How Lauryn Hill was The Student & The Teacher on ‘The Miseducation': Class is In Session
As summer winds down, many adults reminisce about their childhoods. If you are currently in your late-20s or early-30s, around this time twenty years ago, you were probably getting ready for a new school year. If you grew up a fan of hip-hop and R&B during this time, chances are that you remember the wondrous reign of Lauryn Hill and her debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Released on August 25, 1998, the album plays like a day at school and Lauryn was a teacher and a student right along with us.
The album was narrated in a classroom setting, a realization that even as she gave knowledge, she was steadily learning herself. The album opens with a roll call. She appears to be missing from class, but in reality, she seems to be on the journey with listeners as she reestablishes her identity.
The leap from group member to solo star is not always easy, similarly to how children struggle to find themselves while still longing to be accepted by their peers. Hill had to redefine herself after having such success with The Fugees. She beamed with joy when she reemerged as a solo artist, but Hill did not act hardened about the difficulties she had faced in the group."It's pretty, but it's raw," Lauryn told The Guardian in 2013. "And that's the way I like it. I think a large part of my personality spills over into my music. No matter how pretty it gets, it's never too pretty. There's always gotta be something in there that's rough. I think that's me." On "Forgive Them Father," she taught the importance of being able to let go of the ways people have wronged you. She sang, "If I treat you kindly, does it mean I'm weak." The power is not in holding the grudge but in releasing it.
Hill declared that "Everything Is Everything" was a song she wrote, "for everyone who struggles in their youth." Childhood and adolescent challenges are so often dismissed with overused adages. In some instances, the trauma is not acknowledged at all. Many people do not understand how failure to address the scars of youth can be so crippling in adulthood and consequently continue to struggle with unresolved childhood issues, questioning if their feelings are relevant. "Everything is Everything" finds redemption in the struggle. It is an encouragement that people should not shun what has wounded them but rather to find strength in that you survived in spite of.
Her visual illustration for "Doo Wop (That Thing)" showed the continuity of the black experience. The same joys and pains are shared throughout the generations. Her message is generally something that you would hear your grandmother or an older aunt. Words that can be difficult to digest, but much like the block party where the video takes place, this wisdom is all in love. The video is to show that things are not that different now. Wisdom withstands the change of scenery.
As the controversy concerning the authenticity of Hill's work on the album persists, it is important for people to remember that there is a generation of listeners who view the record as therapy. Are the debates about Hill's failure to give proper credit to producers warranted? Absolutely. But whatever the truth of the matter is, she had the insight and bravery to release a vulnerable body of work that touched the masses. As she promoted the project, she was able to expand beauty ideals concerning black women in the mainstream media. She effortlessly rocked her natural locs in an era where relaxers felt mandatory.
Hill was comfortable in her feminity, but she could speak across gender lines with ease. In life, so many are consumed by getting to the finished product. Hill flipped that and told people to fall in love with the process. The answers might not be obvious, but trust that any hurt along the way can be reconciled. Present day controversies do not change that she offered this kind of outlet for youth, by whatever she might have done it. Hopefully, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill can do for Hill what it has done for so many others.