With the exception of Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and an emerging Eve, noteworthy female rappers were a rare breed in the 90s, and the material they produced didn’t exactly promote female empowerment.
It is partly this backdrop that explains why The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill arrived like a thunderbolt 23 years ago today.
It remains one of the most influential hip-hop albums ever released, but Hill’s debut didn’t herald the sudden arrival of a new star. Instead, the album fulfilled the promise Hill made during her time with The Fugees.
Alongside fellow members Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel, the trio were never really comfortable with the hip-hop tag. Due to their Caribbean music influences, The Fugees’ oeuvre was a gumbo of styles, with soul and funk as key ingredients.
With The Fugees breaking up in 1997, their eclecticism and socially conscious outlook can be felt in The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, released a year later, only this time, Hill was telling her own story.
Leading up to the release of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,”
The artist said she “wanted to write songs that lyrically move me and have the integrity of reggae and the knock of hip-hop and the instrumentation of classic soul.”
Hill accomplished this in the 16-song album through honest lyrics and a perfect fusion of styles and melodies.
This album was not only revolutionary for its sound, fusing hip-hop, R&B, soul and reggae but also its success. It opened to more than 420,000 copies in first week sales, making it the best-selling debut week for a female artist at the time. The project received critical acclaim, five Grammys and went platinum eight times.
Few albums before — or since — have been able to combine a genuine artistic effort and massive commercial success. In that sense, Hill was a pioneer.
While she wasn’t the first to fuse hip-hop and R&B, this album was released at a time when both genres were very different. Hip-hop was still in shock from the deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.
With R&B, groups including Dru Hill and performers such as Usher were on top. Because of Hill’s unique fusing of both genres, few artists sounded like her.
Listen to "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" down below.