The Confessions of Lauryn Hill

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

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

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.”

She was leaving clues for us all along the way.

Music is supposed to inspire

How come we ain’t getting no higher?

Now tell me your philosophy

On exactly what an artist should be

Should they be someone with prosperity

And no concept of reality?

Clue No. 1: She wasn’t feeling fame. The spotlight was something to be feared; the people who could bring you riches—record label suits, peddlers of “the capitalist system”—were to be actively mistrusted. In Miseducation, she paints herself as a warrior woman, doing battle against the oppressive “They”: The ones who insisted that she get an abortion in “Zion.” The ones who “shoot you down in the name of ambition” in “Forgive Them Father.” Even as a very young woman—she was 23 at the time—she was acutely aware of the downfalls of being a superstar: “They’ll hail you then they’ll nail you,” she sings in “Superstar,” “…They’ll make you now then take you down.”

At times, her wariness borders on paranoia, with references to “wolves in sheep clothing” and warnings of “beware those who pretend to be brothers.” And indeed, later, producers/songwriters Johari Newton, Rasheem Pugh, Vada Nobles and Tejumold Newton would sue her, claiming that they were co-creators on the album and deserved both credit and a cut of the action. (She later settled with the group for a reported $5 million.)