MU­SIC

Twenty years on, The Mise­d­u­ca­tion of Lau­ryn Hill re­mains the sound­track of this writer’s life.

ELLE (Canada) - - Storyboard - ByKay­laA.Greaves

The ev­er­last­ing le­gacy of TheMise­d­u­ca­tionofLau­rynHill.

GROW­ING UP in a small city out­side of Toronto, I al­ways felt like the “other.” I was the only black kid in my neigh­bour­hood, and many of my peers (some well in­ten­tioned, oth­ers just mean) would ask me things like “How do you even deal with your hair? Why don’t you put in a weave, girl?” or “There’s no way you’re Ja­maican and have never smoked weed.” The con­stant taunt­ing made the school hall­ways and class­rooms un­bear­able. And, at the time, I never fought back for fear of be­ing la­belled as the stereo­typ­i­cal “an­gry black woman.” I just wanted to be ac­cepted.

Dur­ing those years, The Mise­d­u­ca­tion of Lau­ryn Hill was on heavy re­peat on my blue-and-sil­ver Dis­c­man. Mise­d­u­ca­tion fused to­gether the sounds of hip hop and R&B as Hill took us on a 77-minute jour­ney of love, anger, heart­break, re­la­tion­ships, moth­er­hood, for­give­ness and spir­i­tu­al­ity. When I lis­tened to her spit lyrics like “Never un­der­es­ti­mate those who you scar / Cause karma, karma, karma comes back to you hard!” (in “Lost Ones”) or “What is meant to be, will be / Af­ter win­ter, must come spring / Change, it comes even­tu­ally” (in “Every­thing Is Every­thing”), my help­less­ness and anger felt ac­knowl­edged. These songs helped me re­al­ize that the iso­la­tion I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing was only tem­po­rary and that I should feel em­pow­ered by all my emo­tions, whether sad­ness, hap­pi­ness or rage.

I wasn’t the only one who con­nected to the al­bum. When it was re­leased 20 years ago this sum­mer, Mise­d­u­ca­tion de­buted at num­ber one on the Bill­board charts and also broke the record for first-week sales by a fe­male artist, with nearly 423,000 copies fly­ing off the shelves and into our CD play­ers in the first seven days. Mise­d­u­ca­tion took home five Gram­mys in 1999 and was the first hip-hop al­bum ever to win Al­bum of the Year.

This would be a ma­jor coup for any artist—black or white—but for a 23-year-old woman who had left a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in rap group the Fugees to pro­duce a solo al­bum in an in­dus­try rife with misog­yny, it was prac­ti­cally un­think­able. Hill ob­vi­ously had tal­ent. She wrote mu­sic and sang and rapped long be­fore Drake—who re­cently sam­pled her on “Nice for What”—made it de rigueur.

It wasn’t just the mu­sic that lent to Hill’s suc­cess, though—it was what she rep­re­sented. Hill was a woman who didn’t play by the rules; she made her own. The al­bum came out in 1998, the era of the auto-tuned, crop-top-wear­ing pop star. But she re­fused to bow to in­dus­try or cul­tural pres­sure to over­sex­u­al­ize her­self. To this day, she still rocks her nat­u­ral hair and her own unique style. She was also qui­etly “woke” be­fore it was a thing an artist should be—singing about fem­i­nism, abor­tion and su­per­fi­cial be­hav­iour.

Above all, Hill showed us that there is strength in vul­ner­a­bil­ity and beauty in in­no­cence. I of­ten think of the in­ter­ludes be­tween songs on Mise­d­u­ca­tion, which fea­ture school­child­ren talk­ing about love. They were enough to give even the most cyn­i­cal of lis­ten­ers, in­clud­ing me, hope. Through­out my worst breakup, “Ex-Fac­tor” was the track that kept me go­ing—it de­scribed my tumultuous re­la­tion­ship and first real heart­break from start to fin­ish. When I was open to dat­ing again, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” got me through. While I’m now in a good re­la­tion­ship, I still re­mind my sin­gle friends that “re­spect is just a min­i­mum.”

This sum­mer, Hill will em­bark on a tour cel­e­brat­ing the an­niver­sary of this solo mas­ter­piece. In the past two decades, she has faced per­sonal, le­gal and fi­nan­cial is­sues and been in and out of the spotlight. But she’s still that same woman who re­mains un­apolo­get­i­cally true to her­self and her craft. Hill is a com­pli­cated woman, but then life is com­pli­cated. And when­ever I need to be re­minded of that, I press play on Mise­d­u­ca­tion— this time, no Dis­c­man or CD player re­quired.

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