Where were you the first time you really heard Ms. Lauryn Hill’s defining solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill? For me, it was on a road trip with my mother from Detroit to St. Louis. From the legendary intros about love featuring students from Columbia High School to the classic duets with D’Angelo and Mary J. Blige, The Miseducation took me on an audio journey that helped me to define what music and art should be.
20 years later, I sat stunned in the audience at the Hollywood Bowl as Ms. Hill, now an undisputed legend, breathed new life into the songs in front of a sold out house. That night she said “I wanted to make an album about love, something joyful, something sincere. I wanted this generation to know something, I wanted us to talk about love. And not feel like we had to hide behind some macho way of talking about love and the fact that it resonated with my generation says something about honest music”.
And that’s truly what has made this album a cultural gem.
The honesty. The vulnerability. Not shying away from the ugly or the beauty in love. Writhing in pain on songs like ‘X Factor’ or ‘When It Hurts So Bad’ and then speaking candidly about choosing to keep her child at the height of her success on ‘To Zion’. What Lauryn was able to accomplish was a front to back examination of how Black women navigate all different types of love. Love of self. Love of community. Love of our partners. Love of our children. Love of the cultures we helped to birth—hip hop, jazz, soul, and R&B. The learning and unlearning we have to do to arrive at genuine and liberating love. Lauryn was teaching us how to break and form as many times as necessary to be whole. Miseducation, for many of us, has carried us through our first heartbreaks, our first pregnancies, our first losses, our first gains. When I listen to her album at 33, I think of how much of this I didn’t know a decade ago—and then I remember Lauryn, herself, being only 21-years-old when she sent this gift into the world.
How lucky we are to have lived in the time of Ms. Lauryn Hill. How blessed we are to have this sonic reminder of the depths of our love. Yes, the album has now sold over 10 million copies. A feat only done by a handful of other artists but by no other female rapper in history. Sure, the album was hip-hop’s first Grammy. Deservingly so. But the lyrics she penned, the way she made us feel understood and heard—that can’t be measured in records sold. That can only be measured in how many of us are still wrapping her words around us in our coldest moments. In how many of us have used this album to find home inside of ourselves again. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is more than a record-breaking juggernaut, it is truly a diamond.