Sometime last year I went through a gut-wrenching breakup. Not because anybody cheated or invited me to therapy to let me know they were gay in front of 25 cameras and a boom mic or anything. Just a regular ole’ "I think we just broke up and I don't know how to function without my best friend so now I'm drunk in DR a week and a half later and still buying you a birthday gift like a looney tune and crying on the damn beach" break up. An "I'm crying in the club to a dancehall tune that we both loved" breakup. An "eat and drink my feelings with abandon for 6 months then stand on the scale in horror" breakup. You get the picture.
Thankfully for both me and my friends, I busted out of that funk. That is to say, I'm still a mess, but a way more high-functioning one.
During this pity tour, I went through a lot of sad playlists, because no one engages in emotional masochism quite like the Yung Shamgod. I watched Sarah Mclachlan abused puppy commercials. I dusted off my mom's Celine Dion and Jacques Brel CDs. Had an Adele Appreciation month - and committed the cardinal sin of updating my Gchat status to a verse off 21. I may have even played "Song Cry" on loop for an hour in the dark while I polished off a lemonade-rita tall boy in bed - although I'm sincerely hoping this was a fever dream.
Of course, no post-breakup wallow cycle is complete without revisiting Lauryn Hill's debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. So one Tuesday evening, I got my glass of wine, dimmed the lights, and got ready for my almost daily routine of crying my eyes out until my tear ducts were depleted enough to be functional around well-adjusted humans for 8 hours the next working day.
That same Tuesday is when I promptly discovered that this album is terrible.
Before you start pelting me with essential oils, please note that I've been an avid defender of Lauryn Hill: The Early Years (no one is standing by Burlington Coat Factory Fire Sale Rack Lauryn). Teenage me cobbled my hard earned tutoring pennies to buy the album to play on my fancy non-skip discman, waist length straightbacks flapping in the wind. Teenage me found this album very deep and soulful.
Teenage me also thought that communism was a really great idea "in theory, just not in execution." In short, teenage me was an idiot in a Knicks jersey dress.*
We need to collectively acknowledge that our stannery of this album is wholly due to our nostalgic memory of what that album seemed to be, and not what it actually was and is: a petty collection of shots and fake-deep respectability politics by a pretentious asshole who definitely presses the like button on hotep Facebook memes that litter her newsfeed.
As I am sure that a few of you are still vehemently denying reality, I will submit to you some incontrovertible track-by-track truth bombs.
- Intro – There’s nothing really to break down here but I wanted to use this part to just get the acknowledgement out of the way that the skit that is weaved through the album is just pointless. No one cares how kids feel about love. They don’t know how they feel about love. Because kids don’t have fully formed opinions on anything except for what’s in the new crispy chicken wraps, or b.what new vine dance is going to break into the mainstream. Even at my peak delusional enjoyment of this album, I skipped past the skits.
- Lost Ones – In the cannon of top diss songs ever recorded, this definitely is up there (although not superior to "10% Dis" – MC Lyte blessed us with the unfuckwitable phrase “hot damn hoe, here we go again”, which is in regular day to day rotation round these parts). That said…the entire conceit of the track is a farce. Lauryn Hill was the side chick who got played to the left and had nothing but sour grapes to show for it. All reasons to be salty to be sure - but you got with a married Haitian man…girl, what else were you expecting? The modern day equivalent of the spirit of this song is jumping on twitter and putting up screenshots of somebody’s man’s DMs after he decides to stop cheating with you. I haven’t even gotten into her hotep life parables peppered throughout the song. “Wisdom is better than silver & gold?” I’m pretty sure she didn’t tell that to the IRS. (Have you read what she actually said to the IRS though? She said we shouldn’t pay taxes because of slavery and because she creates art about love. I don’t know about that second part, but I am happily onboard to sign the Change.org petition for the new-age reparations model.)
- Ex Factor – Again, Lauryn is forcing us to accept a reality that retroactively undermines that we historically know to be true. “It could all be so simple”…how on earth could being in a non-relationship with your band mate and co-writer who is publicly with someone else be simple? “Loving you is like a battle”..”get some reciprocity”…”pretend that you can’t stay”…I’m just saying, we mocked K. Michelle for writing woeful ballads about sleeping with a certain Ghanaian fuckboy. What’s the difference beyond a few booty injections?
- To Zion – Okay, I guess this song is endearing, I’ll give you that. Although I kind of furrow my brow at the whole “everyone told me to abort you, but an angel told me I was going to have a powerful son, so I ignored everyone, and look at you now?” part of the song. I wouldn’t rebut anyone who said this was sweet. I’m not a parent – the only person I can sing about being the joy of my world is Mona “Lucifer” Scott for continuing to find new ways to keep me in her evil clutches (Cardi B AND Remy Ma on Love & Hip Hop NY? Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in…)
- Doo Wop (That Thing) – This song is flat-out terrible. The entire first verse is her calling chicks sinful weaved-up hoes. The woman who was sleeping with two married men and had them both at the delivery of her son is wagging her finger at who, exactly? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, as someone in the Bible once (kinda) said. Then after she’s done going all “nasty put some clothes on I told ya” she chastises men for…not adhering to club dress codes and lying about their prison records? Oh, and child support. At one point in time we thought this song was empowering.
- Superstar – I have nothing much to say here except that the hook is super corny. “Come on baby light my fire/everything you drop is so tired/music is supposed to inspire/how come we ain’t getting no higher” sounds like the revelations of Chip & Dustin after passing around a vaporizer in the Kappa Sigma frat house.
- Final Hour – Lauryn can indisputably rap. But what the hell is she rapping about? I guess this is the hotepian version of “I’ll get that last laugh from the gates of heaven while you heathens are dancing on those flames, haters.” But hey, if Wu-Tang can do it, then Lauryn certainly can. Blink your third eye 5 times if you understand this message.
- When It Hurts So Bad – Another 5 minute long sub to Wyclef. *Yawns* We’ve already tread this water. Lauryn is one lifelong warning sign against island dick. ESPECIALLY if it’s married.
- I Used to Love Him - *points up*
- Forgive them Father – I appreciate the Concrete Jungle beat flip…but this is another hotep song that doesn’t actually seem to have a point. At some points it seems like she’s talking about Wyclef for the umpteenth time, but then she starts talking about Indians and Chiefs and African czars and Menelik and I’m pretty sure I passed out and woke up in a spoken word showcase.
- Every Ghetto, Every City – A cute ode to her hometown I guess. I don’t have anything to say about this. I guess no thoughts are better than bad thoughts.
- Nothing Even Matters – I got nothing. I genuinely love this song. Plus D’Angelo sounds out full syllables! I can’t hate on that.
- Everything is Everything - see: Hour, Final; Father, Forgive Them.
- The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - …okay I love this song too.
It goes without saying that (some of) my criticism is a bit dramatized for effect. I didn’t even give the album it’s due props for production and arrangement. That said, I do present my case for Miseducation’s greatness being overinflated. It’s 60% sidechick woes, 25% hotep facts with some religious overtones (ESPECIALLY Tell Him, which I didn’t write about because I was lazy and my word count has gotten quite egregious at his point), and 15% self-empowerment. This is not a bad thing! But let’s acknowledge it for what it is.
…Or give K. Michelle’s sophomore album a second glance. She may be like a bird, but that Memphis cockatoo can sing like one too.
*this was the most feminine item of clothing I owned at the time too. I went through a quite painful and protracted tomboy phase.