Lauryn Hill – Education in Miseducation
Ms Lauryn Hill, originally known as a member of The Fugees, burst onto the scene as a recognisable and talented solo artist in 1998 with the release of The Miseducation of Ms Lauryn Hill; one of my favourite albums of all time. Almost 18 years later it is still an album of the utmost creativity, resonance and importance. It is an album that through miseducation is an education in itself. But how?
The album is structured, appropriately, around a framework of a school atmosphere. The ‘Intro’ track opens with a school bell and a man calling out “alright, please respond when I call your name” going through several names including Lauryn Hill who does not reply. Each song ends with a question posed to a group of young children, who reply with young, innocent but all the while profoundly articulate answers. These answers closing each equally heartfelt track. So, let’s go through three of my favourite songs from the album, with the hopes that, if you don’t already, you’ll have as much appreciation for its brilliance as I do.
Firstly we start with the personal and touching ‘To Zion’ a song about her decision to keep her baby Zion just as her career was growing, a decision many warned her against. The song starts with a soothing electric guitar offering up a rich tone as a backing to Lauryn, in a hushed voice speaking. “One day you’ll understand. Zion!” Zion, the name of her son, said with passion that ultimately starts the song, now a more acoustic and upbeat vibe. “Unsure of what the balance held, I touched my belly overwhelmed, by what I had been chosen to perform” a powerful, and surely relatable start. She goes on to say how she “Knew his life deserved a chance, but everybody told me to be smart, look at your career they said, ‘Lauryn, baby, use your head”. An empowering but all the while quite disturbing line, we feel the strength that Lauryn had to have to continue on, but also the pressure of the industry and the sacrifices many make. Then she sings, as casually as the previous lines, “but instead I chose to use my heart” as if it was the only option there was, followed by a much stronger, and power-driven chorus, singing with all heart and feeling “Now the joy of my world is in Zion”. The chorus, which the song revolves around, focusing on Zion, the baby of whom Lauryn’s world revolves around, a great and potent middle finger to those that told her to lose the baby. Later towards the end of the song, we come to a bridge of sorts, where yet again we feel the pure, undying love she feels through her bold and soulful voice singing some of the songs most important lines:
“And I thank you for choosing me, to come through unto life to be, a beautiful reflection of his grace”
Religious or not, anyone that listens to these 3 lines will understand it’s message, the existence and the beauty of her child inspires her to remember that there is good in the world, and someone is there looking out for her. We hear the chorus once more, repeating an almost army chant of how the joy of her world is Zion. This Army theme moving onto the gospel-esque tones of backing singers repeating “Marching, marching, marching to Zion.” This song, also being one of the many loved and popular songs… the song that speaks about how people told her how having a baby would ruin her career ironically improves it.
What’s more is this song ends with the classroom scene again and the question “How many people in here have ever been in love?” later on asking what their personal definitions of love are. The question being answered by a young lady who professes that “they just stand out, its like sometimes it don’t even matter what they wear, or what they look like, it’s like ‘THAT ONE’, you know?”. A beautiful end to a love filled song.
Secondly we come to Everything is Everything, a call out to anyone that is confused, upset or needs help, it is her way of explaining how, as she says she “wrote these words for everyone, who struggles in their youth, who won’t accept deception, instead of what is truth”. Within the first four lines she sings three of the most, accurate, on point and well written lyrics I’ve heard/seen “It seems we lose the game, before we even start to play, Who made these rules? We’re so confused.”. Sometimes it can be hard to truly represent the pure confusion and desperation we feel when we have no idea what’s going on, the times in our youth where we feel too inexperienced and too naïve to understand. Yet Lauryn manages within those three lines to sum it all up, but away from the negativity of this she brings it to a more positive, confident chorus “let me tell ya that, everything is everything, everything is everything, after winter, must come spring, everything is everything.”. Essentially saying from her experienced mind we should know that after the pain comes happiness, that is how life works. The song continues along this path, beginning with explaining her anxieties before expressing her own new-found-confidence “My rhymes is heavy like the mind of Sister Betty, L. Boogie spars with stars and constellations, then came down for a little conversation” Seemingly letting people know that even at the worst times you can end up so much greater, so much more confident. To finish speaking about this song there is a large part that needs including, I cannot shorten it, or keep anything out because every part is important:
“Sometimes it seems, we’ll touch that dream, but things comes slow or not at all, and the ones on top, won’t make it stop, so convinced that they might fall, let’s love ourselves then we can’t fail, to make a better situation, tomorrow, our seed will grow. All we need is dedication.” Optimism. Love. Unfailing determination. Nothing more needs to be said.
Last but definitely not least we have my favourite track from my favourite album, the titular song The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It is a song that encompasses all the themes mentioned through the album, a song that whatever situation someone is in can provide a means of inspiration, hope and happiness. It speaks of society and the pressure it puts on people to be what they want them to be. “Life squeezes so tight that I can’t breathe, and every time I’ve tried to be, what someone else thought of me, so caught up, I wasn’t able to achieve” It seems like a message that has been plastered everywhere, but it is a message that still not enough people realise. You cannot be comfortable or truly happy if you’re acting as a moulded version of yourself defined by someone else’s terms. Then we’re enlightened by the chorus, in all its soul-filled glory “But deep in my heart, the answer it was in me, and I made up my mind, to define my own destiny”. In its classic, and record style gospel/soul fusion and emotion we can feel from Lauryn’s voice, the chorus’ strong lyrics carry with it a clear element of pain, in the happiness of its resolution, the pain of it still exists. A melancholic, but contrasting light-hearted mixture, just like the album; an album made up of songs detailing pain, mistakes, and beauty all with the objective of teaching others and for Lauryn’s own cathartic release.
Lauryn’s own bafflingly insightful, deep and experienced wisdom shines through with incredible strength, with each and every song on the album and it truly is a triumph and a joy that will live on in the music industry for years to come. I will leave you now, as per usual, with the quote of the week, which can of course come from no-one else but Lauryn Hill. WHATS MORE is I’ll even leave you with a video of her at a University back in 2000 that will make a difference to you in one way or another. TRUST ME.
“This life is a process of learning” – Lauryn Hill.