Fugees singer and rapper Lauryn Hill has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill all summer, with special performances at high-profile festivals across the country, including Roots Picnic in Philadelphia and ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans. Soon, she'll embark on a 17-date world tour, co-headlining with Fugees on the dates that take place in the United States.
Released on Aug. 25, 1998, Miseducation was Hill's debut solo album and only one to date. Decades later, it remains a touchstone and high watermark for hip-hop and R&B, helping to redefine both genres. Hill and her opus are still influencing artists today, from Lizzo to Drake.
Keep the party going with 25 facts about the album and its impact, from what the cover art was originally supposed to look like, to the current Mayor who appeared as the narrator, and the book to read for all the Miseducation tea.
Miseducation Is The First Hip-Hop Record To Win Album Of The Year
In 1999, Hill became the first woman to earn five GRAMMYs in one night. Her wins included Best New Artist, Best R&B Album and Album Of The Year. (To date, she has won eight GRAMMYs and received 19 GRAMMY nominations in total.)
"This is crazy, 'cuz this is hip-hop music!" Hill exclaimed when Whitney Houston presented her with the golden gramophone for Album Of The Year, which no other hip-hop album had done before. Outkast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below, which won in 2004, is the only other hip-hop album to win the prestigious category.
The Album Was Recorded In Bob Marley's Home
Bob Marley's legendary Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica — which also happened to be his home — is the most prominent of the three places where Miseducation was recorded.
"We recorded in New York, Miami, and at Hope Road in Jamaica," the album's sound engineer Gordon "Commissioner Gordon" Williams recalled to Okayplayer in 2021. "To be in Bob Marley's house created a landscape for magic. Stephen Marley was the one who invited us to come in. I had to organize the equipment that had to be brought to Jamaica, and we had to make sure it could work as a museum when we weren't recording."
Hill Kept Everything Raw On Purpose
Hill and Commissioner Gordon worked to create a sound that's deliberately raw. As she told Rolling Stone in 2008, "I don't like to use compressors and take away my textures, because I was raised on music that was recorded before technology advanced to the place where it could be smooth.
"I wanna hear that thickness of sound," she continued. "You can't get that from a computer, because a computer's too perfect. But that human element, that's what makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I love that."
Hill's Personality And Experiences Are In The Songs
On the album, Hill shares her struggles as a young Black mother who has been through turbulent relationships on songs such as "Ex Factor" and "Forgive Them Father," an honesty that's still relatable and appreciated 25 years later.
"I think the piece as a whole communicates my personality, it is the culmination of my experiences, the sum total of what I had gone through at a certain point in my life," Hill said in a 2013 interview with The Guardian. "To me it's like driving in a storm, it's hard to see where you're going. You're just praying to get out of it. But once you get out of it, you can look back and say; 'Oh man, thank god!' Give thanks, 'cos that's what I came out of. That's what the album feels like to me."
Her Label Didn't Love Some Of The Early Versions
Miseducation went through a few iterations before it was ultimately finalized for release, and her label (Ruffhouse/Columbia Records) reportedly was unimpressed with the first work that they heard.
"Lauryn and her mom took [early versions of] her album to Sony Records and they said, 'This is coffee table music. What is this s—? Coffee table music," Rohan Marley, the father of Hill's children, told Rolling Stone in 2008. "She took her s— and walked outta there."
The Album Made Chart History In The United States
Miseducation landed in the top spot on the Billboard 200 in the first week of release. The Score, Hill's 1996 album with Fugees, was also a No. 1 hit, but it didn't debut in that position. Her feat set a record for the first unaccompanied female solo rapper to debut at No. 1 on the all-genre albums chart. (To this day, she remains one of only five female rappers to achieve the feat; the other four are Foxy Brown, Eve, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B.)
It Was An International Hit, Too
Like The Score, Hill's solo album was a major success internationally. Miseducation appeared in the top 20 on pop and R&B charts all over the world, including No. 1 in Canada and Ireland, as well as on the UK R&B Albums chart.
"Doo Wop (That Thing)" Is A Two-Time Billboard Record Breaker
As a woman solo artist, Hill set long-held records for singles with "Doo Wop (That Thing)," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Rap Songs chart. Miseducation also set a record for being the first album by a woman to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
The Album Also Set A Sales Record
Guinness Book of World Records notes that the album's first-week sales of 422,624 copies set a record for female artists at the time. Though that's still an astonishing opening week figure, Hill's record was later broken by Adele when she sold 3.38 million copies of her album 25.
A Book Inspired The Title…
In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, Hill cited Carter G. Woodson's 1933 book The Mis-Education of The Negro as an inspiration.
"The title of the album was meant to discuss those life lessons, those things that you don't get in any textbook, things that we go through that force us to mature," she said. "Hopefully we learn. Some people get stuck. They say that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and these are some really powerful lessons that changed the course and direction of my life."
…And A Book Now Examines Its Impact
In 2018, author Joan Morgan, the program director of NYU's Center for Black Visual Culture, released She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on Atria Books. Morgan beautifully combines interviews with Black authors and activists such as dream hampton, Tarana Burke and Michaela Angela Davis with her own experience, and how they all found resonating messages within the album.
"I loved Miseducation, at least as much as the nineteen million or so folks who've bought it since 1998," she wrote. "I'd even go as far as to say I probably loved it more than every mofo in those governing bodies that bestowed it with seventeen cumulative Billboard, American Music, Grammy, and MTV awards. Why? Because I was one of the score of hip-hop-loving and/or pregnant women who swore the album was soundtracking her life."
The Narrator Is Now The Mayor Of A Major City
The teacher heard talking with students on Miseducation's interludes, is voiced by Ras Baraka, now the longtime Mayor of Newark, NJ. At the time of Hill's album, Baraka, who is the son of the famous poet and activist Amiri Baraka, was well known in the community.
"I was running for councilman in Newark and was also an eighth grade teacher," Baraka revealed to Rolling Stone in 2008. "I was just about to take two of my students home and Lauryn called and asked if I could come up to her house in South Orange. There were chairs set up in the living room and a bunch of kids were there. She told me she wanted to discuss the concept of love. There was a blackboard and I wrote the letters 'LOVE' and we just went into the whole discussion."
The Album Cover Was Almost Shot At Hill's High School
Photographer Eric Johnson and Hill went to her alma mater, Columbia High School in South Orange, New Jersey, to shoot pictures of her for the album cover.
"I always wanted to shoot photos that people would really connect with," Johnson told Okayplayer in 2021. "I wanted to create something that was chic, but that regular people could identify with as well."
But instead of using one of those raw photos, Hill ultimately decided on the carved desk cover art that fans know, which is based on an image that Johnson took of her face.
Miseducation Was Released In Four Different Physical Formats
Released in a pre-streaming era, Miseducation dropped on cassette, CD, minidisc and record. There is even a rare limited edition album made with orange-colored vinyl. (It's now available on all major streaming platforms.)
The vinyl version of the album and select international editions include two songs that aren't listed on the cover: "Tell Him" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," a cover of Frankie Valli's Sixties standard. (Though today, the songs aren't hidden — they're widely available on streaming services.)
"Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" Was In A Movie
Hill's rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" was first in a Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts movie called Conspiracy Theory that came out in 1997 — which is the reason the song ended up on the album.
"It was originally recorded for [the soundtrack for the movie] Conspiracy Theory and ended up on the radio, became popular, and that's how it ended became a bonus track," Commissioner Gordon explained to Rolling Stone.
Carlos Santana Guest Stars On "To Zion"
When Santana played guitar on Hill's song about her son Zion, he fulfilled one of her childhood dreams. He weaves his instrument delicately and masterfully around a marching drum beat and the vocals of Hill and her background singers.
"I used to write music, you know, write songs over [Santana's] guitar playing when I was a little kid," Hill told MTV News in 1999. "I had all his records and I would play 'Samba Pa Ti' on [the] 'Abraxas' album and just write rhymes and songs on top of it. So I knew Carlos way before he knew me."
Her Duet With Mary J. Blige Samples Wu-Tang Clan
Hill and Mary J. Blige's duet "I Used to Love Him" samples a hook from "Ice Cream," a song released in 1995 by rapper Raekwon featuring his fellow Wu-Tang Clan members Cappadonna and Method Man. The track's title also calls back to another '90s rap star, as it's a play on Common's 1994 song "I Used to Love H.E.R.," an acronym for Hip-Hop in its Essence is Real.
A College-Aged John Legend Played On "Everything Is Everything"
John Legend was attending the University of Pennsylvania when he got the opportunity to meet Hill through a mutual friend. After he played piano and sang a Stevie Wonder song for her, she invited him to contribute to Miseducation.
"Lauryn said, 'Why don't you play on this record we're working on right now? And it was 'Everything is Everything," he said in a 2013 interview with Yahoo!
The song became a Top 40 hit, and Legend scored some bragging rights at school. "I went back to college and I was the man after that," he joked.
A Subtle Salute To House Music Hides In The Lyrics
Though Miseducation is a hip-hop work that doesn't sonically veer into house music, Hill winks at a foundational classic from the dance music genre on the album. When she says, "Jack ya, jack ya, jack ya body" in "Every Ghetto, Every City," she is referencing the 1986 club anthem "Jack Your Body" by Chicago DJ/producer Steve 'Silk' Hurley.
New Ark's Lawsuit Over The Album Raised Questions
In late 1998, the music collective New Ark (guitarist Johari Newton, pianist Tejumold Newton, drum programmer Vada Nobles and songwriter Rasheem "Kilo" Pugh) sued ill, alleging that their work on Miseducation was not properly credited. The lawsuit was reportedly settled for $5 million in 2001, but accusations outside the legal arena have persisted for years.
In 2018, Hill posted a written response to pianist Robert Glasper's claims that she uses work from others without giving credit. In it, she acknowledged that it took the work of others to bring her vision to life, but asserts that she is the nucleus, and that she hired musicians to execute her specific ideas.
"The album inspired many people, from all walks of life, because of its radical (intense) will to live and to express Love," she countered in the response, which was posted to Medium. "I appreciate everyone who was a part of it, in any and every capability. It wouldn't have existed the way that it did without the involvement, skill, hard work, and talents of the artists/musicians and technicians who were a part of it, but it still required my vision, my passion, my faith, my will, my soul, my heart, and my story."
"Ex-Factor" Made Its Way Into Two 2018 Rap Hits
Hill's "Ex-Factor" was sampled in two different pop hits that were both released in April 2018. Drake's "Nice For What" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while Cardi B's "Be Careful" peaked at No. 11; both achieved higher chart success than the original, which stalled at number 21.
Lizzo took Inspiration From "Doo Wop (That Thing)" In 2022
Teaming up with Mark Ronson, Lizzo interpolated (aka replayed) melodies from Hill's hit "Doo Wop (That Thing)" on "Break Up Twice." The song appears on Lizzo's second album, Special. She's also performed covers of the original track on tour.
The Album Set Another Record 23 Years After Its Release
In 2021, Guinness Book of World Records noted that Hill became the first female rapper to reach RIAA Diamond certification for selling 10 million copies of Miseducation. Not only has no other female rapper achieved the feat since, but Hill is in rare company: the only other rappers to reach Diamond status for an album are Eminem, OutKast, Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, Beastie Boys and MC Hammer.
Hill Announced A World Tour To Celebrate The 25th Anniversary
On Aug. 22, the star announced a 17-date world tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of her monumental solo album. Fugees will co-headline the U.S. stops, which begin in Minneapolis on Sept. 8.
"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is and was a love song to my parents, my family, my people, my musical and cultural forebears, my teachers, my loves, my Creator," Hill said in a press release. "I wrote love songs and protest songs— (still love songs) about the subjects and interests that inspired and moved me. I was confident that what inspired me would resonate with an audience that had been led to believe that songs of that kind could only live in the past.
"I loved music, I loved people, I truly felt grateful to God for my life, and genuinely blessed to have a platform where I could share wisdom and perspective through music," she added. "I felt a charge to challenge the idea that certain kinds of expression and/or certain kinds of people didn't belong in certain places. I loved showing what could work or happen provided there was imagination, creativity and LOVE leading the way."
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