If you’ve read about the other albums in this list, you may or may not be surprised by what albums lurk in my music collection. There’s a lot of 90’s alt-rock, no surprise there, along with bands that were bred on or inspired that era. There are a couple of thrash albums, a little bit of hip hop, a little bit of old school Motown, a surprising amount of blues and then we arrive to the albums I call the “head-turners”.
As in, whoever happens upon them in my collection tends to turn their head and says some thing like “Really?” or “I’m kind of surprised to see [insert artist name] in there.”
Of those albums, there are three that stick out kind of like sore thumbs. The Best of Steely Dan, Progenies of the Great Apocalypse by Dimmu Borgir and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Strangely, it’s Lauryn Hill’s inclusion that gets the weird looks despite the other R&B and hip hop featured in my collection. I’ve never been sure why that is, especially since that album is just amazing.
I was never a huge fan of The Fugees and I’m still not. While I respect the talent involved, they never caught my ear. In fact, I didn’t come to Lauryn Hill’s album until late in the show. She had been nominated for a bunch of Grammys and on a very rare occasion, I was home when the awards show aired. I must have tuned in for a particular performer but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you who, the only memory I have is of Lauryn Hill, with Carlos Santana on guitar, playing “To Zion” and I was just knocked off my seat. How had I not noticed this amazing voice? I thought all she did was rap.
As luck turned out, shortly after the Grammys, I was working at a comic shop that also bought and sold used CDs and someone had sold a copy of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
It is an album that hit you on all levels.
On a technical level, it’s just masterfully put together. It sounds great, the little vignettes between songs act as a thematic glue between tracks. While I’m sure each tracks had a ton of care and production put into them, every song sounds fresh and vibrant and soulful.
In terms of songwriting, Lauren managed to throw everything and the kitchen sink into this album and did it well. There are elements of gospel, hip hop, old school R&B, new soul, hell she had Carlos Santana play on the record and this was pre-Supernatural Santana.
The songs themselves cover life, love, and God and not a single track comes off as forced of staged, each song feels like we get a little glimpse into the life and thoughts of Hill. It really feels like a piece of Hill’s soul is trapped between the layers of plastic and the 0s and 1s that make up a CD.
And maybe that was part of the problem.
For those who aren’t familiar with Lauryn Hill, they might be surprised that The Miseducation… as perfect an album as it is, is the only solo album from Lauryn Hill. There was a live album of all new material, MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 (2002), that had some bright spots but overall didn’t have the cohesiveness that The Miseducation… did. In fact, while she has performed new material, there has yet to be a full studio album from Hill since The Miseducation… in 1998.
On one hand, it’s kind of an awesome statement. Hill came out of the gates with one album that never mind knocking it out of the park, this was a grand slam. And then she just kind of walks away from it.
On the other hand, we know that there’s more material out there. Is she afraid of releasing it? Is it that bad? Is it that good?
My personal opinion is that maybe Hill put too much into the first album. We get a glimpse of what makes her the person she is and while that made for an amazing album, it also made it hard for her to do again.
I’m am leery of giving out single track recommendations to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. If any album was meant to be listened to from start to finish, it’s this one. Drop the needle on the vinyl, hit play on the CD player or iPhone and just let the whole thing play through.
If you need tracks as kind of a taste test you can’t go wrong with the R&B of “Doo Wop (that thing)” and “Everything is Everything” but for one of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear, for my money, give “To Zion” a listen.