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Released on August 25, 1998, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is its own case study on the power and profitability of diversity at executive levels.

Released on August 25, 1998, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is its own case study on the power and profitability of diversity at executive levels.

Photo Credit: Eric Johnson

The Selling of 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill'

It takes a dream team of creatives to put together an album like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. This is the story of the creatives who helped bring Lauryn's classic to life.

This article has been handpicked from the Okayplayer editorial archives and included in our Hip Hop 50 collection as a noteworthy inclusion to the genre's rich and diverse narrative. The article has been edited for context to ensure its accuracy and relevance.

Author’s Note: Some of the subjects in this article call Ms. Lauryn Hill “Lauryn Hill,” “Lauryn” or “L-Boogie," as their experiences predate this professional name change. As an editorial choice, the writer opts to maintain the integrity of their testimony. There is only the utmost respect shown for Ms. Hill from everyone in this article.

“Now hear this mixture/where hip-hop meets Scripture/develop a negative into a positive picture” – “Everything Is Everything”

On August 25, 1998, Lauryn Hillbrought The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill into the world. Its delivery, however, was in the making for more than a year prior. And while this was her anticipated solo debut, it took many creatives to join her in the labor of blood, sweat, tears and, ultimately love, to bring it to market. It takes a force of nature to create a masterpiece. It also takes a dream team to create a culture-shifting juggernaut. Lauryn took care of the former. The people I interviewed are part of that dream team. Over the course of this piece, you’ll hear from several of the people (including myself) who were on the inside as The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill came to be.

Miguel BaguerVP Publicity and Publicist, Lauryn Hill

Joan Baker – Voice Actor

Stephanie Gayle – Senior Director, Marketing, Columbia Records

Yvette Davis Gayle – Manager of Publicity, Columbia Records

Debra Ginyard – Wardrobe Stylist

Commissioner Gordon – Mixer, co-producer and engineer

Erwin Gorostiza – Art Director, Sony Music

Eric Johnson – Album package photographer

Thembisa Mshaka – Senior Advertising Copywriter, Sony Music

Rich Nice – Executive A&R, Columbia Records

Yvette Noel-Schure – Senior Director of Media, Columbia Records

Camille Yorrick – Senior Director, Video Production, Columbia Records

Lauryn Hill was a young, unmistakably brown-skinned, dreadlocked MC gracing the covers of magazines that Black fashion models fought to appear on. Lauryn Hill was a young, unmistakably brown-skinned, dreadlocked MC gracing the covers of magazines that Black fashion models fought to appear on. Photo Credit: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

PART I: The Music

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is its own case study on the power and profitability of diversity at executive levels. With advertising and brand missteps being dragged on social media, it’s worth noting that they happen largely because women and people of color are severely underrepresented when it comes to conceiving, much less approving, creative work. With 10 Grammy nominations and five wins — including Album of the Year, which has only gone to two hip-hop albums — and 20 million units sold, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill got everything right as a product. The people interviewed are all men and women of color who have gone on to forge formidable careers in entertainment, but came together in this space for this milestone. Since commemorative pieces rarely extend beyond critical reflection or conversations with the artist, many of these stories were untold publicly until now. These are their reflections on the hip-hop album that changed all of music and the music business.

Commissioner Gordon: I met Lauryn when she was a member of the Tranzlator Crew. She was a student at Columbia University. She had twists in her hair and she was quiet, but her talent was so big it filled up the room. In the studio, she was freestyling and singing in between. She turned into the lion and they turned into mice. The more she did, the more timid these thugs in the studio would get. Lauryn asked me to work with her on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill after a lot of bumping into one another at other people's sessions. I was already a staff producer for Columbia, so no one was complaining when I had to leave to go on the road with Lauryn.

We recorded in New York, Miami, and at Hope Road in Jamaica. To be in Bob Marley’s house created a landscape for magic. Stephen Marley was the one who invited us to come in. I had to organize the equipment that had to be brought to Jamaica, and we had to make sure it could work as a museum when we weren’t recording. They let Lauryn occupy the main studio; we were there for a couple weeks at a time across multiple sessions. We brought in the session players and programmers. When she would record vocals, it would be she and I going in. Circle House Studio had reggae artists there; the group Inner Circle runs it. We would record Lauryn and Santana in Miami. She put those interludes with the kids and teacher together at her house.

Lauryn is super talented and she fell victim to being underestimated. A lot of women wear the hat of producer, but standing next to a guy, she can be seen primarily in relationship to that guy. She was constantly writing and in a creative mode. She could have three rooms going at the same time. Lauryn was on fire in the studio.

Lauryn was never at a loss for songs. We were sitting at Sony Studios and a beat was looping. Eventually, it became “To Zion.” She came close to my ear, and because the drums were loud, she softly sang the first verse and the chorus for the first time. The melody and the words were so deep because it was what she was actually going through. I got choked up by the time she got to the second verse.

Rich Nice: There wasn’t one A&R for the Miseducation project. Commissioner Gordon was in control in the studio. I was the executive A&R for Columbia Records working directly for SONY Music Chairman Tommy Mottola, and I was directly assigned as Nas’ A&R at this time as well. During the recording and mixing process, I would provide helpful, constructive criticism on what was going on in the streets, in her studio sessions, and inside the building to provide perspective. As a [Trackmasters] producer, I had a respected ear. She would ask me what I thought. She would give us five different versions of one song with other verses, differing hooks — and we’d love all five.

At Chung King Studios, Lauryn would be in one room and I would be in another working on Nas. Gordon would pop over and ask me to listen to music. Lauryn always had her idea of what she wanted. It was never a scenario where she was lost or asked, “What do I do?” I’ve seen that with many artists. That’s what made people feel that they couldn’t just control her or puppeteer her. She would come with something incredible on the spot regularly.

The buzz on the album in the building wasn’t as popular as you might think, and her being a Black woman added touchiness to it. There was a “Who does she think she is?” in the building. The climate from some senior execs was that they were not in favor of the record, and it was no secret to the people who created and worked on it. It was insulting that this great artist put together this amazing album, but all they want is a jukebox artist. [Someone] actually said, "'To Zion' is OK, but there is no [The Fugees'] 'Killing Me Softly' here.'”

Even with the cover, they wanted an actual picture, not a Bob Marley-inspired cover. “We have a good looking artist, we should show her because that sells records.” I felt like the outcast in those meetings. If you’re part of the culture and you see this cover? The musical dots were connected. But I got the evil eye when I said it shows that she doesn’t have to be locked in with bright lipstick and a Gucci bag to be part of this landscape.

A lot of Lauryn’s buildup was really under the radar for the top brass. I used to take Tommy Mottola to the club so he could see some of what our culture was. It would be me, Tone (of Trackmasters), Cory Rooney, and him chilling. Those moments helped me make my case when we’d be back in the building. But there were still executives who saw Miseducation as a pop record because she was singing.

“Lost Ones” was a leak. The brass said, “Whoever leaked this ruined this girl’s career.” Meanwhile, I’m over here like, “No. That jumped it off.” Anybody who had half a hip-hop bone in their body knew “Lost Ones” was gonna smash the streets. From the opening arrangement, you immediately know that something is gonna happen.

Lauryn is an MC at her core. She can rap circles around guys. Not respecting her MC capabilities is where the disconnect came in. They didn’t want to put out “Lost Ones” first, but it wasn’t doing her an injustice. It was serving her core audience. Kid Capri was dropping it at the clubs. It was on the [DJ] Clue tape. It bubbled from there.

PART II: The Message: Substance and Style

This part of the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill story yielded such powerful lessons on the value of shared identity and culture between creatives, particularly with photographer Eric Johnson, whose only shoot with Lauryn was for this package. As he shared, he and Lauryn’s lives were intertwined by his mother, Miss Shirley, who used to style Lauryn’s hair when she was a young girl, long before she became a member of the Fugees. For Erwin Gorostiza, his experience as an art director on hip-hop albums gave him a distinctive cultural IQ. When it came to Debra Ginyard, the understanding of a Black woman’s fashion aesthetic rooted in shared identity yielded iconic wardrobe choices. This segment reveals the testimony of key figures in the language of the album’s presentation to the world, both editorial and visual.

Erwin Gorostiza: I became aware of the project months before its release. We were one of the largest internal record label art departments in the country. There had been a request of a short list of art directors to potentially work on the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill that would be submitted to Ms. Hill and her management team to review. It was a different era, where every major label had big budgets and a large staff of talented art directors.

The first part of any creative process is to have a discussion with the artist. I approach it like a music journalist: inquiring with the artist about their inspiration, background, influences, and any other information that can feed the concept direction. Every artist is different. Sometimes, they come to the table with a blank slate and my involvement can be more encompassing. Others will have a very specific idea or concept so I help formulate that with them into something more concrete. Ms. Hill falls in that latter group. She already had some great ideas that were inspired by the album title. I don’t think I ever had an artist so involved with their imagery before this point. I insisted that the art direction credit be given to her along with myself.

I knew I wanted to work again with photographer Eric Johnson. We had already teamed up on other projects previously, including Alicia Keys’ first photo shoot when she was initially signed as a teenager to Columbia Records. Eric had also shot almost every Maxwell album. So, I knew he could do the work but I had to convince Ms. Hill and her team.

Eric and I were talking one day and I knew he had grown up in New Jersey. What I didn’t know until this one conversation, was that Eric’s mom worked in a hair salon in South Orange. When I pitched Eric to Ms. Hill, she remembered the salon. She used to get her hair done there as a young girl. That closed the deal.

Ms. Hill was clear that she wanted to do the photo shoot in a school environment. I had location scouts checking on all these schools, mostly in Manhattan. I would review the location images and forward them to Ms. Hill and her management team to review. One by one, they kept getting rejected. Nothing was hitting the visual vibe that she was looking for.

Soon after Eric was chosen, I was told by Ms. Hill’s team that they found the location — her actual high school in South Orange. It was perfect. It aligned with my suggestion of working with Eric, so that this wasn’t just another photo shoot, but it connected Ms. Hill to her past.

The choice of her actual school was a great move. I found out later that Ms. Hill made a call to the school principal and we were given a quick approval. We had one day to shoot everything, a Saturday, so we were not intruding on the school’s schedule.

I love how Eric composes his images. We shot some images in the school hallways and inside a classroom. But my favorite shots were those shot in the girls’ lavatory. They are the most personal. Ms. Hill crouched down on the checkered tile floor, her high heels keeping her balanced as she stares above her, with the mirror reflecting the top edge of the stalls out of frame. I was able to use a shot of her gazing at her reflection in the industrial mirror of the lavatory for the international version of “Doo Wop/That Thing” single cover art.

One day, I got a call from Jayson Jackson [who managed Ms. Hill at the time]. Ms. Hill had a new direction: a school desk. An image of Eric’s was selected that would be “carved” from the wood of the desk. I provided direction to Will Kennedy, a gifted retoucher that was part of the art department. In 1998, Photoshop was not anywhere near as powerful. Retouchers made up for it with all their skills and talent. Will had a knack for getting the art to look just right.

There had been various versions of the cover art including some with the wood chips that had been "carved out" if you will, and visible on the surface of the desk. That got rejected, as the various wood chips were visually distracting. There was also another version that had no pencil. But in the end, the cleaner desk with the pencil on its trough was finally selected.

Eric Johnson:I’m from Newark and when I was up for the job I was telling my mom about it. She told me, “Oh, I know Lauryn. I used to do her hair when she was a young girl.” She still came by to say hi after she’d become famous.

I shot in color and in black and white, but some were converted to black and white for the package. I shot with the Mamiya 6x7 camera. I had more than one of the same model camera for the shoot. The photo shoot was very spontaneous as far as going from desk to hallway to bathroom to school bus. There was something about the girls’ bathroom that spoke to the idea of miseducation. In the bathroom I remember the warm color of the space and knew the mirrors were gonna be great. I loved the album cover. I thought how the photo got manipulated was cool and respectful of me. The bathroom set is my favorite series, but my favorite portrait is of her in the coat at the chalkboard. She is facing the camera in the fur.

We just went in and did everything we talked about — no tricks, no overthinking. I always wanted to shoot photos that people would really connect with. I wanted to create something that was chic, but that regular people could identify with as well.

Debra Ginyard: I would post my styling photos with models on the wall at a photo printing place called Dugan’s, off of 23rd street in Manhattan. A photographer saw it and told an editor at Hype Hair about me. The editor asked me if I wanted to style this new group called the Fugees. I was unfamiliar with the group so I asked to see them perform. Once I saw them I could pull clothes for them. I dressed them all and no one had any complaints. Next thing I know, Columbia would call me for them. We did many press outlets and performances together. The Fugees were my first foray into music.

Erwin got in touch with me and told me there was a solo album coming, and we met to discuss direction. I wanted her to go from looking like she could hang with one of the guys to being sexier. My aesthetic is more eclectic and whimsical, so that worked for her and we added sexy to that. We weren’t having lots of discussions. We spoke through clothes or editorial spreads that she would see from fashion magazines. There was a leather designer named Anton from whom I would bring in pieces for her to evaluate. She would sketch something that she had in mind based on the samples I brought. I would then have it custom made. I would look at her, listen to the music, and tell her what I thought was best.

I went on real hunting missions for Lauryn. I would go all over looking for one hat. She had a great body for fashion. Everything just fit on her. She gave girls permission to showcase natural beauty with subtle accessories and designer bangles and hoops. Lauryn showed girls what they could do with locs and braids.

Thembisa S. Mshaka: I was hired the first week of June. The release date was firm at August 25. No room for error. The secrecy around these songs was at Langley levels. I had to hear the album in Stephanie Gayle’s office. As we sat in the dim, soft purple light, I was grateful for the semi-darkness because we were both crying. It was like Lauryn was singing about everything young women grappled with, feared, questioned, and ultimately came to realize about themselves and the world in one album. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was precious. It was powerful but vulnerable, and I didn’t want Lauryn’s message to get lost in the campaign. It had to have confidence but in the way of a humble offering, not a sales pitch.

The first teaser TV spot had the voice of a young girl only announcing the album title and date, preceded by shots of quiet chaos taking place in the hallways of her abandoned high school. Water overflowed from the lavatory sink. Sheets of notebook paper swirled from the ceiling. The camera leads us to a classroom where we find a lone student seated at a desk, writing while singing to herself before the hero shot of the etched portrait of Lauryn that revealed her cover and concealed her pregnancy. Later, that child actor’s voice transformed into that of a woman. The remaining TV and radio spots had to sound natural coming from voice actor Joan Baker, the voice of the campaign. For me, it was vitally important that the voice of the campaign be that of a vibrant sister revealing secrets. Not a 100-plus-year-old record company demanding attention.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized how many women and girls were changed by the album. I was shocked to learn how many of the women I’d meet throughout my career still had point-of-purchase flats of the cover, or posters or ads ripped from magazines like Honey and VIBE on their walls. Lauryn was that role model for the hip-hop generation that Diana Ross was for the Motown generation.

Joan Baker: When I heard the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, I felt special, nurtured, and whole. And I felt like dancing, which I did. It was a masterpiece. It was a culmination of the best of the most popular genres, sifting through the intricate soul of a young woman coming of age. Her voice, tied to her heart as it is, evokes an undeniable truth, even when the truth is about her and not so pretty.

When I look back, I’m even grateful for the time at SONY studios working with such a talented team, and growing in my craft as it was all taking place. It was so much more than a campaign. I first went in to record promos for the national release, and the spots debuted in Saturday Night Live the week she performed. If that wasn’t amazing enough, girlfriend went on to get nominated for 10 Grammys, so I went back to record another national campaign in a whole new orbit. Then, a sister walks away from the Grammys with five wins. And back to the studio I went for another campaign.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill gave its listeners, particularly young Black women, permission to mourn their losses, recover from their mistakes and celebrate their beauty, and trust themselves in all their complexity. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill gave its listeners, particularly young Black women, permission to mourn their losses, recover from their mistakes and celebrate their beauty, and trust themselves in all their complexity. Photo Credit: Peter Pakvis/Redferns

PART III: The Marketing and the Media

The marketing and strategic use of media to propel the awareness, sales, and allegiance to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was nothing short of revolutionary. A young, unmistakably brown-skinned, dreadlocked MC was gracing the covers of magazines that Black fashion models fought to appear on. She held court on a vast array of covers: Honey. Essence. VIBE. The Source. Harper’s Bazaar. GQ. Rolling Stone. Time. Lauryn covered them all and more. The critical acclaim was immediate and unanimous. Lauryn Hill was a force of nature in print.

But achievement of this magnitude was not without doubt, or in some instances, downright resistance from inside the label. With a young Black woman executive named Stephanie Gayle in charge of the album’s marketing, even the label’s sure thing was underestimated. On the PR side, Lauryn's publicist and VP Publicity at Columbia Records, Miguel Baguer, was the architect of the album’s media campaign. It was the first time that mainstream media paid so much attention to a female MC. Baguer declined to comment about his process as a matter of personal philosophy. But through his work, Lauryn broke enough barriers to make heads spin inside Columbia. Yvette Noel-Schure was the publicist for Destiny’s Child, but she understood "from day one that this was history-making and genre-defining. Miguel pushed fashion magazines to see Lauryn Hill as a cultural disruptor and a cover girl.”

Yvette Davis Gayle: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill definitely was a game changer for women in hip-hop. She broke boundaries. She broke sales records. She was a media darling. Everyone loved Lauryn. When Miguel secured TIME magazine, it sent women in hip-hop forward with a new trajectory. For Details, it was Lauryn’s idea to have gold locs on the cover. She didn’t want to dye her hair permanently, so her hairstylist, Veronica Fletcher, sprayed her locks gold instead of dying them. We didn’t succumb to mainstream’s definition of beauty.

Camille Yorrick: We’re talking about 1998 when labels were making lots of money. The music video art form was having a boom. I knew we needed to do something super creative and special. The music deserved iconography. I reached out to a bunch of directors I liked for “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Big TV submitted this split screen idea with modern day vs. the '60s. Their taste and sensibility were perfect for the concept. It just felt right.

Andy and Monty [Big TV] are from the UK. They flew to NY in advance of the shoot, and we had a great meeting with Lauryn at her hotel. It was Lauryn's decision to make the split screen invisible. She liked that one image blended into the other, as opposed to a stark line. That really added to the uniqueness of the look.

The styling, photography, and production design were also key to the magic of that video. The challenge? We were basically shooting two videos at once. A five-day shoot, two sets of wardrobes, and art direction from two very different time periods, requiring lots of research. We shot the whole thing in the Inwood section of uptown Manhattan. We took over a city block for five days. Lauryn was also very pregnant but she was a trooper.

The toughest to make by far was “Everything is Everything.” New York City as a turntable. Great idea, tough ass execution. The first major day of the shoot was completely rained out, so we ended up having to shoot additional days on a stage, which wasn't the plan. The final product was great though.

As a video commissioner, I was very much about visuals not being limited by the ethos of their musical genre at that time. Every hip-hop video didn't need to be directed by the same person, the same way pop videos should not be limited by expectation. The thing about The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was this: there was lots of interest from directors. There was demand. Quality music and an amazing performer meant I was able to pursue unexpected creative partners. Columbia Chairman Don Ienner and Columbia GM John Ingrassia still had to fund all the videos, and they were very supportive. I was able to do my thing. They knew Lauryn was special.

Stephanie Gayle: Luckily, I did not have to fight for the project. I had a good relationship with Lauryn from working with Demmette Guidry on the marketing of the Fugees' The Score. Lauryn and I had always appreciated each other's energy, and it was always love when we saw each other. When Wyclef delivered his first solo album, The Carnival, I was assigned his project because of my relationship with the Fugees. But also because the powers that be thought it was literally going to be an album of carnival music, so taking a risk on a junior project manager didn't seem like a bad idea. After the platinum success of that album, I'd proven myself to be a hard working, dedicated marketer. I assume Lauryn was happy that someone she had some trust in had become a marketer who could be a valuable part of her team. What this experience showed me was how difficult it can be to be heard as a Black woman in the corporate world when the stakes are high. When millions of dollars are being spent and your decisions may affect people’s bonuses, shit gets real very quickly.

One day I was summoned to the studio. Miguel Baguer was there as well. I walked in happy to see her and her pregnant belly. She asked me to sit down and she played the album in its entirety for me. So many things were going through my head as I was listening. I was trying to focus on the words; her voice would draw me in and I would just get caught in the tone of her instrument. What I remember most about that day was bawling right in front of her when she played “To Zion.” You have to understand that I’d known her as a young woman. To be in the moment with her as she realized how much her life was going to change with the birth of her first son was something I wasn’t prepared for. It took years before I could hear “To Zion” and not tear up.

This album had everything you dream of having to perfectly set an album up. A highly regarded artist, an anticipated release, a song specifically for the streets that radio mix shows would love, an undeniable first single that could also go mainstream, and multiple singles that could be released at will. And The Miseducation was essentially an army of hits. “Lost Ones” set the tone for how Lauryn the solo artist would be embraced at Black radio (and anywhere hip-hop was being played). But “Doo Wop (That Thing)” told the world there was nowhere this young lady of color would not be heard.

Once “Lost Ones” got leaked at radio the cat was out of the bag. Before then, I felt comfortably alone with the project, sitting in my office at 550 Madison with my door closed every day just pouring my heart into the task I had been given, thinking of and researching every way I could get this project in front of as many people as possible. After the leak, hip-hop radio wasn’t going to get off of it. Now, the streets knew she had heat coming. Suddenly, everything needed to be ready to go. The official single needed to be set up and videos needed to be shot. Once the album went mainstream everything doubled: the budget, the opportunities, and the work.

The biggest issue at the time seems silly now, but the label was concerned about how people would react to her being pregnant. I needed to make sure that we could accomplish everything that was needed to properly set up an album, without making it obvious she was with child. We pushed to get the album photo shoot done as soon as we could deliver on the iconic concept she was insisting on, and used great discretion to get the “Doo Wop (That Thing)” video completed.

I definitely bet the bank on The Miseducation and literally used every outlet I thought appropriate to promote it. I wanted to touch people in an intimate way, reveal the album in ways they didn’t expect, and leave them with a solid connection — a sense of ownership. I did walk Lauryn through all the major aspects of how I envisioned the marketing of the album, and thankfully she was pleased with the plan. There were a few big-ticket items that I had to fight for, but I didn’t have to argue too much for the amount of money that I proposed to spend on the rollout of this album. The project was so successful that a year later I was still spending money.

With 10 Grammy nominations; five wins \u2014 including Album of the Year, which has only gone to two hip-hop albums \u2014 countless magazine covers, from Honey to TIME to Harper's Bazaar; and 20 million units sold, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill got everything right. With 10 Grammy nominations; five wins — including Album of the Year, which has only gone to two hip-hop albums — countless magazine covers, from Honey to TIME to Harper's Bazaar; and 20 million units sold, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill got everything right. Photo Credit: SGranitz/WireImage

PART IV: The Legacy of The Miseducation

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill represents both coming of age and healing balm. It gave its listeners, particularly young Black women, permission to mourn their losses, recover from their mistakes, celebrate their beauty, and trust themselves in all their complexity. As a creative work, it confirmed Lauryn Hill as a visionary artist, as a maker. It became a litmus test for women artists across all genres, but especially for women MCs, both in terms of its content and its performance in the marketplace. Women artists were taken more seriously by labels, voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, media, and brands. When Levi Strauss put its name next to Lauryn Hill, a new course was charted. The Fortune 500 brand partnerships with Black musicians that are ubiquitous today, were seeded by the success of Lauryn’s solo debut.

The legacy of this album is also one of collaboration between creatives. The narrative of Lauryn Hill being immovable rings of the negativity women are met with when they know what they want and know better than to settle. Lauryn Hill was the maestro but by no means a dictator. That gets muddled by a society that prefers women be passengers instead of drivers. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill made every artist worth their salt who released anything after the summer of 1998 step their game way up.

Gordon: In that process of making TheMiseducation of Lauryn Hill, I learned the power of sharpness. There were things she was excellent at that she had the patience to come back one more time for — to get from excellence to perfection.

Rich: There was always singing and rapping. Raheem from Furious Five did both. Lauryn is a case study of eliminating the box. I think everyone likes Lauryn’s rapping and singing equally. Before, labels would make artists who did both pick one. Now, they respect them as being an equally yoked singer and lyricist. She is absolutely an innovator of pushing the envelope of rhyming and singing. For her, it’s tennis without a net.

Stephanie: Lauryn was very particular about every aspect of her project. Whether it was the music, artwork, styling, makeup. She was laying out the vision that we all needed to grasp and expand on. It was important that everyone on the team had the same energy that she had, because she was manifesting a new perception of young people of color, and the love they were carrying around.

Eric: In the moment, I didn’t have any idea that they would have the impact and longevity they’ve had. When I work with young artists I use Lauryn as an example. She was so articulate and so together compared to so many artists of that time period. She even sent amazing reference photos from Lindberg, and she wanted a consistent color palette and tone for the images. She didn’t tell me how to shoot and she wasn’t bossy. She just came to the table with a real solid plan.

Joan: Ms. Hill symbolizes the awesome power of the human spirit when it’s ignited and free to create, in spite of obstacles and constraints. She symbolizes how a woman’s heart will not be bound by that which is not true to her. And as a Black woman, she symbolizes human joy screaming through more heartache than any of us wants to accept, as a legacy from which we must continue to heal.

Yvette Noel-Schure: What I admire most about Lauryn is that she is true to herself. She is never about what everyone else is doing. She never was a follower and never will be. Sometimes, I think she was before her time. But you know what is very special? That we knew how good it was when it was happening, and children discovering the album now get how special it is immediately. It’s timeless.

Miguel Baguer:The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a testament to Lauryn’s artistry. She created an emotionally honest masterwork that became a modern classic. She deserves all the accolades and praise that she has received and more.

Camille: The young lady I met with the Mitsubishi Montero truck was a bundle of creativity, talent, and curiosity. She had a lot to say and great ideas. Lauryn has accomplished unprecedented achievement as an artist. That comes with its challenges. She's an icon who is still relevant and heavily referenced, even sampled today. That doesn't happen casually. I can't really boil that genius down to one thing. It's just who she is.


This story was originally published in 2018.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is a business author. Chuck D of Public Enemy calls her book, Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your Entertainment Business, “the definitive industry bible.”