This week, Billboard is celebrating the music of 20 years ago with a week of content about the most interesting artists, albums, songs, and stories from 1998. Here, Billboard asks musicians to look back on what one of the era’s most seminal albums — The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill — means to them.
They don’t really make ’em like this anymore. And, truthfully, they didn’t really make ’em like this back then, either. By 1998, Lauryn Hill was already a star with the Fugees, but the release of her debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, turned her into an icon, showcased her visionary talents as the sole writer-producer on almost every track, and taught a generation about the power of baring your soul through song. At the time of its release, she was barely 23 years old; within a few months, though, she’d set then-records for first-week sales by a female artist, clean up at the Grammys, and take over the world with blockbuster singles like “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
Today, the album lives on — not just in the songs that sample it, or Hill’s own 20th anniversary tour scheduled for later this year, but in the artists who grew up with it, lived with it, and now make music that’s been shaped by it in big and small ways. Below, Billboard asked 16 artists — from rappers and soul singers to pop stars and beyond — to pay tribute to each song on the album, and share how Lauryn Hill’s masterpiece inspired and influenced them.
By Maggie Rogers
I come from a very non-musical family. Nobody plays instruments. My brother and my dad don’t really listen to music. But every now and then my mom would put on CDs. When my mom was in the kitchen and put on this record, you knew she was feeling good. She would drive me to my harp lessons and would always play The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, but I never asked what it was.
In high school, I mostly listened to folk music and didn’t think I had any connection to neo-soul. But I studied music production and engineering in college, and I remember going to class one day and hearing my professor play Miseducation. My jaw dropped. I knew every single word but had no idea what it was. It’s like smelling a smell that you know from your childhood. Lauryn is just woven into my fiber of my musical DNA.
When I think about this album, I think about Lauryn as a producer. I definitely feel connected to the way she expresses her vision of her music and brings it to the listener. What she’s doing on this record is really creating a world. She’s so perfectly, wonderfully human, and she opens you up the process. On the album, there are audio clips of people talking around a table, there are samples. When that record comes into my living room, it becomes her living room. She has so much presence and personality in the atmosphere and texture with which she shows you her world.
You can see it in the album cover too. It is so deeply personal, but it’s something all of us can recognize. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is an autobiography, but it is oozing with different narratives. The most powerful artists that I look up to tell their stories with enough vulnerability that they become everybody’s stories.
Lauryn brought something to hip-hop that I had never experienced: Her talent was beyond, but she was also mad relatable. She was a tomboy who could hang with the guys, but there was also this femininity about her too. That spoke to me: I love being a tomboy, but at the same time, I still embrace my womanhood when I want.
Lauryn’s music reached so many people because of her style. She knew how to incorporate melody into a rhyme so people could sing along with her, even as she was rapping about things that might have been complex. When I started making music, my cadences weren’t easy to learn, my lyrics were a puzzle. Through studying Lauryn and songs like “Lost Ones,” I learned how to simplify: It’s funny how money change a situation/ Miscommunication leads to complication. The way the words fall on the beat — it’s like the ABC song or “Mary Had a Little Lamb” — but lyrically, she still really goes in.
On “Lost Ones,” you’re going to get the real Lauryn, not a manufactured person. She didn’t care whether you liked it or not. You can tell without a doubt that she walked in her own light — nobody could dim her. Maybe that’s one of the reasons she left, because she knew she had that power. There’s no fame, there’s no amount of money that defines Lauryn.
The very first time I met her, I asked her for advice, and she told me to seek knowledge — and as simple and as cliché as that may be, nobody had ever really told me that. I learned a lot just from her saying that one thing.
By Chloe Bailey of Chloe x Halle
Nothing in this world is perfect, but The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill definitely got close to it. I remember being a young girl in Atlanta hearing this angelic voice on these great songs. I never really knew what songs like “Ex-Factor” meant at the time, but the feeling I got from them always gave me joy. The first thing that grabs me is her rapsy “yo-yo-yo” ad-libs over this smooth track. It’s something so simple, but it gets my attention immediately. Her harmonies and vocals are completely hypnotic, so I tend to get lost in them. And on top of that, the production has this groove that makes me want to bop my head back and forth.
Fast-forward to many years later: I had this record on loop in my car for like a whole year. I never got tired of it. It gave me that same feeling of joy it gave me as a little girl. But now when I actually listen to the lyrics of “Ex-Factor,” I’m like “Preach it!” When I learned what the project truly meant, I was blown away. Being able to understand and hear every detail that went into the creation of this body of work had me floored.
And knowing how hands-on she was with this phenomenal project is incredibly inspiring to my sister and me. She paved the way for so many women in this male-dominated industry. And as young, black, female songwriters and producers, Ms. Hill has made us feel confident in our abilities. We look at her and say, “If she can do it, then so can we.” There are no limits.
“TO ZION” (FEATURING CARLOS SANTANA)
By Jessie Ware
The Miseducation album is like an old flame — you never really leave each other. All the memories come flooding back as soon as you put it on. I was 13 when I got it. It was the first proper hip-hop album that I digested fully, and it was one of the first concerts I went to on my own. I saw her at Wembley Stadium on the Miseducation Tour, and it was just so captivating. The things she can do with her voice! I swear, she makes up notes that don’t exist. She’s like a magician.
What I loved about “To Zion” was the drama. It had everything — the passion, the desperation, the love. It’s got this intimacy: She was being so open talking about her child, and then it has this yearning Latin guitar. She’s the perfect storyteller. The song grows and grows and grows and becomes huge; it’s almost overpowering. It’s about a mother’s love, but weirdly I felt like I could relate to it when I was 13 years old. It definitely made me think about how you put together a record: The album just felt so whole and confident and imaginative. As an artist, I can learn a thing or two about the beauty of an album through The Miseducation.
Jessie Ware’s third album, Glasshouse, is out now. She’s also the host of Table Manners, a podcast about food, family, and the art of conversation that’s currently in its third season.
“DOO WOP (THAT THING)”
“Doo Wop (That Thing)” is so special because she was her own hook singer. That was something that didn’t happen in that time, period. Normally, you had other people singing the hooks — Nate Dogg, Ashanti. But Lauryn Hill was singing her own hook and spitting intricate verses. I don’t think people realize how amazing and incredible that is — and how difficult it is to pull that off.
Singing Destiny’s Child songs, that was something I could learn. Reciting Ludacris raps, that was something I could learn. But Lauryn Hill, being such a fierce rapper and such a soulful singer? It was almost unattainable to me. She set the bar. I was always afraid of being a singer, but then when I heard Lauryn Hill, I was like, “Maybe I can do both.”
When The Miseducation came out, I don’t think I appreciated it as much as I do now. I didn’t know how gifted one had to be to accomplish what she did: singing and rapping as a dark-skinned woman with natural hair. I just internalized the music and thought it was good. But now I respect everything about it, culturally and intellectually.
Lauryn Hill taught me to say everything. My debut album Lizzobangers was my attempt at doing what Lauryn Hill does naturally: rapping, singing, being political. I remember being like, “You know what? I’m going to cram all these words into this verse because I want to say ‘em.” That helped me get a lot off my chest. At the time, I didn’t have Twitter, the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, the #UnfairBeautyStandards hashtag — I didn’t have an online community of people to have as a sounding board. I didn’t have a release for my anger and all of my hurt of being a black woman, a big woman. So I just let it out in music, and I said everything I wanted to say. And Lauryn Hill taught me that.
By Ruth B
Both of my parents emigrated from Ethiopia, so a lot of the music I grew up with listening to was Ethiopian. But there were three artists they listened to that I could understand: Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and Lauryn Hill. As Miseducation quickly became my favorite album, I started looking more into what Lauryn was all about as a person — who she was, how she carried herself. I really respected her as a strong woman who did her thing and told her own stories.
My number one priority on my album was making sure that these songs were my truth, because that’s the impact Miseducation had on me: I know that all those songs on here are coming from her, and she means every word. On “Superstar,” she talks about making music that’s real and saying things that have an impact, and I really related to that.
I remember thinking, “If I ever get a chance to work in music, I hope I can be a little bit like her.” I always knew that if I were ever given the opportunity, I would do things to the best of my ability and never do anything halfway, and the lyrics of that particular song really address that. I don’t know her personally, but I think she was really intent on making sure that her music had purpose, and sometimes I feel like maybe that’s why we only got one album from her: She’ll never put out anything just to put something out.
Like just about everything in my life, I discovered Miseducation five years after everyone else. I’d heard all the singles on the radio and on MTV back in junior high, but it wasn’t until college that I bought the record and fell in love with it. I had moved from the Midwest to California and was, for the very first time in my life, developing a deep emotional connection to music, especially a connection to hip-hop.
I think what drew me to this record in particular was its density. It feels so full of everything — words, experiences, modes of expression, politics. All of the tracks are long. Take “Final Hour” for instance. When I listen to it now, I’m struck by how much is packed in that one song: dense, complicated verses; thematic tension between materialism and spirituality; different rhyme schemes and cadences, with a classic drum loop undergirding the whole thing. Plus it has one of my favorite lines: “It ain’t what you cop, it’s about what you keep.”
What I love so much about the record is that it’s about a whole person. And more specifically, a whole woman. As an 18-year-old, it was incredible to hear someone expressing all of herself — not just the sexual or the wild or the prototypically female. And I think for me, it was a reminder that I could be my full self musically, that I could be intellectual and in love and political and pathetic and whatever else I felt like, all at once.
“WHEN IT HURTS SO BAD”
My sister and my best friend are a little older than me, and I remember them introducing me to this album. From the first moment I heard it, I couldn’t stop playing it, and I couldn’t just play one or two songs — I had to play it the whole way through.
“When It Hurts So Bad” and all of her songs are very empowering. They make you feel something. They make you think. That is a massive part of what I try to do in my lyrics, so she is a big influence. I write a lot about bad experiences in relationships — most of them ended badly, and cheating was involved — but I always try to turn it around and be the stronger one in the end. She helped me understand that being honest and open with everyone makes you strong, not weak. She taught me to not be embarrassed when telling people my thoughts or problems or stories.
Music helps people, and that’s exactly what she did for people by being honest. She spoke about real shit. She wasn’t scared to challenge the world. This album will never be out of fashion, and it will live on as a classic for as long as the human race lives.
“I USED TO LOVE HIM” (FEATURING MARY J. BLIGE)
By Jess Glynne
I was about 12 years old when I discovered Lauryn Hill and Amy Winehouse around the same time. The way they pieced songs together was so exciting, especially when you’re young and listening to so much pop, as I was then. Listening to her lyrical content and what she spoke was totally different from anything I had listened to previously. Lauryn inspired me to start writing songs — that was something I hadn’t really thought about at a young age. I used to write down all the lyrics to her songs to absorb them, and through that, I learned a little about structure and how to put songs together. I’ll always be grateful to her for showing me how to think outside the box musically.
One thing Lauryn taught me was that, when you write songs about people you’ve been in relationships with, write about your own journey and your own experiences. I find therapy in my music: It’s my way of letting things out, letting things go, and understanding my emotions. “I Used to Love Him” is her doing that — she’s being so honest about something we all go through. She sings and writes in such a way that makes us feel like we’re not alone. I know that sounds really cheesy, but that’s what I love about it.
“FORGIVE THEM FATHER”
By Jazmine Sullivan
Even at age 11, I knew there was something different about this album. It drew me in immediately, more than anything that was being played at the time. It felt classic. Most albums at the time seemed to be over-produced — every riff and phrase perfectly constructed. But Lauryn’s just felt like it was flowing from her soul.
The harmonies on the hook of “Forgive Them Father” stand out the most to me. There is something so sweet about the simplicity of harmonizing without stacking vocals over and over — it feels nostalgic. My style of background vocals are a lot like hers: I kept it simple and just let the voice and the three-part harmony do the work. I attribute that to her and Missy Elliott.
It felt like she used the album to let her fans know what she had learned. The album — besides being dope sonically — taught us so much about life. The lyrics of “Forgive Them Father” really moved me: She’s talking about having empathy for people who betray you and asking God to forgive them, but also not being stupid enough to let it happen again. Those were life lessons. I definitely can’t compare my music to Lauryn’s, but I strive to teach people without being preachy or condescending, and I think she mastered that.
“EVERY GHETTO, EVERY CITY”
By Seinabo Sey
There’s no artist who has meant as much to me as Lauryn Hill. I will love Beyoncé till the day I die, but musically? Lauryn is the one for me. I wanted to be her so badly growing up. I was too young to notice the album when it first came out, but I later found it on sale as a kid, went back home to beg my mom for money for it, and then came back to get it. And after that, my life changed.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill made me realize how I wanted to write songs. I remember lying in my bed listening to this album over and over again, visualizing everything. I lived inside of this album. I walked through this album in my head. I was always trying to rap along to “Every Ghetto, Every City,” but it’s really hard to sing because there’s a lot of words: Bag of Bontons, twenty cents and a nickel/ Springfield Ave. had the best popsicles. There was so much American culture I had to research, but I couldn’t Google at that point: What is Munn Street? What is Hawthorne? What are Bontons? There were so many things I couldn’t understand, but the groove was really dope, and that influenced me a little.
I loved the wisdom of Miseducation — she was giving me advice. A lot of Gambian culture is about giving advice, but I’d never really heard it in song format. I’ve been thinking about that as I work on my new album: the balance between being totally personal and giving advice. Lauryn’s verses are super personal, but the bridge or some other part of it is always very universal. Every day I find myself trying to be as good as her. I really don’t know how my music would have sounded like or what I would have written about without her. I could tattoo her face on my arm today, that’s how much I love her.
“NOTHING EVEN MATTERS” (FEATURING D’ANGELO)
By Andra Day
I was about 14 when Miseducation hit us like a bomb, and I say “us” because everyone I knew had the record on repeat. It transformed a generation. I was a late bloomer when it came to puberty, and her album really helped me through that awkward phase. It was also one of my early experiences with “woke-ness” — I was really focusing on lyrics more at that time, and she was like a teacher for our generation. The album caused me to think a little deeper about being a girl becoming a woman; about how I viewed myself and other girls; about love and relationships; about God and spirituality. It was a testimony.
I remember hearing “Nothing Even Matters” for the first time pulling into school in the morning. I had my normal anxiety about going to school and not being cool enough. And then this song came on. The music drew me in and created such a peaceful space and moment in my heart and mind. It silenced all the noise around me and completely transported me. And when she sang those first few lines — “Now the skies could fall/ Not even if my boss should call/ The world it seems so very small/ ‘Cause nothing even matters at all” — it put me in such a state of euphoria.
The song and the album really helped me see that you can bring the rawness of classic records to a modern generation without compromising the grit. It taught me that the more open you are with your experiences, the more free you become. “Nothing Even Matters” in particular also showed me that writing authentically about simple concepts like feeling love in one moment in time can actually be incredibly complex, and create a real, tangible moment for the listener.
Lauryn Hill and The Miseducation are a part of the cradle of musical inspiration from which I create. I am a bit of a chameleon when it comes to music and art, but no matter which direction I go in, the things this album imparted to me will always be fundamental to my process.
“EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING”
My mom had this really dope old-school Mustang that was Candy Paint red. We’d be in the car in the summer with the windows down. She always had good taste in music, but one of her favorite albums was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She would laugh at me trying to sing along — if camera phones were around back then, she would have definitely recorded me. Seeing someone that I loved so much love the album made me love it anymore.
I think that not only is “Everything Is Everything” a great song, but it’s informing you that, in life, truly everything is everything. I feel like as a young girl listening to that, I really didn’t understand it until I went through my adolescence, and now I feel like I’m an adult. I can see why everything is everything.
What I love about Lauryn is I feel like there’s a constant battle between mind and heart. At the end of the day, you have to do what your passion is. Logically, it would have been better for me to graduate college and get a 9 to 5, but that’s not what my heart wants to do. Sometimes you have to follow your heart, that’s what I learned from her as an artist.
“THE MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL”
I have been listening to Lauryn Hill for as long as I have been able to speak. I was always beyond my years when it came to music. I loved her soulful essence and commitment to always being honest through every lyric. And I have a greater appreciation for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill now that I’m an adult and can fully comprehend the meaning behind every word. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a body of art that truly can’t ever be remade. Lauryn has her own unique way of storytelling and capturing every woman’s truth in a matter of minutes. She makes music with purpose that means something. I strive to become the artist that she is.
The title track, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” is definitely a favorite. I have found inspiration in this particular record, which will be a huge influence on my project to come. This album sets the bar very high for me. I can take away so much from this body of work — most importantly, feeling what I’m singing about and connecting it to people’s lives in a real way. I believe the reason that this album remains timeless is because of its connection. I’m so excited to create my own story and share it with the world. I want everyone to feel just I do when listening to the queen herself.
“CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU”
By Teyana Taylor
Lauryn Hill opened a lot of doors for us. She’s how I got my start. Before I even got signed, when people asked me to sing to them, I would sing Lauryn Hill’s version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” I sang that song for Pharrell. I sang that song for Jimmy Iovine. It’s how I got my first record deal. The other day I was on Instagram and saw somebody posted a video of me actually singing the song at age 14 or 15, before I was even signed. I just loved singing it. It wasn’t super fast, it wasn’t super slow, it was just a rock-out. It was a good vibe. And it was appropriate for my age at the time! It could have been dedicated to anyone at the time — a mother, a family member, a friend.
Her music has always rubbed off on me. I had a whole mixtape called The Misunderstanding of Teyana Taylor. When I did my remix of Drake’s “Marvin’s Room,” I sung the bridge of “Ex-Factor” over that. That’s something that’s always going to be in music. Even on this album coming up, you’ll definitely hear a lot of Lauryn Hill influence — everybody who knows me knows how much I love Lauryn.
She could sing “Happy Birthday” eight different ways and it would still sound complete amazing. She could sing about cheddar cheese and it would still sound good because she had that soul in her voice. She has that sound will make anything sound gold. Her raspy voice showed me that it’s okay to have a raspy voice, that it’s okay to be different. To have a beautiful voice like that and have the lyrics to go with it? The style go with it? The swag? The personality? With a lot of artists, there’s always a catch. But with her, there’s no catch. What you see is what you get.
By Ella Mai
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is my favorite album of all time, and “Tell Him” is one of my favorite songs on the album. From the very first lines, she asks for patience and understanding on her journey in love. Although the song has a slight desperation to it, I love how passionate she is and how willing she is to do whatever it takes. It shows a lot of character.
Her music oozes with honesty, and that is something I respect and have always looked up to. The album simply taught me to be myself and not be afraid of the different situations and emotions life takes you through. She taught me that it was okay to be unapologetically vulnerable — but not naive. She put it all in her music, and that I thoroughly respect. If you can listen to an album 20 years later and still feel it as much as you did or — in my case — even more, it is a true and undeniable classic.
Ms. Hill, you are love. You are light. Thank you for truly being yourself.
Additional reporting by Tatiana Cirisano.