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Looking at Black Motherhood in ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’

Kathleen Felli explores narratives of motherhood and self-acceptance in the critically acclaimed album.

 
 

In August of this year, hip-hop celebrated the 25th anniversary of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Despite it being the only studio album that Lauryn Hill has produced as a solo artist, Miseducation is an album beloved by consumers and critics alike. There is so much that is special about this album, ranging from its sonic fusion of R&B and hip-hop to its soul-baring lyrics about love, success, and faith. In just over an hour, Hill takes the listener on an intimate journey of healing through self-love.


Throughout Miseducation, Hill’s belief in God serves as the driving force behind her journey towards self-acceptance. In “I Used to Love Him,” featuring Mary J. Blige, Hill and her contemporary invoke God in a song about moving on from a relationship:

Father you saved me and showed me that life Was much more than being some foolish man's wife Showed me that love was respect and devotion Greater than planets and deeper than any ocean

Songs such as “Ex-Factor” and “When it Hurts So Bad” allude to a power imbalance between Hill and her male romantic partner – that she had given her all to him for very little in return. Her need for reciprocity is foreign in a current society that expects women to be fulfilled by patriarchal and heteronormative relationships. As a Black woman, Hill’s identity only magnifies this desire to have an emotionally available partner. However, vulnerability can be difficult to achieve among men in a community where they are needed as economic providers to ensure their family’s survival in a white supremacist and capitalist society.


While the bulk of Miseducation centers Hill’s romantic relationships with men, the song “To Zion” solely talks about motherhood. Speaking to her unborn son, Hill begins the song with the apprehension that she and other people in her life felt about her pregnancy, as it coincided with her emerging solo career. However, Hill grounds her decision to keep Zion in the belief that she had been “chosen to perform '' her duty as his mother. Hill acknowledges that her motherhood is not a choice, but rather a task by God that she feels compelled to fulfill. Her belief in God is essential to understanding she views her motherhood as a natural progression on her journey to self-acceptance:

And I thank you for choosing me To come through unto life to be A beautiful reflection of his grace See I know that a gift so great Is only one God could create And I'm reminded every time I see your face

Hill’s desire to welcome a son into the world in spite of the instability she experienced in her romantic relationships challenges heteronormative conceptions of what makes a “family.” Not only does she reject the notion that motherhood can only be validated through the nuclear family structure, but she also redefines motherhood as being equally beneficial to the mother as it is for the child. Hill and her son can find peace within each other among the harsh reality of being Black in America.


Twenty five years later, Black mothers can identify with the uncertainty that colors the entirety of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Seeing their lives reflected in the art of an undoubtedly influential figure in hip-hop simply underscores the importance of Black motherhood narratives in popular culture.

 

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