Art by Lauryn Madise (BLACKBOARD)
The album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released August 25, 1998. My birthday: November 16, 1999. Whenever I listen to it, I ask myself “How could an album released more than a year before I was born resonate so deeply with me today at 20 years old?”
This summer was one of the most trying and emotionally draining points of my life. I was so tired of it all. I was tired of the normalization of Black death and the sudden outpouring of white allyship that I couldn’t help but take with a grain of salt, and a pandemic that was poorly managed and disproportionately killing Black and brown communities as a result. I was tired of constantly feeling like it was my duty to educate white people on how to not be racist—how to care when someone who looks like me is killed for no reason other than the color of their skin. And above all, I was tired of living in a country where my very existence as a Black woman is perceived as threatening and undeserving of love, compassion and justice.
When I listened to the song “Nothing Even Matters” for the first time this summer it hit me like a ton of bricks. While the song is about a couple professing their love for one another, hearing Hill’s soulful voice singing “Nothing even matters no more… to me, to me, to me” encompassed so much of the pain and hurt that I was feeling. I was exhausted in my attempt to continue life as if the reality of racism didn’t invade every sense of my being.
I remember thinking, “Lauryn gets it.” She understands the pain and complexity that comes with black womanhood, love and loss. I unabashedly recognized the tears streaming down my face, which I had been holding in for far too long.
For several days I had “Nothing Even Matters” on repeat. Whenever my heart began to feel heavy, my mind overwhelmed and my jaw clenched—this one six minute song served as a temporary, essential escape from reality where I could acknowledge my emotions.
Then I finally listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in its entirety.
When I listened to her whole album for the first time, I didn’t just feel like I was listening to an album. I felt like my best friend was confiding in me about some of the deepest aspects of her life and womanhood—each new lover, unbearable heartbreak and cause for celebration.
In one of my personal favorite songs on the album “Everything is Everything,” Hill sings, “I wrote these words for everyone who struggles in their youth.” And while her album was introduced to me in a moment of intense struggle, it now serves as an abundant source of joy.
Every song on this album gives me back something so profound for simply pressing play. While “Doo Wop (That Thing)” is the perfect song for an impromptu dance sesh in the kitchen with my girlfriends, “Tell Him” perfectly conveys the painstaking experience of realizing your feelings for someone but being too afraid (and proud) to admit it. During “Every Ghetto, Every City” I realize the importance of acknowledging my humble beginnings.
When I listen to Lauryn, I am reminded that my voice matters. I am reminded of how much I love being Black, even as I exist in a world that tries to convince me otherwise. She reminds me of the importance of leaning into all moments in life—big and small, heartbreaking and beautiful.
As I grow older and (possibly) wiser, I have no doubt that Hill’s words from 1998 will continue to ring louder and resonate deeper. But for now, I’m taking it one day at a time, making sure to lean into every moment and feel every emotion that bubbles to the surface.