Producer: Lauryn Hill
Album: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Label: Ruffhouse, Columbia

It wasn't Lauryn Hill's biggest song—that would be "Doo Wop (That Thing)" or her rendition of "Killing Me Softly." It wasn't her most personal song—that honor goes to "To Zion," the ode to her first-born son. But "Ex Factor," an achingly beautiful lovelorn ballad, would prove to be—at least for a generation who came of age when The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill racked up eight Grammys—her most enduring. Like all great love songs, it perfectly expresses what one feels in a situation most—if not all—people experience at least once in their life. For "Ex Factor," it was the detrimental tug of war that happens when one can’t find the strength to leave a bad situation alone. It was a situation many believed involved her former lover and bandmate Wyclef Jean.

Each line is perfectly written and perfectly emoted. Little bits like the elongated “e” that rises up the scale at the end of “be” when she sings, “Tell me who I have to be to gain some reciprocity.” Or when she matter-of-factly states that “no one loves you more than me and no one ever will.” All of this is helped along greatly by a fitting sample of Wu-Tang’s “Can It Be All So Simple.”

When you’re young, as I was when I first heard this song, you believe that love is, and should be, simple. The complications so plainly listed in this song seem worlds away. I thought, Why would loving someone be like a battle? It’s a question that would be answered for me later in life, much the same way, I imagine, it would for many people who grew up with this song. Beyoncé now covers the song frequently at her live shows. For that reason, it will continue to endure. —Damien Scott