Lauryn Hill is one of the greatest rappers of all time, and that’s only a fraction of what she does. She is a soulful singer, a former member of the Fugees, a songwriter and producer, and a woman of faith and values. She’s tied in with reggae roots as well (fun fact: she is Bob Marley’s daughter-in-law) and is quite critical of pop culture. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is her only solo album and it is a masterpiece, to say the least. Winning 5 Grammys from this album alone, Lauryn Hill broke barriers for female rappers and artists in general. Her work is a staple of black culture and is known throughout the Americas and Caribbean. While she isn’t very active today her work is still very relevant, especially Miseducation. Here’s a quick breakdown of every track:
Intro – This intro creatively showcases the framework for this album. Taking attendance for a day of class devoted to teaching young ones about love, it becomes apparent that little miss Lauryn Hill is absent. Thus, her miseducation was born. Love was something that she would have to learn on her own throughout life. And it won’t always go well…
Lost Ones – Love for oneself. In a time when hip-hop was rampant with misogyny, Lauryn Hill infuses Christian values into this track to show that she’s choosing a separate path. One that leads higher up and further in, to the high country of the holy trinity where the air is thin but the glory is thick, to quote Trygve yet again. This serves as the intro to her Christian undertone throughout the album. Listening to the following songs, the signs of Christianity may be lost to an untrained ear, but check back in to Tell Him for the undeniable truth.
Ex-Factor – No lesson on love would be complete without discussing when things don’t go well. In a society filled with divorces, single parents, and relational frustration in general, this song is an anthem to anyone that has gone through that; namely those with an “Ex.”
To Zion – With Ex-Factor being about love gone wrong, To Zion is simply about love that is gone. Passed onto another life, Lauryn speaks truth to those that have lost a loved one. Much of Lauryn’s diction in this song suggests that she is specifically speaking to those who have lost a child, perhaps the most innocent lost love of all. Carlos Santanna brings such an emotional flare to this song with his soulful mastery of the guitar. This is indeed a soulful song, that cries out and laments about a soul that has gone to join God in heaven. And if you stick around past the music, you’ll hear a class discussion that speaks to the definition of love in a real sense. (Additional layer of context: Lauryn has a child named Zion).
Doo Wop (That Thing) – A playful and lively warning to everyone, Doo Wop cautions those in the pursuit of love to watch out for the pitfall of lust. Namely, those that are only into you for sex (that thing). In a time when conversations about sex tend to be one-sided and frame men as predators looking for sex, Lauryn Hill emphasizes that this lustful obsession goes both ways. We all need to watch out because there are dangers on the path to love.
Superstar – This song is a callout to other artists of the time; consider this one the love of music or of doing music justice. Her hook says it all: “Come on baby, light my fire/ Everything that you drop is so tired/ Music is supposed to inspire/ How come we ain’t getting no higher.” Again, music of this time was rampant with misogyny and just generally lacking Christian values. Lauryn Hill has proven to be an artist that seeks to use her music to share a deeper message on life and how we should live it. Superstar serves as a message to her fellow artists to step their game up, consider the higher purpose for what they create, and adjust accordingly. This is another song that continues to point to her upcoming final cry in Tell Him.
Final Hour – Lauryn’s still rolling from the virtues of Superstar right into Final Hour. As the title suggests, this is a song that doesn’t hide its Christian roots. Lauryn points to the final hour, that moment when we all meet God at the pearly gates of Heaven, as the true focus. So she rebukes money and power and implores us all to “keep [our] eyes on the final hour.”
When It Hurts so Bad – Ex-Factor was an introduction to the idea of reciprocity, but this song is a heartfelt case study turned into testimony. Lauryn gets vulnerable and shows that this lesson on love was hard-learned, absent from that one day in class. Musically, this song boasts the versatility of Lauryn Hill, going from the lyrically exuberant rap in Final Hour straight to soulful punches of the song here. Stay after the music to hear a quick class session about the influence of technology on love, from an era pre-social media nonetheless.
I Used to Love Him – Love gone wrong is a deep subject and thus requires many lectures. This one comes with the guest of Mary J. Blige, who adds to the soulful reminiscence of past love and mistakes. More importantly, this is a story of growth and the knowledge of better that comes with it, which doesn’t come without Lauryn giving credit where it’s due: to God.
Forgive Them Father – Is there another love quite like forgiveness? Lauryn Hill prays forgiveness for those that have fallen to the traps of love, and issues melodic warnings to those that haven’t yet.
Every Ghetto, Every City – Love of community is real, and Lauryn soulfully makes sure to show love to her humble beginnings. We can’t forget where we’re from since it brought us to where we are.
Nothing Even Matters – The beat and vocals can truly float you away, carrying you right into the thralls of love. It’s there that Lauryn and D’Angelo proclaim that nothing [else] even matters.
Everything is Everything – In direct titular contrast from the previous track, this song finds roots in self-love amidst change. “Let’s love ourselves then we can’t fail” is a line that sums up this song quite well.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – This song flexes Lauryn’s musical range with stunning mastery. The love here? Destiny, Self, God, Lament. You decide.
Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You – We are nearly at the grand finale, and this song is purely on love gone right. And it sounds like this is love with a person, but is it?
Tell Him – This is the grand finale. Every song pointed to this one in some way, with sometimes subtle and sometimes overt references to faith in God. If you’re not careful, you’ll take the lyrics and apply them to humans. But make no mistake, “Him” is God. It was God that Lauryn couldn’t take her eyes off of in the previous track, and this song is a no-doubt-about-it proclamation of her love and need for God. It was love for God that appeared in every other form of love that the rest of the album explored; the good and the bad. Lauryn ends on the greatest love that exists, and in knowing this, her education is finally complete.