The album title was taken from Carter G. Woodson’s 1933 book “The Mis-Education of the Negro” about the indoctrination and conditioning of black people in the United States. Lauryn made it shifted the focus to the conditioning of young women (of color) by the media, which was so incredibly necessary to be addressed at that time. There was so much self-exploration in the album’s lyrics that I believe every female in her late teens or early twenties who listened to “The Miseducation” in the late 1990s must, to this day, be hugely influenced by it. It gave us such easy access to ideas of self-worth, self-love, the importance of self-respect over the love of a man. These concepts were just not available to us through any popular art form at the time. Lauryn, being only 23 when the album came out, was like an older sister sharing some of her experiences to warn us and help us along the way. The message on the album and everything Lauryn did at the time was clear: Just because you don’t look like the girls on magazine covers doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of love. And yes, we needed to be told that – and we still do.
18 years ago, Lauryn Hill published her first, and, to date, only, studio album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It is one of the most influential hip hop albums of all time and had a significant impact, particularly on young women in the late 1990s to early 2000s. It was also the first hip hop album that won a Grammy for “Album of the Year.” The album had everything: a great sound, meaningful lyrics, Lauryn Hill’s outstanding voice, visually beautiful music videos. It put a strong emphasis on seeking knowledge and women’s empowerment, African American women, in particular. The album is one of a few truly timeless records and is just as relevant today as it was almost 20 years ago.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill dealt mainly with relationships and spirituality but did so in a way that was completely different from what we were used to at the time. The first single “Doo Wop (That Thing)” told women and men to respect themselves and each other if they wanted to be in healthy relationships, rather than promoting getting drunk half-naked at a club. The success of the album proved that people wanted more out of life and music than what mainstream media had to offer them.
Hip Hop has seen quite a few “love songs” about hip hop itself over the decades, and while most of the songs on “The Miseducation” are about relationships between men and women and people’s personal relationship with God, it’s not far-fetched to see the songs as metaphors for our relationship with hip hop, especially with the many changes hip hop was going through at the time and its new-found popularity. The vibe of the album hints at the love for hip hop but the disappointment with where hip hop was going at the time, and, as such, reminds me of a female full-length album version of Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” Hip Hop has made us fall in love with it and then left us heartbroken and alone while it moved on with the mainstream.