The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
More than any soul record in memory, Lauryn Hill?s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (Ruffhouse/Columbia) is infused with African-American musical history. At various times, the Fugees singer recalls the moral fervency of Bob Marley or her uptown soul of Roberta Flack (not a coincidence, given the Fugees? cover of ?Killing Me Softly with His Song?), while Hill?s use of harmony singers recalls Marley?s I-Threes. But like ?The Sweetest Thing,? her sexy-drowsy ballad from last year?s “Love Jones” soundtrack, “Miseducation” is no withdrawal from the nostalgia bank. Flowing from singing to rapping, evoking the past while forging her future, Hill has made an album of often astonishing strength and feeling.
Hill has been strident and humorless, and “Miseducation” doesn?t alter that perception one iota; she still has chips on both shoulders. ?Doo Wop (That Thing)? chastises ?Cristal-by-the-case? black men and the women who grovel for their attention. ?Superstar? lacerates an unnamed music-industry figure who denigrates musicians. ?Wolves in sheep coats who pretend to be lovers? are some of the many targets in ?Forgive Them Father.?
Yet the beauty of the album lies in Hill?s ability to make her self-righteousness ravishing. Hill produced and wrote nearly the entire album, and she clearly realizes the benefit of wrapping even the harshest rhetoric in mesmerizing grooves. ?Doo Wop (That Thing)? is wrapped in intertwining street-corner vocalese; ?Forgive Them Father? sways with island-lilt harmonies. Radiant voices carry the rueful, lovelorn sentiments of ?When It Hurts So Bad? and ?Ex-Factor,? while ?Every Ghetto, Every City,? a childhood reminiscence on which Hill allows herself a glimmer of joy, has the funky grunt of vintage Stevie Wonder.
Throughout the disc, the potency of Hill?s personality can?t be underestimated. R&B and hip-hop remain very much boys? club, populated with lustrously packaged divas guided at every turn by male label heads and producers. Hill?s record, though, is infused with the dilemmas of a young woman faced with fame and expectations. On the Fugees? “The Score,” Hill rapped of having ?inner visions like Stevie.? On “Miseducation,” she?s delivered on that boast, and it truly is the sweetest thing.