The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

It would be a feat for an average musician to confine spirituality, love and heart break, motherhood, adolescence, childhood and philosophy; all in just 70 minutes of musicality. Lauryn Hill isn’t your average artist.

Released 19 years ago under Ruffhouse Records and Columbia Records, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill went on to sell more than 8 Million copies and won her 5 of the most coveted Grammy Awards. The album explores relatable themes; one factor that’s credited for its relevance almost 2 decades later. In a 2013 commentary with XXL, rapper Nas acknowledges in his own words that the album “checked me as an emcee because she was pure. There was no chains, no fancy cars, she checked us on all of that. On songs like “Superstar” and “Doo Wop”, she talked to us, she went into who we were as men and women. And that was needed at the time and to this day”. To attract the fancy of old timers like Mary J Blige, who describes it as “one of the most incredible albums ever made”, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is beyond doubt Miss Hill’s Magnum Opus. Throughout the album, she squirms her way through the male dominated scene, with the aid of so much soul, wisdom, class and femininity laced with confidence and the final result is an LP that won’t get dusty soon on many record shelves.

The intro is a typical class roll call. Ras Baraka; a New Jersey Teacher, poet as well as politician plays  the stint he knows best, that of a teacher and when he calls Lauryn Hill’s name, she turns out absent. A move that probably was inspired by the title “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”. Before you conceive, why Lauryn skipped class, she hits your dome with the lines “It’s funny how money change a situation…” in the second track. The 94.91 bpm rate of the beat was typical of that time’s production tempo. You can’t help but boogie along to the boom bap sound as she laces wise lyrics touching on philosophical matters including a reference of the universal laws, karma, and reincarnation. She further condemns self-righteousness and greed echoing the book of Mark 8:36 which warns against gaining the world while losing one’s soul, a scripture quoted by Bob Marley as well. Reggae has a profound influence on Miss Hill’s music, evidenced by a few lines of patois in the same song. “Lost Ones” is not only a rhythmic tick, but also a morally challenging piece. Class interludes separate tracks all through the album. The first interlude on love dovetails the next song­­; Ex-Factor, whose main theme is heartbreak. The song pulls the rag off Lauryn Hill’s vulnerable side. If the slow, mellow instrumentals bring to mind Wu Tang Clan’s “Can It Be All So Simple’’, your ear is precise as it samples the Wu’s hit.

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‘’Ex-Factor’’ is followed by a similarly slow, soothing ‘’Zion’’, a dedication to her son-Zion. It explores motherhood, abortion, love and protection only a mother understands. Zion, is Patois for the Promised Land. Rohan Marley (Bob Marley’s son) is the father of Lauryn Hill’s son, Zion. You can put two and two together. Just like Ex Factor, Zion is slow and soothing with a bpm of 80. The melancholic tone and lyrics are a tear jerker and one should expect the similar sound (Which I find more of Neo Soul than Hip Hop) in various songs such as ‘’When it Hurts so Bad’’, ‘’Superstar”, “Nothing Even Matters”, ‘’The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’’ and ‘’Tell Him’’. However, in between, she snaps back to her days as the one third of the Hip Hop trio, The Fugees, which were marked with aggressive lyrics, bits of braggadocio and street confidence. In “Final Hour” for instance, she comes in with the line “I treat these like my theses, well written topic broken down into pieces, I introduce then produce words so profuse it’s abuse how I juice up this beat”. One can’t help but marvel at her wordplay and how she manages confidence without having to sound materialistic or accentuate her sexuality. It would be a disgrace to skip “Doo Wop (That Thing)” which is full of jewels, especially for young boys and girls. It encourages vigilance against the slick boys and girls known as fuckboys/girls these days. It does so over a boom bap beat synonymous with the nineties and inextricably laced lyrics. The track list takes you through a melodious journey of childhood nostalgia, reminds you of your first love and how it ended. It also emphasizes on the need for maturity; especially spiritual maturity. Needless to say that “Zion” the essence of motherhood in a tear jerking mannerism. The guest appearances don’t disappoint. With D’Angelou’s vocals in “Everything is Everything”, over a John Legend piano beat, you’d be damned if anything went wrong. I find it queer when bonus tracks sound better than the rest though. Or maybe it’s just me.

Simply put, Lauryn Hill displays Bob Marley’s wisdom, Maya Angelou’s lyricism and Diana Ross’ splendor without veering off the alluring person that she is. Definitely, the Epitome of femininity. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill might teach you more about life than your school lecture could. Ironic the title right?

Distant Relatives

Bringing together the best from both worlds, Distance Relatives casts doubt on the validity of the saying “you cant have your cake and eat it too”. 6 years ago(it’s worth going back), rapper Nas alongside reggae artist Damian Marley released the revolutionary album under Republic Records. Both bearing musical genes; Nas’ father having been a jazz maestro and Damian’s arguably the greatest figure in the reggae genre, Distant Relatives was bound for success from the inception of production.

The three cover arts are a sneak peak into the pan Afrikan content of the whole album.

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Distant Relatives Cover Art

The choice of guest appearances is also worth a nod. K’naan, with his distinct high pitched voice adds an Afrocentric touch to songs such as “Tribal War” and “Africa Must Wake Up”. His blend of English and Somali Languages further accomplishes this seemingly sole goal of the album. Stephen Marley, Bob Marley’s fourth child and Damian’s elder brother also features in the album. It takes keenness to recognize transition from Stephen Marley’s vocals to Damian’s in “Leaders” and “In His Own Words” due to their indistinguishable voices which trace back to Bob Marley. Or maybe it’s just me. Lil Wayne’s appearance in “My Generation” must’ve been a surprise especially to his hitherto fans, who at that time were disillusioned in his drifting away from the witty lyrics he came to the scene with. When as winds his verse with the line “When you finish reading revelations, thank God for my generation” you cant help backpedaling your hate for him. Other appearances include the late reggae artist Dennis Brown in “Land of Promise” which vividly samples his 1979 hit “The Promised Land”. He also does the outro for “Dispear”. Joss Stone features in “My Generation” and Amadou and Mariam in “Patience”, which heavily samples “Sabali” by the aforementioned Malian couple.

Press play and I’ll bet you will approve of the immediacy and energy with which Damian Marley says “As we enter” in the similarly titled first song off the album. The energy continues through the song as Nas and Damien Marley rap along in an alternating, almost conversational manner. A Swahili would discern the most conversational bit when Nas asks Damian “Habari gani” then Damian responds with “Mzuri sana” which are Kiswahili pleasantries. The energy and fast tempo find their way into the second song “Tribal War” which features K’naan. The song addresses the wanting unity amongst the African Community, both in the motherland and overseas. The distinct African drumbeats incorporated in the track help get the message home all thanks to Damian’s superb production. The tempo slows in “Only The Strong Will Continue” but the positive message is retained with both artists encouraging strength, iron will and optimism. However, Nas stains the song in his last lines of the final verse where he lets bitterness get the best of him in reminiscence of his divorce with ex wife Kellys. The line “see a nigger disappearing with the baddest honeys in the whole spot” adds salt to injury as he wrapps up, or is it rip apart an otherwise inspirational song. The song “Leaders” comes next. Featuring Stephen Marley, the song describes the kind of leadership Afrikans should embrace. Nas further pays homage to fallen leaders such as Malcolm X. He apparently describes, in awe, the controversial leader of The Nation of Islam; the honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. The Stephen Marley production seems skewed towards the reggae sound than it is towards hip hop but Nas’ bars manage to dovetail and impress. “Leaders” sounds strikingly similar to track eight of the album; “Land of Promise” in which they visualize an Afrika that enjoys the same living standards as some bubbly states in the US. Land of Promise samples the late Dennis Brown’s 1979 song “The Promised Land”.

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Nas and Damian Marley

From this point of the album there aren’t much surprises except for Lil Wayne’s featuring in “My Generation”. The tempo is variant all through the album with songs such as “Nah Mean” exhibiting the speedy 1980s and ’90s New York boom bap sound that was synonymous with that era of hip hop. Nas seizes this sound that he grew up around to deliver exemplary bars that remind you of his debut album “Illmatic”. Songs such as “In His Own Words”, “Patience” “My Generation” and “Africa Must Wake Up” pick from the slow, almost soothing tempo that was left behind by “Leaders”. Perhaps during production, Damian and Stephen figured the slow tempo would vividly bring out the vital messages of hope, patience, change and emancipation respectively. It’s interesting the mystical and cosmic questions that Nas asks in “Patience”. Questions such as “Who wrote the Bible? who wrote the Quran? and was it a lightning storm that gave birth to the earth and then dinosaurs were born…?. These only reveal Nas’ thirst for knowledge. His intellect has always manifested in his works. I marvel at Damian’s ability to rap in the same song which is one of my favorites off the album. And did you know that one can brag without coming off as corny? listen to “Count Your Blessings” from the album to find out.

With production majorly from Damian Marley and a little hand from brother Stephen(both from a musically royal family), it is impossible to go wrong with Distant Relatives. Nasir Jones’ prowess is an icing on the cake. In the twilight of the last song from the album- Africa Must Wake Up, Nas wraps this gift of an album in a ribbon of expository speech that shrinks the content of the whole album into a few comprehensible words. He explains how they compiled the album to inform the world that regardless of race or proximity, in his own words, “We all come from one place and that’s Africa. That’s right you too. Me and you, the whole world, we’re all family. We just spread out all over the place, so to all my distant relatives, let’s take it back home”. Distant Relatives is definitely worth anyone’s while. Needless to say, the trinity of Patois, African Languages and English is the shit!