August 26, 2008

Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (August 25, 1998)


After The Score, the massive sophomore effort by rap music stalwarts the Fugees, sold a gazillion copies, primarily off of the strength of a cover of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" sang by group member Lauryn Hill, music fans the world over waited with bated breath for her solo album, which was promised shortly thereafter. So when the first Fugees member to release a solo album dropped The Carnival, fans were somewhat satisfied but mystified: why in the fuck would Ruffhouse/Columbia release an album by Wyclef Jean before Lauryn Hill, the obvious "star"?

The answer may simply be due to the fact that Wyclef finished his album first. Lauryn Hill (allegedly) wrote, produced, arranged, catered, financed, sculpted, and scolded The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill all by herself, without any Fugees influence: that must have been time consuming. And while the Fugees were still an entity during The Carnival, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill's first song "Lost Ones" shifts that perspective right away: Lauryn was apparently upset with Wyclef's songs being played on the radio every day, feeling that he sold out his artistic style in exchange for spins, and with that, the final nail in the coffin was struck. Every attempt to reunite the Fugees (even the well-publicized shot Dave Chappelle took in his documentary Dave Chappelle's Block Party) has resulted in a fallout, and today even Wyclef Jean, who used to be the crew's most vocal supporter of a reunion, has given up the ghost, choosing instead to move the fuck on.

With The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the former L-Boogie doesn't even bother to try to fit in with the R&B landscape of the moment: she creates her own niche, anachronistic soulful music with a hip hop vibe, unlike, say, Sharon Jones. A lot of people praised this approach, to the tune of gazillions of copies sold (blowing sales of The Carnival out of the water), critical acclaim almost universally, and multiple Grammy awards, including Best New Artist (which didn't make any sense, but whatever) and Album Of The Year. Of course, thanks to the Grammy curse, Lauryn Hill immediately lost her shit, became a recluse (and a punchline), and has yet to actually release a proper second album. (She released a companion disc to her appearance on MTV Unplugged in 2002, which was all original material and sharply divided her fans, but no actual studio albums have ever seen the light of day.)

The fact that she (and her label) were sued by record producers who claimed to have actually produced the majority of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill didn't help matters (or the fact that the label settled out of court: um, doesn't that imply that they were at least partially correct?)

1. INTRO
Groan...

2. LOST ONES
I've always liked this song, ever since I heard my local radio station accidentally play it on air. L-Boogie (allegedly) calls out Wyclef for selling out before getting into the business at hand: proving her worth behind the mic. It was rumored at the time of the album's release that DJ Premier himself may have had something to do with the creation of this song, but I'm not sure how true that actually is. Primo does get a shout-out in the liner notes, though. Hmmm....

3. EX-FACTOR
It's been nearly ten years since I last listened to this song, a track which I avoided when it hit the airwaves, so I had completely forgotten about the Wu-Tang influence (and sample) that is all over the beat. Hearing it today, I have to admit that it is actually a good song, but material like this seems more of a fit with the likes of a Keyshia Cole than a Lauryn Hill. Of course, ten years and one day ago there was no Keyshia Cole on the scene, but you understand my point.

4. TO ZION
In case anybody was ever curious as to the origins of the ridiculous (and catchy) chorus to MC Paul Barman's "The Joy Of Your World", here you go. (I don't think many of you really cared to know that bit of trivia, though.) The song has a good beat, and it is an undeniably sweet ode to her son, but some of these lyrics are cheesy as shit. Although, if family is involved, can lyrics really be criticized? Yes. Yes they can.

5. DOO WOP (THAT THING)
Remember when this song blew the fuck up on radio and MTV? It's kind of corny, but it still sounds good today, even in its edited form. (Has anybody ever heard an uncensored version of this track?) Its video was pretty good, too, from what I can recall: the split-screen gimmick actually worked for Lauryn.

6. SUPERSTAR
I didn't like the song, but I appreciated the message, and when Lauryn stopped singing and started spitting, the track became increasingly better. After hearing the first (sung) verse, though, it makes me wonder how far along Lauryn Hill was in becoming a musical recluse at the time of this recording.

7. FINAL HOUR
The rhymes are impressive (she was always nice with hers, so much more so that her old bandmates Wyclef Jean and, especially, Pras), but this song isn't very engaging at all. As a result, it's boring as shit.

8. WHEN IT HURTS SO BAD
I liked this song. There really isn't a whole lot to it (drums, guitar, vocals), but it works.

9. I USED TO LOVE HIM (FEAT MARY J. BLIGE)
I had also forgotten about the sample from Raekwon's "Ice Cream" that is woven throughout the instrumental, even though it sounds forced and awkward, as if Lauryn was blatantly striving for some street cred by sampling some more Wu-Tang. Who would have ever pegged Lauryn Hill as a huge fan of the Clan? Everybody, that's who: other than the fact that she frequently referenced them in her rhymes, the Wu-Tang Clan is simply the greatest group in hip hop history. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to adjust my collar, because my bias is showing.

10. FORGIVE THEM FATHER
I didn't like the beat, but the rhymes are pretty good. I found her singing to be relatively plain, though.

11. EVERY GHETTO, EVERY CITY
This song, which features Carlos Santana on the guitar, sounds like something that Lauryn Hill would have sang at the end of Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit, in order to win a singing nun talent show or something, and, even though she doesn't win, she would ultimately gain self esteem. (I've never seen either Sister Act flick, so I'm just assuming shit here.) Her sing-rap style on here is only mildly annoying, and the song also recalls the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter for no good reason.

12. NOTHING EVEN MATTERS (FEAT D'ANGELO)
D'Angelo's contribution notwithstanding, this song put me to fucking sleep. It's now taken me officially six hours to finish this write-up because of this setback.

13. EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING
I never cared for this song. It sounds okay, but I always felt that the song wasn't really about anything, which isn't usually a bother, but in this instance I couldn't shake that impression. I always thought the video was brilliant, though. Newer hip hop heads may be interested to know that John Legend plays the keyboards on this track, years before his own solo career would begin: older hip hop fans may not really give a damn.

14. MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL
The "pops" that attempt to give the song the sound of a record being played on a fucking Victrola are unnecessary. I wasn't feeling this song regardless: no need to dress it up like a pretty pony.

The following songs are considered to be bonus tracks:

15. CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU
This bonus track (which was featured in the Mel Gibson film Conspiracy Theory) is a cover of the Frankie Valli classic, and Lauryn does a great fucking job with the material. It doesn't surpass the original, but it sounds good enough to stand side by side with it.

16. TELL HIM
I was really hoping for a cover of the Exciters's "Tell Him", but no such luck. Actually, that song is much better than this one, which was relegated to "bonus track" status for a pretty good reason.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was not what I was expecting after her work with the Fugees. She sings more often than she raps, but that's not a big deal, since she's always had a great voice. The main issue I had with the disc, and one that I still have after hearing it today, is the music itself, which, save for a handful of tracks, is uniformly dull. Lauryn (or whoever the hell actually did the production, if you can recall the lawsuits that were settled out of court) tried to shoot for a soulful mood, and, more often than not, misses the mark. I bought this album when it dropped, but after spinning it for a bit, I gave it to my then-girlfriend, now-wife, which, yes, means I still technically own it, but it's clearly hers. That pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter.

BUY OR BURN? Chances are that a lot of you already own this one, but to the few of my two readers that don't, you should burn it if you're curious, but that's all I would do. A handful of great songs does not make this an automatic purchase, regardless of the Grammy awards and critical acclaim: the songs just don't hold up.

BEST TRACKS: "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You"; "When It Hurts So Bad"; "Lost Ones"; "Ex-Factor"

B-SIDE TO TRACK DOWN: "The Sweetest Thing" featuring John Forte: this track, from the love jones soundtrack, I believe, should have been added as a bonus track, since that song is the shit, and the inclusion of John Forte on this album may have given Fugees fans some additional reasons to keep hope alive.

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Read all of the Fugees-related write-ups by clicking here.

8 comments:

  1. fuck this shit...max likes very specific things, hence the desecration of a great many (pretty much) universally accepted
    truths...do not, i repeat, do not ever fucking attempt to burn this cd, go buy the shit, zion and them need therapy cuz moms is tripping

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  2. This belongs in my top 20 album list, I still listen to it time to time, that's how good it is, so I say buy it! It's an incredibly personal album, and you can really tell from the way she sings (it's full of emotion and feeling). Ex-Factor and Zion are examples.

    The album, like most great ones, takes a while for its brilliance to sink in. At first I thought Nothing Even Matters was too boring as well, but after a while I grew to love it and it's probably my fav track on the album.

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  3. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessAugust 27, 2008

    Your Lauryn Hill review made me listen to Paul Barman. He's not the joy of my world or anything but he is pretty fricking awesome if you can look past the occasional poor delivery and lousy breath control. His rhyming couplets are pretty crazy.

    The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a terrible barometer of L-Boogie's skills as an emcee but it might be the best breakup album of all time. If you've got some great unrequited love you probably find it emotive and emotionally raw. If not she can come across as whiny and dull. J.Period's mixtape separates the rapping from the whining for people who don't like this album. You should download it from the library.

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  4. This guy iz crazy as hell. That record is one of the greatest period. My personal favourite EVER. Timeless! Believe that. Lauryn is one of the greatest, she only let us down with not making a proper comeback.

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  5. This album fucking sucked. I hate this album, actually! Doo Wop, Nothing Even Matters, and Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You are the only good songs on the entire album. Every other song just sounds BORING. This album is just.... blehhh.

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  6. I liked Clef's The Carnival so much more than this dated album. Although all the fugees have declined in talent and influence, I still feel that the fugees should get back together, I wont mind Pras...I promise.

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  7. It's worth noting that this album was the point at which Lauryn Hill became too crazy to handle. The whole album is basically a "I told Wyclef the baby was his even though it wasn't, and sure I almost got us arrested when I assaulted him on an airplane in Europe, but he was such a dick and led me on unfairly!" rant with the occasional preachy moment thrown in for good measure (I'm looking at you Zion, and the stupid love skits). As much as I want to really love the album (and I do like it more than Max does, I think) I don't think that it's as good as a lot of people think it is. I also don't think she'll follow it up with anything better either. I think Lauryn's played out.

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  8. another spot-on review.

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