Photo: Roots Picnic Facebook
What Makes Roots Picnic Different: Inside Philadelphia's Annual Musical Celebration That Feels Like "It's Just Family"
The Recording Academy went backstage at the fest that celebrates Philadelphia's rich musical heritage, rap and R&B's talent-drenched future and the 20th anniversary of the Roots' 'Things Fall Apart'
In a music world saturated with festivals, full of massive multi-day, multi-genre experiences, Philadelphia's Roots Picnic just feels different. Perhaps it's the local-heavy lineup, the laidback atmosphere, or the soulful spirit of the city, but more than anything, it's the music.
"There's no egos, everybody really just comes to have a good time, that's what's perfect about the Roots Picnic," says producer/engineer and Philadelphia Chapter board member Dilemma. "You get exposed to new music, new artists and you come to be entertained."
While the gravity of its hosts, GRAMMY-winning Philly band The Roots, and their many musical collaborations and connections may be what attracts the masses to the festival (you never know who will take the stage,) most of the day's music rings out with vibrant discovery of new sounds coming from each of the Picnic's three stages. From burgeoning local rappers on the Cricket Stage, to breakout experimental artists like Tank & The Bangas on the Mann stage, to upcoming queens like Asiahn and Ari Lennox holding court on the Fairmount Park stage, the festival boldy faces forward, embracing its historical ties to the black community.
"This is my first time at Roots Picnic. It's been a beautiful experience, nice and black and soulful," said Lennox. "I love Philly, so it's a dream—I've been hearing about it for years, so I'm glad I can finally be here and sing!"
Since 2008, Roots Picnic has brought together Philly's staggeringly talented music community to host artists from across the nation for what basically is one big party.
"To me it's like a big family reunion," said rapper and official Philadelphia music ambassador Chill Moody after performing with his new project &More. "There's people you may only see at the Roots Picnic every year, but when you see them, it's like you've been hanging with them every day. it's just love and everybody's having a good time… It's bigger than the stage, it's just the camaraderie. It's just family."
Where many festivals find themselves too corporately lucrative to stay focused on a family atmosphere, Roots Picnic has managed to keep this in perspective. This energy is perhaps best exemplified by the unique Live Mixtape, presented once again this year by J.Period and The Roots' Black Thought featuring a string of guest appearances honoring and celebrating hip-hop, including an iconic mini-set with the great Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def.) All afternoon, the Mann stage at Roots Picnic feels like a backyard family party, excpet the bass thumping isn't shaking a house, it's shaking the walls of the dressing rooms below.
A Philly music mainstay in her own right, Donn T spoke concisely as to why the event feels familial: the mutual support.
"[It's] artists supporting artists, as well as the public supporting us," Donn T said, adding, "It's history, It's an institution."
The Roots have been able to create an atmosphere that doesn't just show love to local artists, but different kinds of artists from all over.
"Everybody's here. The DJs are here, the artists are here, the producers are here, the fans are here, and there's great energy when other top artists come to Philadelphia," said Dilemma. "When everybody's under the same Picnic roof there's a great energy, it's always a good time. The Roots always know how to show Philadelphia and on a great scale."
But like any party, there's nothing like showing love to the hosts and this year Roots Picnic main event celebrated none other than the band's 20th anniversary of their classic fourth studio album, Things Fall Apart, with a whole performance of the album that included a surprise appearance by Common. The album, released in 1999, is in many ways The Roots' breakthrough and a major part of their journey towards becoming household names with critically acclaimed, GRAMMY-winning albums and a high-profile gig as the house band for "The Tonight Show."
"The lyrics and the songs still relate to today," said Dilemma. "Seeing how well it was put together… the production, and just seeing how young they were when they created it—it's Philadelphia's Illmatic," he says referencing rapper Nas' renowned debut. Donn T, hesitant to even begin to articulate what the album meant to hip-hop, to Philly, to her as an artist—not to mention as Questlove's sister—brought it down to something simple: "It means everything."
The Roots' influence continues to ripple through so many genres and communities, and with Roots Picnic have been able to create a festival that does too in its own way. Truly providing something for everyone with performers ranging from rap superstar 21 Savage to R&B prodigy H.E.R., the fest has grown into a major event, complete with compelling features like sing language interpreters for the hearing impaired, an arcade with ping-pong, video games and skee-ball for kids (of all ages), and a podcast stage with a silent disco party up on the hill, which features a serene view of the Philly skyline not to be missed.
But the focus at Roots Picnic remains on the music. For instance, when the crowd at the Mann Auditorium went wild for surprise guest Musiq Soulchild's performance during Raphael Saadiq's set, the look on many faces in the audience captured how that moment alone was worth the price of admission. A similarly pleased yet more determined look could be seen on the faces of the various young local artists that took the stages throughout the day who knew that performing at Roots Picnic is a true turning point.
"The Roots, with this platform, sets a certain standard for all Philadelphia creatives," said Dilemma. "Once you make it to the Roots Picnic, you're good."
Photo: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
10 Albums That Showcase The Deep Connection Between Hip-Hop And Jazz: De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Kendrick Lamar & More
Hip-hop and jazz are two branches of Black American music; their essences have always swirled together. Here are 10 albums that prove this.
Kassa Overall is tired of talking about the connections between jazz and rap. He had to do it when he released his last two albums, and he has to do it again regarding his latest one.
"They go together naturally," he once said. "They're from the same tree as far as where they come from, which is Black music in America. You don't have to over-mix them. It goes together already."
Expand this outward, and it applies to all Black American musics; it's not a stretch to connect gospel and blues, nor soul and R&B. Accordingly, jazz and rap contain much of the same DNA — from their rhythmic complexity to its improvisational component to its emphasis on the performer's personality.
Whether in sampling, the rhythmic backbone, or any number of other facets, jazz and rap have always been simpatico; just watch this video of the ‘40s and ‘50s vocal group the Jubilaries, which is billed as the “first rap song” and is currently circling TikTok. And as Overall points out to GRAMMY.com, even jazz greats like Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie had “Lil B and Danny Brown energy.”
De La Soul — 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
Featuring samples by everyone from Johnny Cash to Hall and Oates to the Turtles, their playful, iridescent, psychedelic 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, is the perfect portal to who Robert Christgau called "radically unlike any rap you or anybody else has ever heard,"
3 Feet High and Rising consistently ranks on lists of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. In 2010, the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry.
A Tribe Called Quest — The Low End Theory (1991)
If one were to itemize the most prodigious jazz-rap acts, four-time GRAMMY nominees A Tribe Called Quest belong near the top of the list. Their unforgettable tunes; intricate, genre-blending approach; and Afrocentric POV, put them at the forefront of jazz-rap.
There are several worthy gateways to the legendary discography of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White,, like 1993's Midnight Marauders and 1996's Beats, Rhymes and Life.
But their 1991 album The Low End Theory, was a consolidation and a watershed. From "Buggin' Out" to "Check the "Rhime" to "Scenario" — featuring Busta Rhymes, Charlie Brown and Dinco D — The Low End Theory contains the essence of Tribe’s vibrant, inventive personality.
Dream Warriors — And Now the Legacy Begins (1991)
Representing Canada are Dream Warriors, whose And Now the Legacy Begins was a landmark for alternative hip-hop.
King Lou and Capital Q's 1991 debut eschewed tough-guy posturing in favor of potent imagination and playful wit. Christgau nailed it once again with his characterization: "West Indian daisy age from boogie-down Toronto."
Its single "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style" samples "Soul Bossa Nova" by 28-time GRAMMY winner Quincy Jones — who, among all the other components of his legacy, is one of jazz's finest arrangers. The tune would go on to become the Austin Powers theme song; in that regard, too, Dream Warriors were ahead of their time.
The Pharcyde — Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1992)
All of Black American music was fair game to producer J-Swift; on the Pharcyde's classic debut Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, he sampled jazzers like Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers alongside Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, and more. Over these beds of music, Fatlip, SlimKid 3, Imani, and Bootie Brown spit comedic bars with blue humor aplenty.
"I'm so slick that they need to call me, "Grease"/ 'Cause I slips and I slides When I rides on the beast" Imani raps in "Oh S—," in a representative moment. "Imani and your mom, sittin' in a tree/ K-I-S-S (I-N-G)."
All in all, the madcap, infectious Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde is a pivotal entry in the jazz-rap pantheon. One reviewer put it best: "[It] reaffirms every positive stereotype you've ever heard about hip-hop while simultaneously exploding every negative myth."
Digable Planets — Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993)
Digable Planets' Ishmael Butler once chalked up the prevalent jazz samples on their debut as such: "I just went and got the records that I had around me," he said. "And a lot of those were my dad's s—. which was lots of jazz." It fits Digable Planets like a glove.
"Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" contains multiple elements of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' "Stretching"; "Escapism (Gettin' Free" incorporates the hook from Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man"; and "It's Good to Be Here" samples Grant Green's "Samba de Orpheus. Throughout Reachin', Butler, Craig Irving and Mary Ann Viera proselytize Black liberation in a multiplicity of forms.
Pitchfork nailed it when it declared, "Reachin' is an album about freedom — from convention, from oppression, from the limits imposed by the space-time continuum."
Gang Starr — Daily Operation (1992)
In the realm of Gang Starr, spiritual consciousness and street poetry coalesce. Given that jazz trucks in both concepts, it's a natural ingredient for DJ Premier and Guru's finest work.
One of their first masterpieces, Daily Operation, contains some of jazz's greatest minds within its grooves. "The Place Where We Dwell" samples the Cannonball Adderley Quintet's "Fun"; Charles Mingus' "II B.S" is on "I'm the Man"; the late piano magician Ahmad Jamal's "Ghetto Child" pops up on "The Illest Brother."
Throughout their career, DJ Premier and Guru only honed their relaxed chemistry; jazz elements help give their music a natural swing and sway. (Their musical partnership continues to this day; Gang Starr is releasing music this very week.)
The Roots — Things Fall Apart (1999)
Three-time GRAMMY winners The Roots' genius blend of live instrumentation and conscious bars launched them far past any "jazz-rap" conversation and into mainstream culture, via their role as the house band on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."
Elements of limbic, angular jazz can be found throughout their discography, but their major label debut Do You Want More?!!!??! might be the most effective entryway into their blend of jazz and rap. ("Silent Treatment" features a bona fide jazz singer as a guest, Cassandra Wilson.)
Whether it’s the burbling "Distortion to Static," or the jazz-fusion-y "I Remain Calm," or the knockabout "Essaywhuman?!!!??!", venture forth into the Roots' discography; they're a hub of so many spokes of Black American music.
Madlib — Shades of Blue (2003)
As jazz-rap connections go, Madlib's Shades of Blue is one of the most pointed and direct.
Therein, he raids the Blue Note Records vault and remixes luminaries from Wayne Shorter ("Footprints") to Bobby Hutcherson ("Montara") to Ronnie Foster ("Mystic Brew," flipped into "Mystic Bounce"). In the medley "Peace/Dolphin Dance," Horace Silver and Herbie Hencock's titular works meet in the ether.
Elsewhere, Shades of Blue offers new interpretations of Blue Note classics by Madlib's fictional ensembles Yesterday's New Quintet, Morgan Adams Quartet Plus Two, Sound Direction, and the Joe McDuphrey Experience — all of whom are just Madlib playing every instrument.
In recent years, Blue Note has been hurtling forward with a slew of inspired new signings — some veterans, some newcomers. Through that lens, Shades of Blue provides a kaleidoscopic view of the storied jazz repository's past while paving the way for its future.
Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
While hip-hop has had a direct line to jazz for decades — as evidenced by previous entries on this list — Lamar solidified and codified it for the 21st century in this sequence of teeming, ambitious songs about Black culture, mental health and institutional racism.
"Kendrick reached a certain level with his rap that allowed him to move like a horn player," Overall told Tidal in 2020. And regarding Lamar’s present and future jazz-rap comminglings, Overall adds, "He opened up the floodgates of creative possibilities."
Kassa Overall — Animals (2023)
The pieces of Overall's brilliance have been there from the beginning, but never had he combined them to more thrilling effect than on Animals — where jazz musicians like pianists Kris Davis and Vijay Iyer commingle with rappers like Danny Brown and Lil B.
"I would rather people hear my music and not think it's a jazz-rap collage," Overall once told GRAMMY.com. "What if you don't relate it to anything else? What does it sound like to you?"
When it comes to the gonzo Danny Brown and Wiki collaboration "Clock Ticking," the Theo Croker-assisted "The Lava is Calm," and the inspired meltdown of "Going Up," featuring Lil B, Shabazz Palaces and Francis & the Lights — this music sounds like nothing else.
Over the decades, Black American musicians have swirled together jazz and rap into a cyclone of innovation, heart and brilliance — and there’s seemingly no limit to the iterations it can take on.
Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban)
8 Exciting Sets From The 2023 Roots Picnic: Usher, Lil Uzi Vert, Lauryn Hill & More
From a surprise reunion of the Fugees, to a special appearance by Eve and Jazmine Sullivan, the 2023 Roots Picnic brought heat and hype across multiple stages. Read on for the festival's most exciting performances.
For 15 years, The Roots have gathered the music’s brightest and fastest-rising talents to perform in Philadelphia for their annual Roots Picnic, and this year’s lineup was nothing short of star-studded.
After kicking off the weekend with Dave Chappelle’s comedy show at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday, the action moved to the Mann Center in Fairmont Park where fans witnessed surprise crew reunions, unexpected cameos, and a taste of the Las Vegas strip across three performance stages.
On Saturday, legendary rap group State Property reunited for the first time in years, Lil Uzi Vert rocked out with the Park Stage crowd for his third picnic appearance. Supported by the Soulquarians, legends the Isley Brothers and Roy Ayers lit up the Park stage. Lauryn Hill closed out day two by commemorating her GRAMMY-winning album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and bringing out Pras and Wyclef Jean for a Fugees reunion.
Sunday featured high-powered performances from soulful songstress Ari Lennox, former Ruff Ryders first lady Eve, and the devastating femmes of South Florida, the City Girls. Philly’s own DJ Drama drew out home-grown talents like D-Surdy, Armani White, and Bronx legend Fat Joe on the Presser stage.
To close out the weekend, Usher brought the magic of his Vegas residency to West Philly for a string of era-defining hits in the twilight of the festival. Read on for some of the most captivating moments and exciting sets from the 2023 Roots Picnic.
GloRilla Shines In Roots Picnic Debut
GloRilla | Kayla Oaddams/Getty Images
Unapologetic rebel GloRilla may have just one EP under her belt, but her growing fandom came alive during her Roots Picnic performance.
The Presser Stage crowd swooned along with femme-empowering smashes like "Phatnall," as well as more provocative songs like "Nut Quick" and "Lick or Sum." Legions of newly single fans screamed the lyrics to crunk hit "F.N.F. (Let’s Go)."
Big Glo kept the momentum going at high speed, loosening the relatively stiff crowd. And while Cardi B wasn’t present for her part in "Tomorrow 2," GloRilla brought out an energized and visibly pregnant Chrisean Rock for a twerk-worthy cameo.
GloRilla truly embraced her rowdy nature and southern charm, which has helped her earn garner recognition from her peers and even notch her first GRAMMY nod for Best Rap Performance.
Usher Brings Sultry And Sin To The City, With A Few Special Guests
Usher and Black Thought perform | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban
Before Usher had even closed out the festival, radio and podcast personality Charlamagne and comedian Jess Hilarious talked about wrapping up their own event early to snag a close seat to watch the R&B star in action.
Though decades into his musical career, Usher hasn't missed a step. Dressed in leather, the eight-time GRAMMY winner delivered his classic, slow-burning album cuts and glossy radio hits under the glimmering lights of the open air Park stage.
Usher put on an electrifying performance that covered hits from various eras in his catalog. Songs like "Love in This Club," "U Don’t Have to Call," and "Lil Freak" had Sunday’s crowd staring in awe, even for those looking to get ahead of the departing traffic. He also brought The Roots on stage before Philly natives Jazmine Sullivan, Eve and Black Thought joined the singer to perform "U Got Me."
Lauryn Hill (And Some Famous Friends) Took The Crowd Way Back
Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, and Pras Michel of the Fugees | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban
Lauryn Hill’s reputation precedes her. Some fans joked about her tardiness — or even potential absence — but the legendary vocalist arrived about 30 minutes past her scheduled set time and put on a performance that was met with shockwaves of cheers.
Hill's headlining performance coincides with a big milestone: the 25th anniversary of her groundbreaking album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. "Even though it's been 25 years, everything is still everything," she told the enlivened crowd.
She performed tracks from the masterful GRAMMY-winning album, including "Everything Is Everything" and "When It Hurts So Bad," but perhaps the biggest surprise throughout the weekend was the reunion between her, Pras and Wyclef Jean. The trio came together as the Fugees to perform hits "Ready Or Not" and "Killing Me Softly" for a spirited celebration of the group’s 1996 album The Score.
"We’re out here doing 25 years of Miseducation. But there’s another 25 years we didn’t do a couple of years ago because of COVID," Hill said of the group’s project. The group closed out with "Fu-Gee-La," with Hill switching from her soothing alto to her "L-Boogie" persona of old, bringing the joyous crowd to its knees.
City Girls Bring The Twerkers Out To Play
The City Girls brought headliner energy to Sunday’s picnic, with JT and Young Miami inciting a twerkathon with hot summer girl anthems like "Act Up" and "Do It On The Tip" playing out center stage.
The Miami duo kept the energy high with on-stage twerk moves, pulsating hits like "Twerkulator," and efforts to draw out the crowd’s inner act-bad attitude by screaming: "If you’re a bad bitch, say, ‘Hell, yeah!’" And by the end of the group’s performance, fans were left with a racing heartbeat or sweating from the constant flow of high-powered hits and go-get-him-girl records.
Lil Uzi Vert Knows What The City Wants
Lil Uzi Vert | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban
Now in their third appearance since 2016, Philly native Lil Uzi Vert took to the Park stage on Saturday, bringing enough bass and adoring screams that could be heard across Fairmont Park.
"I ain’t going to do too much talking. Let’s do it," they said to the roaring crowd. While Lil Uzi’s voice occasionally drowned in a song’s instrumental, their effortless magnetism and signature shoulder roll dance brought excitement to the growing crowd.
The rumblings of hits like "444+222" and "Sauce It Up" rang in fans’ ears, and songs like "Money Longer," and the Diamond-selling smash "XO Tour Llif3" nearly turned portions of the crowd into mosh pits. Lil Uzi’s performance came to a welcomed halt when fans were invited to the stage to dance to the massively popular "Just Wanna Rock," which has become an unofficial anthem in their hometown. "I’m in the city, this they s—." Fans pulled out their phones as the rap star capped off the set with the viral hit.
Lucky Daye Drips In Allure
Only a year removed from his breakthrough album, Candydrip — a genre-drifting and soul-stirring project riddled with pop and R&B hits — Lucky Daye has risen to star status. And with songs like "Real Games" and "Late Night," it’s easy to be drawn to the New Orleans-born artist.
While initially draped in glimmering red garments, it didn’t take the artist long to strip down (well, shirtless, that is), and render impassioned vocals over the cheers and screams of his admirers. He dove into songs across his various albums and fell to his knees to deliver a burningly passionate rendition of "F—kin’ Sound" before the 37-year-old vocalist exited the Mann’s amphitheater stage.
Ari Lennox Conjures Soul In Comforting Fashion
Ari Lennox | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban
It’s unclear if Ari Lennox still has plans to step away from the touring circuit for good, but if her Sunday evening performance is any indication, her presence would be sorely missed. The "Shea Butter Baby" vocalist conjured every fragment of her soulful and poetic artistry, bringing vibes despite having a slight cold.
The DC-born R&B singer danced to the flowy breeze setting over the stretched-out crowd while singing favored tracks like "New Apartment," as well as "Waste My Time" and "Pressure" from last year’s Age/Sex/Location. Lennox encouraged fans to close their eyes and sway their hips, and many raised drinks as Lennox’s soothing voice and sultry lyrics wrapped around their bodies.
Busta Rhymes And Eve Come To Devastate
Spliff Star and Busta Rhymes | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban
Joined by The Roots’ Black Thought, Busta Rhymes and Spliff Star tore down the Park stage, even with distracting audio woes hindering the early part of their set. Shot mic or not, Busta’s lion-like voice could be heard from yards away as he spewed the lyrics to "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" and A Tribe Called Quest’s "Scenario" to a cheering audience.
Eve arrived during the latter part of the DJ J. Period curated set. The former First Lady of Ruff Ryder burst onto the stage and held her own alongside the fellow hip-hop heavyweights. As she swayed the crowd with songs like "Tambourine" and her verse on the late DMX’s "Ruff Ryders Anthem (Remix)," it harkened back to her days as a lyrical wild card in the early 2000s before she ventured into acting and hosting gigs.
Photo: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Revisiting 'The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill': Why The Multiple GRAMMY-Winning Record Is Still Everything 25 Years Later
Lauryn Hill will celebrate her magnum opus with a series of anniversary performances throughout the summer, including at the Roots Picnic June 3-4. Ahead of the show, GRAMMY.com examines how Hill's only solo album continues to impact music and womanhood.
By the time she released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1998, singer and rapper Lauryn Hill had already scored two GRAMMY Awards for her work in the hip-hop trio Fugees. Her debut solo album — and only one to date — generated another seven wins, including Album Of The Year and Best R&B Album, which brought rapping to the mainstream in a way previously unseen. And in a male-dominated genre, this feat was achieved by a strong woman.
"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 at the 41st GRAMMY Awards in 1999.
Hill set a number of records with Miseducation: The lead single "Doo Wop (That Thing)," released two weeks before the album, immediately went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Rap Songs chart. As a woman solo artist, she set long-held records for both charts with "Doo Wop (That Thing)." The album also entered the Billboard 200 chart in the top position, which no other debut from a woman had achieved before.
Miseducation contains 16 songs and is over 77 minutes in length — a long album by modern standards, yet fitting for Hill’s magnum opus. The album features guest appearances by Carlos Santana ("To Zion"), Mary J. Blige ("I Used to Love Him") and D’Angelo ("Nothing Even Matters"), bringing listeners back to the classroom for interludes where Hill schools the world on what a vanguard looks like.
And Lauryn Hill was at the vanguard in many ways. Several women who were popular in mainstream hip-hop at the time favored scantily clad outfits and scandalous lyrical content, but Hill projected the opposite in songs about love, faith, fortitude and empowerment. Throughout Miseducation, Hill talks to God and to the world, while simultaneously issuing warnings for those who have mistreated her.
Twenty-five years later, Miseducation still sounds vibrant, alive and current. That’s a testament to how influential Hill’s work continues to be not only in popular music, but in pop culture and womanhood — especially for Black women and single mothers.
"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 told The Guardian in 2013. "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 that album feels like to me."
"Doo Wop (That Thing)," "Ex-Factor" and "Everything Is Everything" were each accompanied by masterful music videos that showed Hill as a woman who transcends the ages.
Speaking To Women
For women who were faithful hip-hop fans despite a prevailing tide of misogyny and death, as well as those facing single motherhood, Miseducation demonstrated a positive and empowered way forward. Instead of catering to the male gaze, the songs spotlight the joys and the struggles of women with rugged beats and lyrics that highlight her pure skill as an MC.
"Lost Ones" asserts her split from Fugees with the bravado of the best wordsmiths, while "I Used to Love Him" with Mary J. Blige samples the very macho "Ice Cream" by Wu-Tang Clan rappers Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Cappadonna. And songs such as "Doo Wop (That Thing)" and "To Zion" showcase her powerful abilities as a singer, a potent accompaniment to her rhymes.
"Lauryn was a breath of fresh air, a hope and — unrealistically — a solution to what was wrong with hip-hop and its representation of women at the time," Joan Morgan, author of She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, said in a 2018 interview with VIBE. "I think people hold dear to it as a really exciting possible moment of change, which in some ways wore itself out and in some ways didn’t. It does more work than just an album…It’s like running into an old friend that you don’t necessarily keep in touch with all the time, but one you have really fond memories of."
"It wasn’t until much later that I realized how many women and girls were changed by the album," Thembisa S. Mshaka, who worked as the senior advertising copywriter for Sony Music during the album’s release, told Okayplayer. "I was shocked to learn how many of the women I’d meet throughout my career still had point-of-purchase flats of the cover, or posters, or ads ripped from magazines like Honey and VIBE on their walls. Lauryn was that role model for the hip-hop generation that Diana Ross was for the Motown generation."
Hill immediately faced monumental pressure from fans and the music business to produce more music after Miseducation. She later shared that the squeeze was taking a toll on her art.
"I had to step away when I realized that for the sake of the machine, I was being way too compromised," she explained in a 2006 interview with ESSENCE. "I had to fight for an identity that doesn’t fit in one of their boxes. I’m a whole woman. And when I can’t be whole, I have a problem. By the end I was like, I’ve got to get out of here."
Though fans keep hope alive, Hill has never released another album, which makes Miseducation even more significant with the passage of time.
"People need to understand that the Lauryn Hill they were exposed to in the beginning was all that was allowed in that arena at that time," she continued to ESSENCE. "There was much more strength, spirit and passion, desire, curiosity, ambition and opinion that was not allowed in a small space designed for consumer mass appeal and dictated by very limited standards."
Hill gave Miseducation her everything, and while she hasn’t released more albums, she has performed songs from the album live countless times over the years. She keeps the material fresh for herself by constantly creating new arrangements, tempos and vibes for the songs, and fans will be able to check that out when she celebrates the 25th anniversary of the album with special performances of the work at Roots Picnic in Philadelphia (June 3-4), Wolf Trap near Washington, D.C. (June 9), Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL (June 17) and ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans (June 29-July 3).
"People can be disappointed that we haven’t had more music from her, but I don’t know if they can blame her or be angry," Morgan added in her VIBE interview. "We’re not entitled to another album — I think audiences forget that," she remarks. "You can’t be angry with someone because they only gave you one of what you wanted."
Responding To Persisting Controversy
A 1998 lawsuit filed against Hill by Johari Newton, Tejumold Newton, Vada Nobles and Rasheem Pugh alleged that the star didn’t credit their musical contributions to Miseducation. The suit was settled out of court, but accusations outside the legal arena have persisted over the years.
In 2018, Hill posted a written response to pianist Robert Glasper’s claims that she uses work from others without crediting them. 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."
A quarter century later, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill remains timeless. It has been prominently sampled by major artists who followed, including Drake, Cardi B, Lizzo, H.E.R. and J.Cole. The beauty of this iconic album is that it may well spark the brain of the next musician who will make as much of an impact on music and humanity.
Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
10 Must-See Moments From The 2023 GRAMMYs: Beyoncé Makes History, Hip-Hop Receives An Epic Tribute, Bad Bunny Brings The Puerto Rican Heat
The 2023 GRAMMYs marked a triumphant — and historic — return to Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena, where modern superstars and living legends came together for a memorable celebration of music in all its forms.
A wide, uplifting tapestry of sounds was saluted and rewarded during the 2023 GRAMMYs. The telecast's pluralistic approach delivered a view of the present as a time of musical splendor while also celebrating its past — from hip-hop's legacy, to Latin's cultural influence, to pop's boundary-pushing stars.
Between history-making wins from Beyoncé and Kim Petras, a major victory by a young jazz sensation, and celebratory performances honoring greats, there was plenty to be reveled both on and off the GRAMMY stage. Below, take a look at the highlights of another memorable edition of Music's Biggest Night.
Bad Bunny Sticks Close To His Caribbean Roots
After global star Bad Bunny celebrated a year of extraordinary achievements — both artistic and commercial — the Puerto Rican tastemaker used his GRAMMYs performance to celebrate his Caribbean roots.
Benito could have picked an obvious selection, like the crowd-pleasing single "Tití Me Preguntó." Instead, he focused on the soulful roots of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic by performing electrifying renditions of "El Apagón" and "Después de la Playa."
Bad Bunny has demonstrated time and again a gift for reinventing Latin genres. And yet, "Después de la Playa" kept its insanely syncopated beats and feverish brass section faithful to traditional merengue. The late Dominican icon Johnny Ventura would have been proud.
The Fans Receive A Much-Deserved Spotlight
The awards, record deals and critical raves are indispensable elements of stardom. But in the end, it is the contributions of average fans that sustain a career. With that in mind, the GRAMMYs organized a roundtable with 10 studious fans, each making a case for their favorite performer to win the Album Of The Year award.
To their delight — and genuine surprise — host Trevor Noah invited them on stage for the coveted award, asking one of the most devoted fans in Harry Styles' pack to announce his win. The two shared a joyous embrace before she handed him his golden gramophone, serving as a touching closing reminder that the fans mean everything.
The Magic Of Motown Becomes Transformational
A brisk tribute to Motown co-founder Berry Gordy and musical genius Smokey Robinson — three songs, augmented by an inspired Stevie Wonder — proved that words will never be enough to capture the label's contribution to pop culture. A factory of beautiful dreams, Motown gave us a string of timeless hits that combine aural poetry with propulsive rhythms, honeyed hooks and virtuoso arrangements. Seeing the 82 year-old Robinson perform the 1967 classic "The Tears of a Clown" was one of the evening's most dazzling moments. (The performance also featured Wonder's rendition of the Temptations' "The Way You Do The Things You Do" and a duet with country singer Chris Stapleton on Wonder's own "Higher Ground.")
Honoring The Past Shows The Future Is Bright
2022 was a year of artistic triumph, but also of tremendous loss. The In Memoriam segment of the telecast was sobering, also honoring performers who are lesser known in the United States but definitely worthy of a mention — such as Brazil's Erasmo Carlos and Argentina's Marciano Cantero.
It began with a stately rendition of "Coal Miner's Daughter" by Kacey Musgraves in tribute to country legend Loretta Lynn, then continued with Quavo and Maverick City Music honoring Migos' Takeoff, ending with an homage to Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie from Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt and Mick Fleetwood. Many artists were lost during the past 12 months, but their music lives on.
A Queen Breaks Records — To A Disco Beat
Beyoncé was allegedly stuck in traffic when she won her third GRAMMY of the evening — Best R&B Song for the joyful single "CUFF IT" — which, as Trevor Noah noted, put her one win away from making GRAMMY history. Luckily, by the time her name was announced for that record-setting feat, she was in attendance — and very much in shock.
Her seventh studio LP, RENAISSANCE, won Best Dance/Electronic Album. The win put her GRAMMY total at 32, marking the most wins of all time. Visibly emotional, Beyoncé first took a deep breath and said "I'm trying to just receive this night"; before heading off stage, she made sure to honor the queer dance pioneers who inspired the album, an exuberant tribute to classic dance format.
Hip-Hop Shines As A National Treasure
2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop — so, naturally, the GRAMMYs put together perhaps the most legendary celebration possible. Featuring the Roots, Run-DMC, Queen Latifah, and many, many more, the nearly 15-minute performance highlighted the genre's influence from past to present.
The parade of legends tracing the history of the genre was breathtaking. From Grandmaster Flash ("The Message") and De La Soul ("Buddy") to Missy Elliott ("Lose Control") and Lil Uzi Vert ("Just Wanna Rock"), the extensive medley gave hip-hop its rightful place of honor as the most compelling musical movement of the past 50 years.
The Art Of Songwriting Stands The Test Of Time
One of the show's most endearing images was the utter shock on Bonnie Raitt's face when she was announced as the winner of the Song Of The Year GRAMMY — perhaps because her competition featured the likes of Beyoncé, Adele and Harry Styles. "This is an unreal moment," she said. "The Academy has given me so much support, and appreciates the art of songwriting as much as I do."
In retrospect, Raitt's win shouldn't surprise anyone who is aware of her superb musicianship — and her 15 GRAMMYs to show for it. A rootsy, vulnerable song, "Just Like That" is the title track of her eighteenth studio album; the song also took home the GRAMMY for Best American Roots Song earlier in the evening.
Lizzo Dedicates Her Grammy Win to Prince (And Beyoncé)
By the time Record Of The Year was announced, the prodigiously gifted Lizzo had already brought the GRAMMY house down with rousing performances of the funky "About Damn Time" and the anthemic "Special." But clearly the best was yet to come, as the former track took home one of the night's biggest honors.
As Lizzo began her speech, she paid homage to Prince, who both served as an idol and a mentor to the star. "When we lost Prince, I decided to dedicate my life to making positive music," she said, going on to explain that while she first felt misunderstood for her relentless positivity, mainstream music has begun to accept it — as evidenced by her win for "About Damn Time."
Before leaving the stage, she made sure to give one more idol a shout-out: Beyoncé. "You changed my life," Lizzo said, reflecting on seeing the "BREAK MY SOUL" singer when she was in 5th grade. "You sang that gospel medley, and the way you made me feel, I was like, 'I wanna make people feel this way with my music.' So thank you so much."
Contrary To Popular Belief, Jazz Proves It's Far From Dead
It only takes one listen to the wondrous voice of young Bronx singer Samara Joy to understand that she follows the same path once walked by Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. Joy's second album, Linger Awhile, includes atmospheric versions of such classic nuggets as "Misty," "'Round Midnight" and "Someone To Watch Over Me."
The rising star was already a winner going into the telecast, as Joy took home the golden gramophone for Best Jazz Vocal Album in the Premiere Ceremony. But when she beat out mainstream hitmakers like Latto, Anitta and Måneskin for the coveted Best New Artist GRAMMY, Joy not only set her place in the jazz firmament — it hinted that the genre may be ripe for a revival.
The Pop Concept Album Lives On
It's not only the stunning beauty of its melodies, and the pristine warmth of the production. Harry's House is a special album partly because of its vaguely conceptual sheen — the pervasive feeling that the 13 songs within are interconnected, an intimate journey into the singer's creative soul.
At the telecast, Styles performed an ethereal reading of his luminous mega-hit "As It Was." His well-deserved win for Album Of The Year confirmed that it's perfectly valid to mix accessible pop with a sophisticated unifying theme — and if you do it really right, you may just win a GRAMMY.