The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (Columbia ’98) Rating: A-
Originally I figured that this was just another overblown, underwhelming hip-hop hype. However, when an album goes on to win 5 Grammy Award’s, sells over 10 million copies, and wins almost every significant year end critic poll, it becomes difficult (and foolish) to ignore. And lo and behold, on this debut album sexy former Fugee Lauryn Hill does indeed deliver an ambitious and often spectacular mix of rap and soul. “Lost Ones” immediately settles a score (allegedly with former bandmate Wyclef Jean), rapping accusingly (“it’s funny how money change the situation…my emancipation don’t fit your equation”) and scathingly (“everything you did has already been done”), while also boasting (“I know all the tricks”) that she’s ready to do just fine all on her own. On “Superstar” she says/asks over a soulful groove: “everything you drop is so tired, music is supposed to inspire, so how come we ain’t gettin’ no higher?” This song is a call to arms against a stale music scene that’s currently being sabotaged by sterile overproduction and bottom line music corporations and radio programmers. Lauryn certainly does her part, for her music feels very much alive, and though a samey sounding hip-hop beat creeps up too often the album is very inventive overall, with real instruments and actual singing hopefully signifying the re-humanization of hip-hop/r&b. Lyrically the album is also impressively honest and down to earth, as Lauryn describes the joys of motherhood (the deeply moving “To Zion”), the perils of love, and the rewards of religion, though the joyously danceable single “Doo Wop (That Thing)” reminds us that this is all just pop music after all. The album isn’t perfect, as a few of the longer songs could use some editing and the album’s forced storyline includes several annoying segues that makes for far too much down time (why do so many hip-hop and r&b artists insist on doing this?). However, despite its flaws this ambitious r&b/hip-hop hybrid largely lived up to the hype. Alas, since this album Ms. Hill has spectacularly underachieved, with only a single underwhelming (and frankly, quite bizarre) MTV Unplugged album to her credit.
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