself and what fulfils her creatively. Blending the elements of smooth hip hop, soul, reggae, and neo soul (as some like to call it), the album quickly became a commercial success shooting to number one on the Billboard 200 upon its release. It won 5 Grammys out of 10 nominations, which was a new record for female artists at the time. It was also the first time a rap artist has won in any of the major Grammy categories and the first Album of the Year award for a rap album in history.
“The love in the album, the passion, its intention is to me, undeniable. I think my intention was simply to make something that made my foremothers and forefathers in music and social and political struggle know that someone received what they’d sacrificed to give us, and to let my peers know that we could walk in that truth, proudly and confidently.” Hill said for Rolling Stones podcast series
On this record, Hill gave a voice to the women in hip hop that was, especially in the 90s, somewhat reclined in the background to say the least. Although there hasn't been a follow up to this album yet, homages to this incredibly influential artist still keep resonating through music to this day. One of the most "in-your-face" ones are e.g. Drake sampling 'Ex-Factor' in his recent ‘Nice For What’ single (not the first time he’s sampled L either) or Cardi B quoting Ms. Hill in ‘Careful’, Nicki Minaj is the ultimate fan and also quoted Ms. Hill in her senior quotes in High School, and she's been sampled and quoted by many more (J.Cole, H.E.R., Rapsody, Madlib, the list goes on...)
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill has reached a new milestone this year when it was certified diamond, meaning that the album has sold more than 10 million units since its release. It is the first album to be certified diamond since Whitney Houston’s Whitney in October 2020. Certainly a tough one to follow but all faith is not lost and hopefully someday we’ll live to hear more from Ms. Hill whenever she’s ready.
“We can’t plan life. All we can do is be available to it.” - Lauryn Hill
Happy Birthday, Ms. Lauryn Hill <3
* This article was originally written for ByBase magazine and got published in its 1st version in 2018.
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