Educating Lauryn

"Music is supposed to inspire/How come we ain't getting no higher," she sings on "Superstar." With Wyclef and Pras gettin' jiggy with their Puffinator songwriting machine (and what's up with Clef's Clintonian Blaze gunwaving denial?), Hill is left guarding the vault of the Fugees original ideals. "My rhymes is heavy/Like the mind of Sister Betty [Shabazz]," she raps, a new mom audaciously aiming for -- at only 23! -- the kind of Righteous Universal Mother iconhood which Queen Latifah first hinted at. Such a persona allows for no cracks in her armor; she must be an invincible moral machine. That can lead to didacticism at times, and it's probably not a great idea to chastise the ladies for "showing off they ass cause they thinking it's the trend" (from "Doo Wop") if you're planning to pose in nothing but metallic paint for Details. Then again, when was the last time a catchy pop song broke down 20 years of fucked-up gender politics, and cared enough to wonder "how you gon' win when you ain't right within?"

Hill's lyrics are at their detailed best when she's angry, or indulging in Biblical-scale ego trips ("taking over areas in Aquarius/Running red lights with my 10,000 chariots"). You can hear tangible crushed-bug pain in her voice in break-up songs like "Ex-Factor," but "tried/lied/died/cried" cliches keep you at arm's length, like Hill can only bear to show so much vulnerability, so much of the drama deep inside. By the last song you realize you've heard her entire life story, from childhood to childbirth, but you don't really know her at all. --Sia Michel


Separating Soul

There is one song that moves me on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: "I Used To Love Him," a self-explanatory duet with Mary J Blige. That Lauryn, like Mary (fuck it, like me, like my sister K., like a lot of us), natural goddess, superior rhyme stylist, she possessed of too many talents and God-given blessings to list, should have experienced the kind of deep pain she has, speaks volumes about men. Or rather a particular kind of man. All right, a very specific kind of behavior found in this particular kind of man.

Have you ever fallen for a thief? The kind of masked man who, as sister Alice Walker put it, eats hearts. "Finds heart meat delicious, but not rare." Lauryn knows of whom I speak. He was the ocean -- she was the sand. After your senses have been dulled, your vision blurred, after sacrificing too much and giving all your power, after making attempts to close wounds so deep and wide they threaten to bloody your very life, you're left with but one question: How could I let this happen? I like to lie about it. When a new friend asked the other day if I'd ever been in love, I said without hesitation, No. Cuz you know? Fuck him. And his fucking mirrors and smoke. Does he deserve a place in my history? Lauryn wrestles with her home invader's not-so-distant ghost on practically every track. How could I have been so naive, she asks? After I took your abuse, played your mind games, wrote your rhymes ("...now you get it"), spun the press... After all that what I get is a blade in the back?

Because she truly seems to try to live in truth she is constantly praying aloud for the ability to become forgiveness. The evolutionary resolution on "I Used To Love Him" is about giving her life back to the Creator. And it's a return that's neither insincere nor sacrificial. "I don't now!" she shouts convincingly over Mary's vocals. And you want to believe her. But you're mad all over again at this brotha, the one with all the potential, the one who indeed betrayed his very self in betraying her. Because Lauryn, being all the woman she is (even at 23) could have helped him actualize who it is she has to believe he really wanted to be.

That Lauryn in this very personal solo debut should use her work to work this love affair out is justice. Though I love "You Just Lost One" and "Final Hour," straight hip-hop joints that remind us she's one of the nicest MCs ever, period, and like very much her song with D'Angelo, the sexy "Nothing Even Matters," the album as a whole is a little heartbreaking. Lauryn exercised an enormous amount of control over this album. And I'm for that Patrice Rushen kind of control coming from a sister. But Hill doesn't have the musical ability of a Patrice Rushen, and some of her best ideas are only semi-realized. Perfection from people capable of perfection is a fair thing to want. Wanting less would make them less. But as I pray for L, and her name is beneath a white candle on my altar, I will pray that she not only find the kind of happiness the one with blood on his teeth promised her, but that she find a producer, a musical partner from whom she will take direction, someone in whose hands she can put the most true part of herself, a collaborator she can trust, the way she once trusted Clef. --Dream Hampton

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