The year 1998 was a weird one for hip hop, but it was all building up to that period. We were still mourning the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. in tandem from 1996 to 1997. Both of those losses ultimately ended the East Coast vs. West Coast feud and left a gaping void in the “King” category. Little did we know that by September of ’98, a dark horse named Jay Z would release his pivotal Vol 2…Hard Knock Life, which would fling him directly into households worldwide. As for women in hip hop, well, times had certainly changed.
Gone were the days of fighting over who was the “real” Roxanne; instead Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown were participating in wig-snatching contests while simultaneously upping the crude factor with every bar their rap mentors wrote for them. Puff Daddy was ushering in the shiny suits, as Rawkus Records was fighting for the soul of backpackers. The little genre that could was being tugged in all different directions, with no tangible meeting point. And just like that, on August 25th, 1998, a little Jersey girl named Lauryn “L-Boogie” Hill forever changed the way we approached hip-hop music by delivering her pièce de résistance titled The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. And now it turns 15.
The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill was a lot of things to a lot of people, namely Lauryn Hill herself. Two years prior, Ms. Hill struck gold (and Platinum and Diamond) as part of The Fugees with their groundbreaking album The Score. It wasn’t enough though. Hill has often stated in the past that Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel were asked about lyrics in interviews (how dare they ask Pras about lyrics!), while Lauryn was asked about lipstick colors. She was already known as an adept lyricist herself, yet because “Killing Me Softly” was such a dominant force on that LP, her bars on album cuts like “Zealots” and the title track had no shot in hell of entering the conversation. That, and she was a female.
Read the full breakdown here.