Saturday-morning cartoons and kung fu…
From video to “Doo Wop (That Thing)”, by Lauryn Hill, Ruffhouse-Columbia, 1998
From The Paris Review:
Released in 1998, Lauryn Hill’s first solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, was also a canonical intervention—to both the previously male-dominated sphere of hip-hop as well as the white-dominated upper echelons of the music industry and pop culture. It immediately went to number one on the Billboard 200 and nearly went gold in its first week of sales. The song “Doo Wop (That Thing)” became the first number one single by a female hip-hop artist in history. It was the first rap project to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year (there has been only one since).
As an artist, Hill stood out for her assured delivery of intricate rhymes and her singing voice, an alto as bittersweet as memory. She’d blended the two approaches since her work earlier in the decade with the Fugees. Her solo debut was hotly anticipated, and Hill delivered. It’s a book of an album, with diasporic melodies and live instrumentation. She wrote lyrics with specific hyperlocal elements of black memoir, like in “Every Ghetto, Every City”:
A bag of Bontons, twenty cents and a nickel
Springfield Ave. had the best popsicles
Saturday-morning cartoons and kung fu
Main-street roots tonic with the dreads
July fourth races off of Parker
Fireworks at Martin Stadium
The untouchable PSP, where all them crazy niggas be
And car thieves got away through Irvington
And she wrote vulnerable, romantic negotiations in “Ex-Factor” and “I Used to Love Him,” as well as absolutions to a higher power in “Tell Him.” The record made a space for hip-hop to be tender and transcendent.