At the start of every year, widely-renowned music critic and YouTuber Anthony Fantano (otherwise known as TheNeedleDrop) has a tradition of ‘classics week’ where he reviews what he believes are classic albums. One of those albums that he reviewed in 2018 was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: the solo debut from RnB singer and former member of Hip Hop trio ‘Fugees’, Lauryn Hill. It’s an album that might not be most familiar to the millennial generation, nor is it one that music listeners would relate to in terms of being listed as one of the most significant albums ever recorded. But 21 years on, its cultural impact still radiates among Mainstream and Neo-soul today, as well as introducing a new generation of listeners to her music which defined late 90s Hip-Hop and began the genre’s gradual climb in popularity and chart success.
Before even discussing its effect on contemporary music, it’s important to make a brief mention on the record itself. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is, without doubt, an astonishing piece of work to listen to. Inspired by her pregnancy at the time, it’s an album containing themes based on heartbreak, her relationship with members of Fugees (allegedly Wyclef Jean on the song ‘Ex-Factor’), and her pregnant child. From the beginning of ‘Lost Ones’ and the lines of “It’s funny how money change a situation” followed by backing horn stabs, Hill raps and sings with such ferocity and passion it’s clear that each song has been written from a personal standpoint as though she is opening her soul to us in its most purest form.
As well as her beautifully crafted lyrics and ear-sweetening voice, the instrumentation that accompanies her is gorgeous. Funky trumpet lines punctuate ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’, whilst understated drums keep a steady rhythm throughout so as to allow Hill’s message to take centre-stage. But it doesn’t end there: embellished backing vocals, groovy base-lines, and silky acoustic guitar licks can be found in almost every track. There’s no end of charisma and colourful production applied to this project, including a list of features which showcase the genre’s best. Mary J Blige and Carlos Santana are some of the guests which pop up on the album, but my personal favourite is Neo-soul singer D’Angelo on the duet ballet ‘Nothing really Matters’. Both singers comment on love and how it can make the world seem irrelevant compared to a loving bond. It’s a combination that harnesses both artist’s strengths and is sung with such grace (‘These buildings could drift out to sea / Some natural catastrophe”) that it’s very hard not to be drawn into the emotion of the track.
When thinking about its influence towards modern music today, Miseducation‘s thumbprints can be found without even realising it, especially when it comes to the subject of rapping and singing. She was arguably one of the original artists to bring hip-hop to the mainstream when she reached No. 1 on the US billboard charts and No. 2 on the UK charts respectfully, 10 years before Drake even released his first mixtape and 20 before he became a worldwide household name. He even sampled Lauryn’s vocals from ‘Ex-Factor’ on his 2018 hit ‘Nice for What’, whilst Cardi B covers her lyrics in ‘Be Careful’. If you move towards the genre of Neo-Soul itself, the laid-back instrumentation heard during tracks like ‘Superstar’ or ‘Forgive Them Father’ can be recognised within modern hip-hop or singer-songwriter hits. Notably, Loyle Carner and Tom Misch have recently put out strong records with clear Lauryn Hill influences, earning a Mercury Prize nomination and reaching the UK Top 10 respectively.
Lauryn Hill was one of the first modern hip hop artists to create an album told from the focal point of a woman’s perspective, which propelled her into superstardom in a short space of time. Unfortunately, due to personal issues and a 10 year hiatus in general, she hasn’t made a sophomore record since – aside from a small live project known as MTV Unplugged No. 2.0. However, with an ongoing tour including dates at Love Supreme Jazz Festival with a potential to be announced as a headliner for Glastonbury, could the time be right for a comeback album from Lauryn Hill? If so, it might not be as groundbreaking or as career-defining as her first, but it’s sure to be one heck of a return from one of music’s greatest treasures.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is available now via Ruffhouse Records.