The Confessions of Lauryn Hill

On the 10th anniversary of Miseducation, we mine the classic recording for clues about what went wrong.

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It's funny how money change a situation

Miscommunication leads to complication

My emancipation don't fit your equation…

Some wan' play young Lauryn like she dumb

--Lauryn Hill, "Lost Ones"

--Scroll back a decade, and there was Lauryn Hill—top of the world, Ma!—clutching five Grammys and sending shoutouts to her babies, thanking them for not spilling stuff all over her designer duds, clearly overwhelmed by the massiveness of it all: "This is crazy," she said, "'cause this is hip-hop music!"

If you were young and female and hip-hop, it couldn't get more fabulous than Lauryn, more celebrated, more anointed, more praised. Ten Grammy nominations: No woman and no hip-hop artist, had managed to do that. Ever. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which was released 10 years ago this month, has since taken its place in the canon of popular music. Lauryn produced, wrote and arranged the album which mixed and matched rap, gospel, doo-wop, reggae, old-school soul and folkie fervor, touching a collective nerve in a way that no hip-hop album had done before. Rolling Stone declared The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill the album of the year; Spin pronounced Hill "Artist of the Year." Fans compared her to Martin Luther King Jr.; Chuck D compared her to sunlight. She was, he said, "the Bob Marley of the 21st century."

It didn't hurt that she was beautiful and petite. It didn't hurt that she didn't seem to want any of it, that she wore the money and fame as lightly and ironically as she did those $3,500 frocks she rocked in the fashion rags.

And then, just like that, she all but disappeared. Only to pop up from time to time for a few random stage shows and a tense mini-reunion with the Fugees in Dave Chappelle's Block Party. (You can't really count that half-hearted MTV Unplugged CD as anything, but more on that later.) Ten years after Miseducation, she remains one of hip-hop's biggest mysteries, mocked for her eccentricities, her every misstep gossiped about in the afrosphere.

There are extroverted divas—Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna—who've mastered the art of peddling persona, pimping everything from clothing lines to perfume to American Express. The music seems almost incidental, just another unit to move. Then, too, there are the pragmatic ones—Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, and, to a lesser extent, Erykah Badu—who find a way to live within the world of fame, being in it, but not of it. But then there are the sensitive souls—D'Angelo, Maxwell, Lauryn—emotional tenderonis who seem to internalize their art, folks for whom fame is a beast. Lauryn, after receiving a big, wet kiss of affirmation, slammed the door on fame. Went into hiding. Not that we shouldn't have expected it. In retrospect, listening to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill feels more like eavesdropping in on "The Confessions of Lauryn Hill."

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