Media Monday: Classic Album

by cynthiarendon

I find the “What’s your favorite album?” question impossible to answer much of the time. I have A Tribe Called Quest phases; Amy Winehouse phases; Beatles phases; Stevie Wonder phases; Fleetwood Mac phases; 60s girl group phases; even Black Sabbath phases. I mean it’s difficult. In truth, my list is filled with albums that simply refuse to be put into any “genre” or order, least of all chronological. I sound like such a tool, but whatever.

One thing is for certain — The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill reigns extremely high on that hypothetical list, near the peak in fact. Not only is it one of the most successful and much loved albums of the past 15 years — it’s also one that means a great deal to me personally. And I’m almost sure you can say the same for many women my age.

For some background: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released 13 years ago, when Hill was 23, and went on to sell more than 8 million copies, win five Grammys, and earn a four-star review in Rolling Stone. Mary J. Blige (featured on “I Used To Love Him” off the album) hailed it as “one of the most incredible albums ever made.” The record also went on to influence a generation of soul and hip-hop artists. And really, tell me one of today’s decent rappers/hip-hoppers/soul singers who don’t credit Lauryn as an incredible influence?

Though the album is over ten years old, it doesn’t feel that way. In college and right out of college, this was the epitome of a relatable record.  It has the musical integrity that I so dearly love in a hip-hop record — how she sounds so beautifully real, complete with the husky texture and scratch in her voice. This is an album that has no skippable tracks, which is a rare thing to say nowadays. This is an album that inspired men to be better to their women (at least, I hope so) and women to be strong, open, and emotional.

It was her own vulnerability that made this album so special to me. I empathized with her — and the “care for me, care for me” bit at the end of “Ex-Factor” may have been what did it for me.

Miseducation does not represent a time and place in my life, but it has evolved with me as I have changed. I loved the songs when I first heard them as a teenager, and I gain a different understanding of them with my life experiences.

Hearing “Ex-Factor” multiple times in my early twenties — at tough times in a relationship and at the true end of the relationship — seared me and the experience I was living: trying to fall out of love and eventually falling out of love. And every time I played the song it was like I was hearing it for the first time. I could plug my experience into the song, and I felt comforted.

The bridge (the “care for me, care for me” bit, as I so eloquently put it) and the subsequent guitar licks at the end of that track just devastated, like she knew how the musical equivalent of rubbing alcohol on a still fresh and delicate wound would sound. Apparently, it was the sound of an electric riff — and it stung, but it had to be done. Lauryn knew.

I’m still young, so my journey through life with Miseducation continues. It doesn’t sting anymore and I’m done healing, so at the moment it just sounds good, which always a good thing.

To provide context, here’s her, I believe, magnum opus.