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Lauryn Hill

The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill  Hear it Now

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After The Score, I was sure the Fugees had made a deal with the devil. A lackluster 1994 debut, Blunted on Reality, made them near-laughingstocks – imagine Digable Planets lite, if that's possible. But with The Score, they served more than 11 million customers – them's Kenny G and Celine D. numbers, mom. In a lightning moment, the three Fugees went from being known as those two Haitian dudes hanging out with that cutie from Sister Act II to being worshiped as musical genius Wyclef, beautiful songbird L-Boogie and moneymaking Pras. It was such a rapid and total metamorph that if it had happened in a movie, you'd say, "Oh, please." There had to be help from below.

Just as Blunted gave no hint of the commercial dam buster to come, The Score, dotted with smart interpolations, left little hint of the creative earthquakes ahead. But with Wyclef's stunning The Carnival and, now, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn and her Fugee brother have established themselves as leaders in the genre of hip-hop soul. After pushing the commercial envelope, they've returned to push the aesthetic one.

Hip-hop soul is the music of Mary J. Blige, D'Angelo and Erykah Badu, a genre in which artists interpret this generation's experience through hip-hop's beats and outlook folded into soulful melodies and tenderness. Though some artists, like Clef and Lauryn, sing and rhyme, in hip-hop soul the singing and rhyming do not clearly demarcate hip-hop and R&B – hip-hop soul is fluid enough to largely escape simple definition, though you know it when you hear it, and, generally, what you hear is greater musical ambition and courage than in most traditional hip-hop.

The chocolate-skinned twenty-three-year-old working single mom named Lauryn Hill – blessed with a beauty that attracts the fellas without turning away the sistas – is that rare artist who can be righteous and not self-righteous, who thinks a lot of herself without ego tripping. That's partly because she's so very honest – "Every time I try to be," she says in the title song," what someone has thought of me/So caught up, I wasn't able to achieve" – and partly because within her self-love message you can hear her implicitly saying "Love yo'self." Her confidence – "You can't match this rapper-slash-actress/More powerful than two Cleopatras.... MCs ain't ready to take it to the Serengeti/My rhymes is heavy like the mind of Sister Betty [Shabazz]," from "Everything Is Everything" – makes you feel confident. She sounds like an artist you could, should, look up to, like Chuck D back in his heyday.

She sounds like that before you even realize what she's rhyming about, because the very timbre of her voice – that deep, oven-roasted sound when rhyming, the sweet, melancholy-tinged midrange she owns when singing, the way she always comes confidently from deep within her chest – it communicates a self-respect and self-love. The sound of a woman who takes herself seriously. A sound that recalls, for me, the sharp, strong voice of Joni Mitchell. Joni seems a musical North Star for Lauryn, with her biting honesty, her musical innovativeness that's never exposed in an ornate or showy way, her confidence to keep it simple. Both speak universal truths from a definitely female perch.

Lauryn's epic, adoring tribute to her young son, "To Zion," is one of the album's high points. While the legendary Carlos Santana plays a sweet acoustic Spanish guitar behind her, Lauryn speaks of weighing whether or not to have her baby: "Woe this crazy circumstance/I knew his life deserved a chance/But everybody told me to be smart/'Look at your career,' they said/'Lauryn, baby, use your head'/But instead I chose to use my heart."

She goes on throughout the record vacillating between hip-hop-based shoulder shakers like "Everything Is Everything," dramatic ballads like "Nothing Even Matters," with hip-hop-soul king D'Angelo, and smooth and infectious joints with the warmth of old Stevie Wonder, like the hidden track "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and the title song. It's an album – like few hip-hop albums, like most hip-hop-soul classics – that you could play at a family reunion, or any sort of multigenerational party, and get everyone bouncing and singing along without anyone ever having to cringe. Lauryn is the sort of young woman whom the old women smile at lovingly, their eyes saying, "With people like you around, this generation, and your music, might just be all right, after all." Maybe it wasn't a deal with the devil. Maybe it was with an angel.


(Posted: Aug 12, 1998)


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Review 1 of 1

jorge22s writes:

5of 5 Stars

yeah, but i guess still diserves 5

Sep 28, 2007 09:32:11

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