20 Years Later, The Value Of Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation Is Not Lost (Audio)

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On her 1998 song “Lost Ones,” Lauryn Hill waxes cautionary: “You might win some but you just lost one,” she spits. It’s felicitous phrasing for the venerated MC, whose five-time Grammy Award-winning debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill turns 20 this week. Drawing its title from the 1930s Carter G. Woodson book The Mis-Education of the Negro, in which the author posits Black Americans were being maliciously conditioned by educators, Lauryn’s masterpiece is not free of controversy. In recent weeks, the legacy of the multi-platinum selling solo effort from the former Fugees member has again come under fire due to longstanding and reinvigorated reports that Ms. Lauryn Hill did not accurately promote the contributions of key players during the album’s recording process nor contribute much musically by way of songwriting.

Despite a 2001 lawsuit in which Hill was accused of taking credit for the works of others’ (including in the album’s original liner notes, which mostly credit Hill for being the sole writer and arranger), The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was added to the National Registry in the Library of Congress. “With [Miseducation], she provided a seismic social and psychic shift in Hip-Hop,” writes Paul Mejia. “What’s remarkable is that Hill’s fluidly melds Reggae and Hip-Hop, along with R&B and Neo-Soul, while deftly moving through lyrics that were cutting and compassionate all the same.”

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Her inclusion in the Library is a formidable achievement, though perhaps misplaced. Miseducation is listed as R&B and not Rap, although the Misorganization is indicative of the enigmatic nature of Lauryn Hill’s work. Her blend of genres makes her music more elastic by nature and she flexes all of that on “Lost Ones.”

According to producer Vada Nobles, “Lost Ones” was recorded at the Bob Marley Museum in Jamaica, located on Hope Road. “That’s why on ‘Lost Ones’ she says, ‘I was hopeless, now I’m on Hope Road,'” he told Rolling Stone. A sense of hopelessness could be related to her acrimonious split with Wyclef Jean and Pras Michael in 1997, a break which ended The Fugees. In fact, the opening line of “Lost Ones” is reflective of things Hill cited as reasons for the New Jersey group’s split: “It’s funny how money change a situation / Miscommunication leads to complication / My emancipation don’t fit your equation.”

However, on the heels of its release, Hill was asked by Rolling Stone in a 1998 interview, “Is that song about Wyclef?” She responded by saying, “That’s just people trying to start controversy. In any group you’re going to have different dynamics. We have real relationships, and when you have that you’re going to have issues. You have to remember, I’ve been with these guys every day for six or seven years.” At the time, she seemed to be distancing herself from rumors that “Lost Ones” was a diss record borne out of the embers of a failed affair with Wyclef. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what inspired the lyrics. Twenty years later, its a stand-out effort from a game-changing and complicated MC.

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“Lost Ones” is the first full track on the album, preceded only by a 47-second intro. Co-produced by Che Vicious (aka Che Guevara) and Nobles, it features Robert Browne, Johari Newton and former Soul Syndicate member Earl “Chinna” Smith on guitar; Soulquarian James Poyser (eventually of The Roots) on bass; and is nearly five minutes of unfettered quotables, peppered with a patois affectation. These include:

A groupie call, you fall from temptation 
Now you wanna bawl over separation 
Tarnish my image in the conversation 
Who you gon’ scrimmage, like you the champion? 
You might win some but you just lost one

Every man wanna act like he’s exempt
Him need to get down on his knees and repent
Can’t slick talk on the day of judgment
Your movement’s similar to a serpent
Tried to play straight, how your whole style bent?

Now don’t you understand, man, universal law?
What you throw out comes back to you, star
Never underestimate those who you scar
Cause karma, karma, karma comes back to you hard…

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“Lost Ones” also stars Ras Baraka, a fellow Garden State luminary whose work smudged the lines between poetry and activism. Much like Gil Scott-Heron (who, notably, is also included in the Library of Congress, though in the Rap category), Baraka was equal parts performer and social critic and punctuates Miseducation while speaking to a group of children on the concept of love. In the outro to “Lost Ones,” Baraka guides the kids in the spelling of the word. “How many of you know any songs about love?,” he asks them. For a song purported to be about dissing others, “Lost Ones” ends, like much of the album, on an upswing.

L Boogie is currently on the road for the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill 20th Anniversary Tour with Nas and other special guests. Upcoming cities include Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix and more.