‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ just turned 25. I feel like I’m not hearing enough celebration about it.
Written by B87FM on September 15, 2023
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
On Aug. 25, 1998, Lauryn Hill, the lyricist, actor and breakout star from hip-hop group The Fugees released her debut solo album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” To say that this album exploded on the pop culture scene would be an understatement. It was easily one of the most celebrated releases of 1998, selling over 400,000 physical units (back when that was a thing) in its first week — a record at the time for a female artist (eventually going diamond, another first). “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” would go on to be nominated for 10 Grammy Awards at the 41st annual Grammy Awards in February 1999; the album would win five awards, including the vaunted Album of the Year category.
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” is considered a classic album, regardless of genre, and is a feature album on any number of lists about albums you need to know or definitive albums of the ’90s, etc. The album, which takes a look at largely romantic but also interpersonal relationships through the lens of Lauryn and where she was during the making of the album, is almost universally considered to be a masterpiece. In 1998, while Lauryn was making the promotional rounds, I stood in line for hours with my friends and thousands of other fans at Northlake Mall in Atlanta to get her autograph on my CD booklet, an autograph I still have to this day. Lauryn, and “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” were a phenomenon, and to some extent, still very much are. People still speak fondly about the album and what it was and how good of a listen it is.
So it’s kind of bizarre to me that while reaching its 25th anniversary, I’ve barely seen any real tributes, honors or appreciation pieces online. It’s not to say that there aren’t any, but for an album that is so universally lauded, it is surprising to me how little fanfare I’ve seen — and I’ve gone looking for it.
There are a few possible reasons for this, almost none of which has anything to do with the album itself, but its creator, Lauryn Hill. What you typically see during big anniversaries of albums are long-form oral history pieces about an album, which would be great except there’s been so much controversy about the actual making of the album and who deserves the credit. Almost as soon as the album was released and the acclaim rushed in, questions about who was responsible for it arose. She was sued in December 1998 by a collective of artists for lack of musical credits (both songwriting and production). I would imagine there’s bad blood between Lauryn and many who worked on the album, so nobody would actually show up — ostensibly for her — to celebrate her album.
Robert Glasper spoke to this point a bit back in 2018, right when folks were in full swing celebrating the 20th anniversary of the album. Lauryn provided a lengthy response to Glasper’s comments where she was both right and wrong in places. Point is, almost since the release of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and right on through the decades since, the album and Lauryn have been mired in some form of controversy. I can see why that would make it less … necessary to continually praise a body of work if the creation of the work itself is always the subject of negativity, even if the album is itself considered amazing.
And then there’s the Lauryn Hill factor. Lauryn has become the butt of jokes over the years, and I hate that for us and for her. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be Lauryn at 23 years old, and the whole world loves you and wants as much of you as possible. I’m sure the financial end was great but to be elevated to such lofty standards comes with pressures that I’m guessing only a scant few can handle. Since then, she’s had run-ins with clocks, the Catholic Church, the IRS, former bandmates, etc. Aside from the Catholic Church, none of that is that dissimilar from any number of famous artists; the difference is those artists aren’t Lauryn Hill, who we placed on perhaps an unreachable pedestal. With that being said, her aggressive disregard for showing up for anything that remotely resembles “on time” for many shows is why so many folks have taken up social media arms against her. Point is that Lauryn has become a bit of a lightning rod for controversy, and her responses have done little to stem that negative tide, which I hate because it obscures just how special the Lauryn Hill experience was from her performances on The Fugees’ second album, “The Score,” through “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
Lauryn is going on a 25th anniversary tour and The Fugees will be the show openers. That is exciting; the opportunity to see them all on stage after so much drama (Wyclef and Pras have their own dramas, some ongoing) is exciting and needed. People still talk about their performance at the 2023 Roots Picnic in Philadelphia as a “moment.” So hopefully Lauryn and “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” will get the flowers they deserve (despite all of the drama). To me, regardless of all of the background noise, the album is deserving of every accolade we can bestow upon it, for what it was, for what it meant and how much it still manages to resonate with audiences. To create a body of work that gets so much praise and appreciation is not common, so I’m surprised every opportunity to celebrate it hasn’t been taken.
Hopefully, I’m wrong and the tributes, discussions and debates are all on the way. But if I’m not, maybe that’s our own miseducation, so to speak.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).
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