By Julia Northcott, Oakwood High, Mississauga, ON
Lauryn Hill is a strong, positive image for young black woman in the mass media. A pop phenomenon, a mother, a role model, and a leader, Hill is also the most versatile vocalist of her generation. Her voice, husky at some moments, tender and light the next, evokes comparisons to Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.
She released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in the summer of 1998. It was based on her life and experiences, covering topics such as prejudice and our materialistic and superficial society. The album was seen as a breakthrough that would convince other hip-hop artists to give more meaning and depth to their work.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is definitely one of my favourite CDs. This is not a hip-hop album, although elements of hip-hop permeate tracks like "Lost Ones" and "Forgive Them Father." Miseducation is an R&B album, probably the best R&B album of the1990s. It is a masterpiece that transcends race, time, genre. Miseducation speaks to the North American culture, materialism, racism, sexism. This album achieved both popular and critical acclaim, earning her five Grammy Awards (including Album of the Year and Best New Artist), three American Music Awards, one Billboard Award, one Soul Train Award, and one MTV Video Music Award.
Hill is unapologetically a critic of the music industry's sexism. She has stated that a positive reflection in the mass media is important for the self-esteem of young black women because we all need role models - people who inspire you to become more than what society tells you that you are capable of. Whether they are your family, friends, teachers or celebrity figures, we all need people to look up to, as if to say, "If they can do it, then I can do it too."
In our society a cheerleader is less threatening than a women‘s basketball player; a stripper is less frightening than a female police officer; and a half-naked female dancer is definitely safer than a female emcee/singer/songwriter who produces a multi-platinum album. The fact that a woman can write and produce a positive, self-respectful album defies the misogyny that exists throughout hip hop culture. "It's a reality women have to deal with", said Hill in an interview in Rolling Stone Magazine. "The industry thinks there always has to be some man somewhere puppeteering the whole situation. It doesn't make you feel as an artist when you are having conversations about your music and people don't really take it seriously."
Lauryn Hill's latest CD MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 was certified Platinum in June, 2002. This album is just Hill and her guitar, singing about the lessons she has learned. She says it gives her an opportunity to truly connect with her audience, experiment with song forms and vocal styles, and, most important, tell the truth as she sees it.
Hill is married to Rohan Marley, son of the legendary Bob Marley. Not content to be, simply, a star, Lauryn Hill is also the founder and chairperson of The Refugee Project, a nonprofit organization providing cultural and recreational activities to inner-city youth in New Jersey, her home state.
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