Lauryn Noelle Hill, widely known as Ms. Lauryn Hill, is an American singer, rapper, songwriter, and record producer. She is often acknowledged as one of the greatest rappers of all time, whilst also being regarded as a pioneer in the Neo-soul genre.
Hill is known for breaking barriers for female rappers, popularizing melodic rapping, and bringing hip hop to the forefront of modern-day culture. She rose to fame as a member of the Fugees, but her individual stardom came through her solo album titled ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’. The album went on to win various awards, and became one of the best-selling of all time.
Hill’s family were hugely influential in her musical upbringing, and she has often paid huge respect to them: “There were so many records, so much music constantly being played. My mother played the piano, my father sang, and we were always surrounded by music.” While growing up, Hill frequently listened to Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight, all of which would play a hugely significant role in developing her musical talent.
‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ to this day remains Hill’s only solo studio album. It received widespread critical acclaim for showcasing a representation of life and relationships, and locating a contemporary voice within the neo-soul genre. Meanwhile it still lives strong to this day, with Drake (Nice for What) and Cardi B (Be Careful) both sampling Hill’s music. The album soared through the charts, going diamond after selling over 10 million copies in the US, making her the first-ever female rapper to do so. To put that into context, other hip hop records to go diamond include Eminem’s ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ and ‘The Eminem Show’, Beastie Boys ‘License To Ill’ 2Pac’s ‘All Eyez On Me’ and Outkast’s ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’, so she’s in pretty good company.
Her debut album featured hit singles such as ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’. ‘Ex-Factor’, and ‘Everything Is Everything’, whilst also featuring powerful songs such as ‘To Zion’ which became an anthem for black women, especially for those finding themselves feeling ‘imperfect’. Moreover, the first single ‘Lost Ones’ displayed the quality of Hill’s rage against political power play. Hill was so defiant in her ventures, and what’s more, people were really starting to pay attention to it. With its highly personal odes to heartache, spirituality, motherhood, and social awareness, ‘Miseducation’ became a breath of fresh air in a period dominated by the shiny suits of Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs and yuppy stylings of urban radio.
However, in a rare interview, Hill said her label had never chased her to make another album. “The wild thing is no one from my label has ever called me and asked how can we help you make another album, EVER…EVER, Did I say ever? … Ever! With the ‘Miseducation’, there was no precedent. I was, for the most part, free to explore, experiment and express.” Although there were far more complexities as to why she was never approached, or intended to produce a second studio album. Along with ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’, came crippling depression. Uncomfortable with fame, she retreated into spirituality, bible study and shied away from the limelight. Talking to Essence, she explained: “I don’t think I ever handled celebrity, for a period of time I had to step away entirely.”
Along with this, Hill experienced various accusations that she had stolen all of her friends’ music during the making of the album, while a group of musicians who worked on ‘Miseducation’ sued over songwriting credits. However, Hill explained: “Musicians may be able to make suggestions, but you can’t write FOR me, I am the architect of my creative expression. No decisions are made without me.”
For Hill, the album was an evocative document of who she was as a younger woman, the album chronicled an intimate piece of her younger years. It allowed her to develop her communities ability to both love and heal itself, providing it with the right amount of support and encouragement. John Legend summed up Hill’s short career perfectly by stating: “Lauryn had that blend of toughness and soulfulness, melody and swagger. She did it better than anybody still has done it. People are still trying to capture that moment.” Lauryn Hill is a musical legend, and truly iconic.