Educating Lauryn

What makes The Miseducation majestic is the seamlessness with which she travels her realm within any given song -- none of that "here's my rap song, here's my soul song" clank which makes a lot of records (the Fugees' included) sound stupidly incoherent. On tracks like "Lost Ones" and "Doo Wop," the motion itself becomes a whole new flavor in your ear: the sound of anything-can-happen. The mercuriality of shape, its turn from tired structures, breeds new forms -- not Roni Size's but KISS radio's, the first soulful response to the anti-narrative flux of electronica, with plush melody and home-brewed rhymes to boot. L's boogie is complicated.

And for the most part, she's best that way. I forgive how "To Zion" goes gaga over goo-goo, but the one-dimensionality of its stylings is still pretty dull, and the joke of the rhythm track (Little Drummer Boy -- d'ya get it?) doesn't survive retelling. If anything can bring Lauryn Hill down it's this very God Bless the Childishness. As organic as she makes it sound, it must be a struggle to embody so many traditions. At the end of the record, as she slips into "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and "Tell Him," you can feel her yearning for the simplicity and clear emotional timbre of yesteryear's jazz/pop standards -- the same urge that brought her to Roberta Flack back in the day. Like a lot of Lauryn fans, I'm happy to have Pras and Wyclef shut up. But I also want Billie Holiday to stop calling her name, to leave her be as a brilliant synthesist of black music, a one-woman anti-diaspora for the post-millennial funk. --Jane Dark

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