As a feminist piece, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is unmatched on several levels. Creating something as personal from which we achieve success and with such longevity as this album is what we would all like to do in our own ways. In the second part of this series of articles, we continue our re-education through Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation. In the previous article in this series we discussed (self-) love, the primary theme about which Ms Hill speaks. In this article, we’ll discuss the motifs of success and beauty.
One of the features of our modern society is that pretence and materialism are popular – they get the most likes and likes now determine ‘success’. Whilst this may be the norm, it needn’t and shouldn’t be. 21 years later, Lauryn’s empoweringly vulnerable and straightforwardly thought-provoking musical messages can be used to debunk conventional concepts of success, and beauty, freedom and power. Although Ms Hill is commercially successful and aesthetically beautiful (though not in the conventional Eurocentric way vis a vis her dark skin and dreadlocks), she tells us that success - in her experience- is not about record sales, accolades or profits and beauty is not about somatic features. Both are about character. Choosing riches over wisdom, financial and material prosperity over a grip on reality or gaining the world in exchange for one’s soul are the counter-intuitive trades we often (sometimes unconsciously) make. But, “There come many paths and you must choose one. And if you don't change then the rain soon come” (Lost Ones). There comes a point where we must stop drowning in the pool of ideas we’re exposed to by society and to be true to our highest selves. What we value as individuals and society and how we value those things can be unlearned, re-thought and re-taught. The onus is on us to do that for ourselves and our societies.
According to Ms Hill, things could all be (relatively) simple, but we make them hard. That consequence is no coincidence, everything is cause and effect, what we give is what we get, what we reap is what we sow and what goes around comes around are the same universal, spiritual, natural (and scientific) laws to which we are all subject. We all, in one way or another, want to be successful and to feel beautiful and attractive. But, because we’re too busy focusing on popularity, perception and materialistic, superficial, exogenous things over which we actually have no control, we, more often than not, we are the reason those things we want make us cry and what we need passes us by. And what we need, ironically, turns out to be what we want it to be if we just let it and ourselves be (When It Hurts So Bad). It is us unthinkingly pouring our energy into the miscommunication and misrepresentations of ourselves that leads to complication, failure and unattractiveness. A valuable lesson we learn through this master music class is that we need to stop caring about how we look and start caring about who and how we are.
Ms Hill’s testimonies are composed of relatively simple flows and rhyme schemes that - unlike contemporary feminist hip-hop icons, Rapsody and Noname, who thrive on complex wordplay - make this an easily relatable and understandable series of acoustic lectures. The beats are composed of live instrumentation as auditory evidence of the rawness and realness of the lessons on the album. Although the album was classified as an R&B album, it is not entirely accurate given its fusion of such diverse elements and genres. She did not limit herself to any one sound, skill or (stereotypical) narrative. This shows and tells us that freedom, success and beauty are the fruits of authenticity and multiplicity and our power lies in our choices.
It is never too late to re-educate ourselves and combined with a voracious appetite for knowledge and healthy scepticism of the status quo feed our minds and souls. Ultimately, we choose our values according to the knowledge we have available to us and we each have the capacity to educate ourselves as well as society just as Lauryn Hill did.
By Naledi Hopa
Image: Anibal Ceron