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Cover Art Lauryn Hill
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Rating: 8.0

More a celebration of '70s soul than a hip-hop album, Lauryn Hill's debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, is an earthy and confident effort. Drawing deep from hip-hop's R+B roots, Hill skillfully paints a vision that is musically nostalgic, yet lyrically contemporary. Taking a cue from Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, the album centers around between- song interludes of schoolchildren learning about love. Hill compliments these vignettes with her own lessons, eloquently expressed in earnest, thoughtful and introspective language. When Hill teaches, though, it's not the condescending lecture of a superior, but rather the advice of a trusted friend. Hill wraps these striking lyrics in beautiful melodies and driving beats.

Calling on her obvious comprehension of an expansive range of music, Hill deftly moves through moods and influences, sometimes transforming a song in a mere moment. On "Ex-Factor," the painful realization of a love failed, a guitar solo reminiscent of Carlos Santana at his most soulful rudely interrupts a refrain fished out of Stevie Wonder's Musiquarium. Wonder's "I Wish" is mined for "Every Ghetto, Every City," a sentimental remembrance of youth, and Santana himself lays a beautiful, rolling, Spanish guitar lick under "To Zion," an ode to Hill's young son. Hill even involves the boy's grandfather, Bob Marley, churning out funky reggae on "When It Hurts So Bad" and "Forgive Them Father." The I-Threes themselves sound like they're singing background on "Lost Ones," a sharp and forceful jab at Wyclef Jean.

Hill definitely sticks to what she knows-- her previous work with Aretha Franklin serves her well on the '60s R+B rave-up, "Doo Wop (That Thing)"-- but she does manage to throw us some surprises. On "Superstar," another slam on Jean, Hill challenges Al Green for the funkiest cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire," and the incendiary lyrics and jazzy flute of "Final Hour" recall Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."

But Miseducation does have some missteps. Running nearly 80 minutes long, the album has a hard time staying sharp throughout. Ballads like the title track are tiresome after the first full hour of listening, and additionally, Hill's sweet tooth for cheesy '70s tunes rears its ugly head more than once.

Given the critical acclaim left in the wake of Wyclef Jean's The Carnival, we were all left wondering if Lauryn Hill was just along for the Fugees' ride. In "Superstar," Hill compounds that challenge with one of her own: "music is supposed to inspire." She adeptly answers both of those challenges.

-Neil Lieberman

10.0: Essential
9.5-9.9: Spectacular
9.0-9.4: Amazing
8.5-8.9: Exceptional; will likely rank among writer's top ten albums of the year
8.0-8.4: Very good
7.5-7.9: Above average; enjoyable
7.0-7.4: Not brilliant, but nice enough
6.0-6.9: Has its moments, but isn't strong
5.0-5.9: Mediocre; not good, but not awful
4.0-4.9: Just below average; bad outweighs good by just a little bit
3.0-3.9: Definitely below average, but a few redeeming qualities
2.0-2.9: Heard worse, but still pretty bad
1.0-1.9: Awful; not a single pleasant track
0.0-0.9: Breaks new ground for terrible