We still owe young Lauryn Hill more credit than she was given. Considering she is a critically acclaimed artist, that statement says a lot.
In 1998, while hip-hop was steeped in turmoil, Lauryn Hill released a debut album that reminded our community that the youth will be ok. Hip-Hop was going through changes; it was becoming more commercial, and the sound was shifting. The world could no longer ignore the fact that New York was not the epicenter of all things hip-hop. The south was rising, the west was speaking, and the mid-west was showing up strong. Hip-hop's influence was everywhere. Nevertheless, the entire hip-hop community was still in mourning.
On September 13, 1996, Tupac Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tragically, B.I.G died the following year. The hip-hop community was cut deep. The release of "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," which was quickly hailed a classic, became the balm the community needed.
Listening to Lauryn Hill's album felt like she was exposing her wounds and her scars. Lyrically, she invited listeners on a journey through heartbreak, self-discovery, personal reckoning, healing, and catharsis. She shared her celebrations and her struggles and created a space for us to do the same. And I did. I wept through “Ex-factor,” got clarity from “Father Forgive Them,” and fell in love listening to “Nothing Even Matters.” Never had I ever felt so visible by an artist. I wanted all my music to make me feel that way. Seen, loved, and validated.
Clearly, I was not the only one enthralled by her music. She broke records, topped the charts, and set a new standard for music. On February 24, 1999, Ms. Hill made history at the 41st Grammy Awards by becoming the first hip-hop artist to win a Grammy for Album of the Year. That same night, she shattered another record by becoming the first woman to win five Grammy Awards.
To say that her album is a classic would honestly be an understatement. Lauryn would need countless newsletters written about her to fully magnify the depth of her brilliance. Yet, in the book, "She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," the author, Dr. Joan Morgan, gives Lauryn the flowers she deserves. Dr. Morgan, a hip-hop feminist and scholar, celebrates Lauryn as an artist and explores the musical genius of her debut solo album throughout her book. It says a great deal about the quality of an artist’s work when most of its content still resonates today and when hip-hop scholars write entire books about it.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is the part of the hip-hop blueprint that meticulously illustrates the power inherent in listening to our young people. At the age of 23, Lauryn not only created a beautiful body of work that broke records, but she served as a reminder to pass the mic to younger people in the Black community.
In hip-hop, we tend to eat our old. Except for Jay-Z and a few others, hip-hop does not allow older artists to still perform in the same way a genre like country music does. We tend to value the concept of youth in hip-hop, but not value the actual youth in our community. We celebrate a rapper like Pac for his intelligence but judge the gifted young Black teen in our own communities who look like him.
Yet, part of the original intent of hip-hop was to amplify the sound of a community often ignored. "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," both its content and success, showed us that to grow as a culture and a community, our blueprint must include a path where young peoples' voices are amplified. What good is a community that makes its own mics, if we never pass it? For those of us who were miseducated about the power of our youth, young Lauryn gave us the syllabus.