Each week, Sunday School takes a second look at a classic album worth revisiting years after its release. EMMIE staff handpick releases that shaped a genre, defined a generation or deserve recognition despite being left in the distance. Keep up with Sunday School for your weekly dose of dusted-off classics and throwbacks that merit a second spin.
To have released just one studio album and yet be as impactful as Lauryn Hill is over twenty years later is a feat rarely seen. Lauryn Hill used The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to establish herself as quite possibly the greatest female emcee of all time. To this day it seems that every female emcee cites her as one of their influences and someone they wish they could embody. She brought to the table what others couldn’t; she was arguably the first performer, male or female, that could both sing and rap extremely well, allowing her to blend the two together and bring a new voice and sound to hip-hop, a male-dominated field. Hip-hop, which started off as a form of response to disco, tended to reject femininity and gravitated towards the more aggressive, masculine, ‘ gangsta rap. Few female artists were able to transcend this barrier, with only a few notable female emcees being relevant at any given period of time. Ms. Lauryn Hill was able to transform the history of hip-hop with her blend of rap and neo-soul with reggae influences.
The album goes through the struggles of being a female growing up in the sexist environment that hip-hop promoted, which taught women from the beginning that the derogatory words used against them was an unfortunate pill they had to swallow in order to speak about other issues the community was facing. The idea of sexism was put on the backburner and forgotten in the pursuit of other injustices. Hill rejected this and freely criticized it in her music.
The album has emotional honesty that was not seen before. The songs recall struggles with motherhood, love, heartbreak, conflict with the Fugees (her former band) and her relationship with God. Such originality helped pave the way for rap that deals in the performer’s own experiences, rather than those of a fabricated persona, which was a common occurrence in the gangsta rap craze at the time. She did not expect the album to be commercially successful, and only strived to showcase what she excelled at and to tell her story and struggles of the time. The album went on to create history in the music industry, with Hill being the first woman to ever recieve 10 Grammy nominations in a night and to leave the event with five of them.
The success of the album created pressures that Lauryn Hill couldn’t handle, and pushed her to retreat from the public eye. She felt trapped by the fame, saying that she was scared to even go to the grocery store without looking her best. She was terrified of her new reality that consisted of being scrutinized wherever she went. After refusing to do interviews for a while, her hiatus from the music industry became indefinite.
Over 20 years after its release, Lauryn Hill is still profiting off of Miseducation and her impact is still felt in the music industry. Other than the acoustic/folk based songs she performed live for MTV Unplugged, she has not released any new music. To this day she continues to tour her one and only album, and makes festival appearances (which she is usually hours late to) where thousands upon thousands of people come to watch her perform. She continues to still have the same compelling presence that she had when the album first came out, and stuns audiences with every performance she does.