In the year that we celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill, Joan Morgan put together a book that reflects on the importance and influence of this iconic album.
Here is more about She Begat This
Released in 1998, Lauryn Hill’s first solo album is often cited by music critics as one of the most important recordings in modern history. Artists from Beyoncé to Nicki Minaj to Janelle Monáe have claimed it as an inspiration, and it was recently included in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, as well as named the second greatest album by a woman in history by NPR (right behind Joni Mitchell’s Blue).
Award-winning feminist author and journalist Joan Morgan delivers an expansive, in-depth, and heartfelt analysis of the album and its enduring place in pop culture. She Begat This is both an indelible portrait of a magical moment when a young, fierce, and determined singer-rapper-songwriter made music history and a crucial work of scholarship, perfect for longtime hip-hop fans and a new generation of fans just discovering this album.
Here is what this book isn’t, a song by song dissection of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Not even close. If you want that, you should check out the Dissect Podcast, Season 4, a which is exactly that, and it is pretty great. Instead, this book is a conversation about the importance and influence of Hill and her album. What it meant in 1998 for a young Black woman to leave her group, and go out into the world, pregnant and powerful, and sing her face off. The book also looks at what it meant for that same woman to age and evolve and struggle. She Begat This engages with the comparisons to Nina Simone and the widely (and I think unfairly) criticized Lauryn Hill: MTV Unplugged No 2.0. Effectively the book tries to put Lauryn Hill in context of the 90’s and also the doors she opened for artists, especially Black women, since.
Morgan rounds up women thought leaders in hip-hop culture and feminism to discuss the album with her, from Dream Hampton to Lyneé Denise and more. These women share their opinions on the music, the moment, and the movement. Sometimes these opinions conflict and that allows the book to be a subtle exploration, instead of a singular coronation. There is both praise and criticism which exemplifies the vastness of Black womanhood in art and the world.
One part of the book that was particularly insightful and powerful, and something I wish was more consistently throughout, was when Morgan explained the importance of Lauryn Hill and her pregnancy in the age of Bill Clinton. Morgan explains not only the similarity between Hill’s relationships with Wyclef Jean and Rohan Marley and the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, but also the importance of Hill’s choice to keep her child in the face of Clinton’s crime bill that wreaked havoc on Black families, placing an extreme burden on Black women. This section is exceptional. I only wished there was more of this kind of comparison throughout the entire book.
Sometimes Morgan and the other women interviewed overstate the importance of this album. Not that the album isn’t iconic, but that these women were overly attached to the album and biased. They take claim and ownership over feminism that had started long before 1998 and continued much later. Perhaps a little too personal at times. It is clear Morgan respects Hill’s work professionally, but also has deep connections to it personally. That muddies the waters of the book, a little.
I listened to She Begat This as an audiobook, and found it a little challenging to know if Morgan was saying things or if she was quoting other women she consulted, I enjoyed the narrator but sometimes found myself confused.
If you love The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill this is a quick and interesting look at the album and the woman and her place in the cultural zeitgeist. It is a simple idea, and I wish there were more books that did this with the icon albums. I personally can not wait to read the one that comes out in 18 years about Lemonade by Beyoncé.
- Audiobook: 3 hours and 55 minutes
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
- Hardcover: 176 pages
- Publisher: Atria / 37 INK (August 7, 2018)
- 3/5 stars
- Buy on She Begat This Amazon
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