Solo Albums: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
Group Albums: Blunted on Reality (1994) with Fugees, The Score (1996) with Fugees
Biggest Hits: "Fu-Gee-La" with Fugees (1996), "Killing Me Softly" with Fugees (1996), "No Woman, No Cry" with Fugees (1996), "Doo Wop (That Thing)" (1998), "Ex-Factor" (1998), "Everything Is Everything" (1998)
It’s hard to bring up Lauryn Hill these days. But a few sad years since the '90s does not touch her significance in the decade we’re discussing. Even today, her passion shines through the adversity that seems to be characterizing her life. For example, to everyone who wrote letters to her during her time in prison, she responded and thanked each by name. "I have known since very young to look for the purpose and lesson in everything, including the trials,” she said to them.
But let us look back for a minute, and revisit the good times. She was truly iconic. Her ability to both sing beautifully and rap with a convincing rasp both precedes and outshines most of what we hear today, when sing-rapping, something that seemed so rare and revolutionary back then, has become the standard. She and The Fugees made a lane for themselves by funneling a number of genre influences into a distinctive sound and aesthetic.
Her ability to both sing beautifully and rap with a convincing rasp both precedes and outshines most of what we hear today, when sing-rapping, something that seemed so rare and revolutionary back then, has become the standard.
At the heart of this aesthetic was Lauryn’s voice. The Fugee earworms that still live in 2013 brains are all probably Lauryn Hill sung choruses—meanwhile she was “defecating on your microphone” more convincingly than most MCs an era saturated with rap skill. The Score is a classic because of her performance on it. One could tell that a solo presence was ready to burst its way onto its own record.
But not before lending an ethereal quality to some other people’s songs. Take Nas’ "If I Ruled The World." She’s able to seamlessly interweave a hum throughout each verse, leading eventually to a chorus that both supported and lived beyond the lyrical substance of the song.
Then, of course, came The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Everything that shined about her prior performances came out, unfettered, on this album. It was what everyone wanted so badly from her. Kanye West referred to the year it dropped as the time “Lauryn Hill, when she won all those Grammys, she just couldn’t lose.” As in, it was unquestionable, and the reception was almost unanimous. Rarely does something like that actually happen—especially in rap, also known as the genre most populated by haters.
Miseducation had crossover pop appeal (“Doo Wop”), pleased rap purists, and still represented the neo-soul, blended reggae and hip hop aesthetic that she and her peers popularized. Naturally, the album sold. It has sold almost 20 million records to date, and without being pretentious or reaching, overtly, toward mass appeal. She brought pop around to accept the sound of the album rather than forcing her sound to cross over into pop territory. Fifteen years and a few missteps later, neither her devout passion nor her overall cultural significance has faded much, let alone her importance for women in rap, or for rap in general. —Alexander Gleckman