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OPINION: Amateur Album Reviews: 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill'

Listen up, because this is Ms. Lauryn Hill’s classroom

The album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” instructs from a whiteboard, markers and erasers on deck, on Feb. 7, 2024. This teacher has a commanding yet gentle presence, though I wouldn’t talk over them. // Photo by Eli Voorhies

Have you ever felt dissatisfied with your formal education? That you learned Shakespeare’s first name or memorized the periodic table, but not anything practical? 

In the classroom, we never talked about personal relationships, hardship – love. Oh you know, just the stuff we care most about. As young adults fumbling around in the darkness, we are expected to just figure it out. 

But I don’t think that’s good enough – “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” needs to be added to our curriculum.

The 16-track album normalizes those neglected conversations. In a series of interludes embedded in the songs, a playful teacher – always ready with a teasing joke – discusses love with his class. 

In my favorite snippet, the teacher asks “Do you think TV and music and all that have something to do with why everybody is confused about love?”

“Yeah, what sounds nice may not always be what’s right for you,” a female student responds. Blame anyone else but Lauryn Hill for causing confusion, because this album is all about telling it how it is. 

Dropped in 1998, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” is something never seen before and something we’ll never see the likes of again. 

Hill has the most stunning voice! She could hang with greats such as Etta James and Aretha Franklin.

Just take the song “To Zion,” Hill’s love letter to her newborn son and an “eff you” to those who doubted she could balance motherhood and music. 

“‘Look at your career,’ they said. ‘Lauryn, baby use your head.’ Instead, I chose to use my heart,” she sings, backed by Carlos Santana rapidly picking the strings of an acoustic guitar.

Having lived in two railroad towns where train whistles blast the landscape, I can say that Hill’s pipes are more piercing (and exceedingly more pleasant). On their own, the vocals are more than enough. Couple that with her clever lyricism, which could go toe-to-toe with that of rappers like André 3000 or Biggie, and it’s game over. 

The song “Forgive Them Father,” barges in with some zappy bars from a deep-voiced Jamaican woman, Shelly Thunder. My reaction: Black shades are on and we’re strutting. 

Then with her punchy rhymes, Hill dismantles those who chase wealth and take advantage of others. She’s not going to let the oppression of marginalized groups by the powerful slide. My reaction: The shades are off and I am embarrassed of my flashiness. 

Hill’s soft chorus washes with forgiveness. Oh, beautiful! My reaction: The shades are deep in the trash and I learned my lesson. 

“Forgive Them Father” shows off Hill’s ability to weave old-school soul and new-school hip-hop. Hill’s mixing of styles began with the group “The Fugees,” composed of two additional MCs: Pras and Wyclef Jean. 

Hill left “The Fugees” at the height of their fame due to creative differences… oh, and a tug-of-war romance with Wyclef. To put it in perspective, Wyclef was dating a girl, simultaneously pursued Hill, married his girlfriend and then continued to pursue Hill.

“I was torn between the impossible love affair. … We were either deeply in love or fighting. There was no middle ground,” Wyclef wrote in his book, “Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story.”

Launching her solo career, Hill put together a creative support team called the New-Ark producers, which consisted of four musicians from her hometown of Newark, N.J. Without them, “Miseducation” wouldn’t be the album it is. 

The beats of “Miseducation” are bangin’ on the fast, rap-heavy songs and the acoustics are entrancing on the slower, vocal-focused songs. 

The absolute best decision they made is overdubbing Hill’s voice, blending multiple recordings. Her vocals reverberate like Tibetan singing bowls, building into a crescendo. Singing bowls reach calming frequencies. Similarly, Hill’s vocals tap into the frequencies of pride, heartbreak and love. 

Don’t believe me? Just listen to “Nothing Even Matters.” 

Hill and R&B artist D’Angelo negotiate an all-encompassing love, one that makes everything else seem pointless. From the catchy snapping that provides a beat – yes, literal snapping – to the reassuring vocals , I couldn’t ask for more. 

When schoolwork is breathing down my neck and people are breaking my back, I throw this album on and nothing else even matters.

Many would agree, as “Miseducation” took home an unprecedented five Grammys in 1998, becoming the first hip-hop album to win album of the year. 

This album made her an overnight sensation at only 23 years old. On top of that, she was a female rapper in a male-dominated scene.

“The industry has a tendency to think that there’s always some male puppet master, puppeteer, pulling the strings,” Hill said in a 1998 MTV episode. “An interviewer would be like, ‘Wyclef, tell us your thoughts on the world. Pras, what do you think of hip-hop as an industry? Lauryn, what is your favorite color of lipstick?’”

Enduring this blatant sexism, Hill was on top of the world after “Miseducation” – and that’s when she took her exit. She pretty much gave us “Miseducation,” then dipped. 

For one, the 23-year-old was in the middle of the public eye and wanted her private life back – to focus on family.Also, she was not driven by money but by artistic expression, she said in a 2007 interview.  “Miseducation” had sapped her creative juices and she wasn’t going to dump a half-baked album on listeners.

But I’m not salty, I’m satisfied.

Every other love song is DJ Khaled on horseback trying to shoot an arrow at Wile E. Coyote. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” is Robin Hood hitting a standstill target from several feet away. 

In other words, this album nails what most music tries to get at – relatability. 

Hill said it best on “Miseducation”’s “Doo Wop (That Thing),” which was the first hip-hop song to top the charts. “Now Lau-ryn is only hu-man. Don’t think I haven’t been through the same predicament.” 

Trust me, she’s not lying. “Ex-Factor” is the evidence. This song is about clinging to a destructive relationship and dealing with heart-wrenching pain.

In the first minute, she reveals, “See, no one loves you more than me. And no one ever will.” And in stark contrast near the end of the song, she adds, “Cause, no one’s hurt me more than you. And no one ever will.” 

I am sure most of us have dealt with hurt like that or have been the culprit – probably both. This song tip-toes on my soul, stirring up remorse for the pain I have caused. 

The only thing I didn’t relate to in this album is the heavy themes of spirituality, which can get preachy at times. “Now who do you know without any flaws? That lives above the spiritual laws?” Hill said in the song “Superstar.”

Since she released “Miseducation,” Hill has left a muddled legacy. Frequently, she shows up unapologetically late to concerts, giving unenthused performances. She was dismissive of her audience when featuring on a Nas song in 2021, the only music she’s released in a while. 

Though to be honest, it is a killer verse. 

In the grand scheme of things, none of that really matters when you make such a monumental album. “Miseducation” made hip-hop more acceptable and broke a path for Black women in the music industry. 

In the song “Everything Is Everything,” she comforts with “I wrote these words for everyone who struggles in their youth.” Hill’s lyrics reflect her care for the audience and her compassion towards other human beings.

A friend of mine added something along the lines of: “This album is love.” Hill is maternal and guiding, the only teacher I’d want on the subject of love. 


Influence: 10/10 Gold Doubloons

In 1998, hip-hop was mostly the Gansta-Rap of the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas and Dr. Dre before Hill stormed onto the scene. She gave hip-hop a new sound and was an inspiration to many Black women. 

Longevity: 4/5While I believe this album is the most well-known by our generation of any I’ve reviewed, Hill somewhat stained her legacy with her treatment of the audience.

Eli Voorhies

Eli Voorhies (he/him) is the opinions editor this quarter. Previously, he was a city life reporter and editor. In his free time, he climbs, photographs and spends more time messing around than working at Legendary Vinyl Records. You can reach him at 

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