In the late 1990s neo soul was humanising R&B, and making its way to the forefront of mainstream music. The strong female presence, the genius genre bending, and socially concious lyricism was hypnotising the masses, and Lauryn Hill was about to propel the scene into an even greater state of popularity.
Hill rose to fame during her stint with early nineties hip hop group The Fugees, and it was during this time that she met Jamaican entrepreneur Rohan Marley, the son of Bob Marley, and fell pregnant with his child. The pregnancy inspired the then 22-year-old New Jersey native to leave the drama-filled Fugees to forge her own solo career.
Record breaking, genre bending and change inducing, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill remains one of the most important albums ever released by a woman.
Hill began collaborating with a group of musicians known as New Ark in both writing and producing the songs, with Hill stating that she wanted the production of the album to be raw. Her aim for the LP was to write songs that had “…the integrity of reggae, the knock of hip-hop, and the instrumentation of classic soul.”
Hill’s pregnancy had awoken her from a period of writer’s block, and so the album’s lyrical themes follow love lost, her newfound role as a mother, the breakdown of The Fugees and her relationship with God.
Recording sessions for the album took place from late 1997 to June 1998 at Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston, and featured the then unknown John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Santana, and D’Angelo. Although primarily a neo soul record, Hill took from R&B, hip hop, reggae and soul to create an LP of awe-inspiring power, feel, and vigour, flowing seamlessly from rapping to singing, and showcasing her incredible artistic range.
On August 25th 1998 The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released to the world and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 423,000 copies in its first week, breaking the record for first-week sales by a female artist, shooting Hill straight into international stardom.
At the 41st Annual Grammy Awards, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill earned ten nominations, winning five awards, and making Hill the first woman to garner so many nominations and awards in one evening. The album produced three hit singles; Doo Wop (That Thing) which peaked at number one in the US, as well as Ex-Factor, and Everything Is Everything which both hit the Top 40 charts.
By 2013, the record had sold over 8 million copies in the US and over 19 million copies worldwide, with Rolling Stone ranking the album at number 314 in their 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time list in 2012.
Lauryn Hill was a woman of the hip-hop generation, and on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill she offered a unique female perspective on life and love, creating groundwork for what was to follow in the neo soul world.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was a game changer, it represents a crucial moment in time for black music, when young artists were breaking through barriers and getting their voices heard. Now, Lauryn Hill’s voice has been heard across the world for nearing two decades, securing her place as the undisputed queen of neo soul.