When the Fugees took a break after their 1996 breakthrough The Score, fans were poised to see Lauryn Hill take her place among the great women in hip-hop with a solo album showcasing her righteous mindset and menacing mic skills. Hill, of course, had other plans.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released in the summer of 1998 to the confusion of her hip-hop audience and the delight of her R&B listeners. It was an emotional song cycle about love, faith, loss, and perseverance that saw her rap skills taking a back seat to smoky vocals as she leveraged fallout from a bad breakup with new fulfillment from a growing family. As a result, these songs find space for both the fed up resignation of opener "Lost One" and "Ex-Factor" and tender odes to motherhood ("To Zion") and cohabitation ("Nothing Even Matters"). Miseducation covers a lot of ground and features a few dozen session players, but the show's always Lauryn Hill's, and the album's central concept, tracing her winding path to enlightenment, holds together. It was a runaway success from day one, breaking sales records at every step of the way and bringing home the first Album of the Year Grammy for a hip-hop artist. —Craig Jenkins