An Album That’s Still at the Top of the Class

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill continues to teach us about life and love 15 years after its debut.

Cover of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Flickr); Lauryn Hill in 2013 (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
Cover of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Flickr); Lauryn Hill in 2013 (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Aug. 25 marks the 15th anniversary of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, arguably one of the most important albums of the hip-hop generation. The album was so resounding and influential that it is still cited by many artists as the greatest release this side of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Hill’s first album — an artistic medley of soul, hip-hop, gospel and traces of ’60s black music — cemented the ’90s. Several themes emerged from Hill’s seminal work, including heartbreak, cultural agency, respect, forgiveness, hope and love.

Hill wasn’t the first to create an album that sang to us. Mary J. Blige’s My Life was the inaugural hip-hop soul album that addressed the many facets of urban love. Although themes of respect, heartbreak and forgiveness were key features of the hip-hop soul era, never before had a record encompassed them all congruently until Miseducation.

The album sold more than 400,000 copies in its first week and eventually went eight times platinum. After its initial release and three weeks atop Billboard’s 200 Albums chart, Hill received 10 Grammy nominations, the first time a woman received so many in one year. She would also become the first woman to win five Grammys in one night. Included among those trophies was Album of the Year, the first time a hip-hop-inspired album won the category.

Miseducation was fresh, earthy and truthful. With 17 songs interspersed with interludes set in a classroom, Hill’s lyrics were like bible verses for the late ’90s. Hill effortlessly delivered parables that offered guidance to a spiritually starved generation.

The standout smash hit “Doo Wop (That Thing)” hit the airwaves in the summer of ’98 like a battle cry. Hill expressly sang to the ladies: ” … Showing off your ass ’cause you’re thinking it’s a trend. Girlfriend, let me break it down for you again. You know I only say it ’cause I’m truly genuine. Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem. Baby girl, respect is just a minimum.”

She dedicated the second verse to the “pretty-faced men”: ” … Need to take care of their three and four kids men. They facing a court case when the child’s support late. Money taking, heart breaking, now you wonder why women hate men. The sneaky silent men the punk domestic violence men … stop acting like boys and be men.”

At this point in her career, Hill had seen just about enough glorification of the male ego, particularly in the entertainment industry, and she used “Doo Wop” as a vehicle to address the frontin’ and flashin’ that was a staple of our generation.

There were other songs that spoke directly to us, particularly men. Songs like “Superstar” and “Lost Ones,” while serving as a release of negative energy from Hill’s affair with Fugees leader Wyclef Jean, provided schooling on how to honor our manhood while striving to become our greatest selves.