From the bottom to the top, and back down once more, Lauryn Hill’s had a turbulent time in the public eye since breaking into the pop world as one-third of Fugees. Said outfit’s debut LP, 1994’s ‘Blunted On Reality’, eventually chalked up six-figure sales stateside – but its modest success pales in comparison to its successor, 1996’s ‘The Score’.
The UK’s summer of 1996 was memorable for two things: Euro ’96 briefly rekindling the notion amongst football-following sorts that England might actually be capable of winning a major tournament, and Fugees’ ‘Killing Me Softly’, the second single lifted from ‘The Score’, sitting at number one for five weeks. The trio’s next single, ‘Ready Or Not’, was another number one, claiming the top spot for a fortnight.
A global chart-topper and double-Grammy-winner, ‘The Score’ saw Fugees reach a new level of commercial recognition – but Hill was about to step into a spotlight of her own, one she didn’t need to share with bandmates Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel. 1998’s ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’ saw the singer truly elevate herself from a significant player in a bigger picture to a headline attraction in her own right.
‘The Miseducation…’ won five Grammy Awards. It went to number one in the US and Canada. If you put your faith in critical scores, it was the most acclaimed album of 1998. The album spawned three hit singles: ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’, ‘Ex-Factor’ and ‘Everything Is Everything’. It should have been the launchpad proper for Hill’s ascent to unquestionable superstardom. And, then…
And then, troubles began. At the time of writing, Hill is behind bars, serving a three-month sentence for tax evasion. But this isn’t the place to detail her tribulations post ‘The Miseducation…’ – it’s a celebration of an amazing album, which today is every bit as intoxicatingly affecting as it was on release in August 1998.
For this revisiting of a truly fantastic record celebrating its 15th anniversary – foreshadowing a Spotlight piece proper in the next issue of Clash magazine – we’ve turned to rising south London rapper Ashley Charles, aka Amplify Dot. Having caused no little stir on the rap scene with her singles so far – including ‘Kurt Cobain’ and the Busta Rhymes-featuring ‘I’m Good’ – she’ll be releasing her debut album later in 2013. Having already shared a stage with the legendary Missy Elliott, she’s exhibiting the potential to emulate the American rapper’s successes.
Dot was, like many, touched by ‘The Miseducation…’ in her formative years. So it’s over to her for why Lauryn Hill’s album remains a masterpiece.
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Lauryn Hill, ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’
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Amplify Dot, ‘Kurt Cobain’
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But for me there is one album from this inspired decade that truly defined a generation: ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’.
It is difficult to articulate the sustained cultural relevance of Hill’s debut album in a way that truly does justice to its deserved longevity. But 15 years on, it is a body of work that continues to be as heroically emotive as it was on its first play in 1998. It is seldom that an entire collection of music is able to preserve such social pertinence, but on ‘The Miseducation…’ the discourse remains intact.
Lauryn Hill was a triple threat in the ‘90s: a rapper, a singer, and an actress. She nailed the role of Rita in Sister Act 2, one of the few movie sequels that outshines its predecessor.
Hill ran rings around her peers when it came to profound lyrical content, and her distinct vocal tone and thought-provoking nuance is the reason why ‘The Score’ by Fugees can also be hailed as a rap staple.
Whenever I am asked that age-old journalism favourite, “Who is your biggest inspiration?”, it is Lauryn who I always name-check without hesitation.
I cried as I listened to ‘To Zion’, was humbled as I listened to ‘Lost Ones’ and I sang along to ‘Ex-Factor’ as if I had just lost my one true love at the tender age of 10.
As I matured through my teens this album stayed on heavy rotation. I owned it on CD, MP3, and the relic we now know as a MiniDisc. I carried this album with me throughout the years as it continued to soundtrack my experiences.
‘Doo Wop’ taught me about materialism and self-respect, while ‘I Used To Love Him’ opened my eyes to the darker sides of love. My appreciation for each lyric heightened with age as I learned to understand its intricacy, and it began to serve as my daily meditation.
‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’ is, without question, my favourite album of all time. It is a musical journey that is still unrivalled by any other woman in hip-hop. It is unlikely to be surpassed or even equalled by Lauryn herself, let alone by any one of the many musicians that were inspired by this rare glimpse at genius.
Hip-hop lost its way after the ‘90s, for me, and is only now finding its feet again. There is no better illustration of this than Lauryn Hill’s own rise and fall. But despite her publicised battles and internalised demons, Lauryn’s contribution to music with a single album is more than many artists will dare to even dream of in a lifetime.
She is, and will perhaps always be, the queen of hip-hop, but I hope that within the next 15 years we see a deserving heir to her throne.
Words: Amplify Dot
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Lauryn Hill, ‘Ex-Factor’
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Amplify Dot, ‘I’m Good’
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Get more Amplify Dot on her official website
'I'm Good' is out right now, this week. Yup. Now.
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