A Track By Track Breakdown Of ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’
Jo: That was Ras Baraka [beat poet and teacher from New Jersey]. Lauryn would have tapes [of the interludes], and we would play music under them. Ras Baraka’s one of those beat poets, the early beat poets—he’s now a principal. He was from Newark and was in a classroom with all of those kids. Those kids are probably about 30 years old now. [Laughs] We actually did a remake of that song—we were coming from the train station last night and heard it again. We did a big version of it, flipped it.
Jo: We were in the place [in Jamaica] where Bob Marley created his music, in his house, which is a museum now. There’s a studio that only Ziggy uses. So we were in there with the engineer, Errol Brown. Back then I was into a lot of weed smoking. We had this guy come around, and his name was Georgie—he lived in the back of the museum, he was a chef. He was like, “This is the same bong that Bob Marley smoked out of, take a hit.” And I would take a hit. He would come every day—he called it The Chalice. Before we did “Lost Ones,” he said, “Jo, The Chalice is ready!” and he handed [it] to me. And then Vada started doing the beat, and I started, [sings guitar part], and that was a song that, again, me and Lauryn came up with that.
Being from East Orange, you cannot escape dancehall reggae. So she was like, I wanted to do something [like that]. Everything was perfect, because it was over a beat that Vada did, and I came with the reggae—we were in Jamaica, so I wanted to make it reflect what we were doing. It wasn’t typical reggae, because in reggae the chord moves, but for hip-hop’s sake I kept it on one chord. It was an homage to KRS-One. The freedom of the album—if there’s no more lyrics, let’s sing a verse, sing, do a rap, sing—it was all about the timing, the type of artist we were working with.
Kilo: That was created right there in Bob’s studio. The dope part was, my cousin, we call him Boom, he actually came up with the first part of that idea. He called me up and was like, “You guys gotta re-do that Boogie Down Productions [track] ‘Supa Hoe'”—you know that hook, “Scott La Rock had ’em all”—and the drums, that was the beat, Scott La Rock. So I told Vada about that beat, and we were down in Jamaica creating one day, there it was. [Sings drum part] And then when you had the cuts in it, maaaaaaaan, it was crazy. So when Lauryn heard the beat, she was like, “Ahhh, this beat is hot,” and she starts writing and rapping. Lauryn is the type where, in her immediate circle, she’ll spit the verse and be like, “Yo what should I put right here? What should I put there?” I was like, “I was hopeless, now I’m on Hope Road,” and she was like, “Ahh, that’s dope, that’s dope, I’ll write it.” So we were just throwing lines out there. She’d be writing and writing, and then she’d stop and ask us what we thought, and you’d be like, alright, try this, and we’d build it.
That song, in Jamaica she could not come up with a chorus for that song. We went from Jamaica all the way home, months and months and months, and she did like three or four choruses, and could not figure it out. Then we were in a studio in East Orange—my man has a studio there called Perfect Pair—and I walked in and I said, [Sings melody from chorus] and she was like, “That’s it!” And that joint was crazy.
Tej: It was really our baby. We started in her attic in her guest house. That first session was weird, because she couldn’t sing or something—she said the baby was doing something to her vocal cords. But the next week she got back to normal and started singing, and we just started playing. She also was doing this group called Edith’s Wish that Clive [Davis] had signed to Arista. They had a demo where they were playing Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” and Lauryn was like, let’s make a song for them. We were just playing around, and Lauryn said, “I got this idea.” [Sings melody] So I was like okay, I think there’s a B7 chord—
Jo: No one in hip-hop was using major seventh chords at that time, but that song was a hip-hop song.
Tej: So me and Jo was like, if we’re doing this for Edith’s Wish, let’s put “Little Wing” in it, but let’s do it in E flat. Lauryn started singing in her rock voice, “It could all be so simple…” you know, she went through the whole thing. We were like, you know, this is a good song for them. So we put it aside, started working on other things, but then that became “Ex-Factor.” We laid “Ex-Factor” down, and I think it was either [Sony’s] Donnie Einer came in, or Tommy Mottola, and he was like, “Lauryn, where’s your work? It’s time to do another Fugees album.” She really wasn’t feeling the Fugees right then.
Jo: So she said, [“Ex-Factor”] is my song, let’s re-cut it, let’s make it more hip-hop, let’s put the “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” in it, she asked me to write a bassline for it—just make it work. We figured in our head it would be the ultimate combination of rap and R&B. She wrote some of the lyrics while she was on tour, and I would help her write some of the others. And it just came out—when Commissioner Gordon [engineer for the album] came in, he was like, “We gotta focus on one song at a time.” So we just sat down, and he was like, “It needs a solo, it needs a guitar in it.” And I knew how to do the “Little Wing” solo, and he was like, “Give me a guitar like that, and this is where the solo comes in.” So I did it, and I was spent. He mixed it, and it sounded beautiful—you can’t even hear the guitar in it until that point. Did it in one take. It was the only track me and [Tej] played on together.
Jo: Two-inch reels back then. We had Pro Tools, but [Lauryn] didn’t want to use it. We did use it in the mix though, definitely used it in the mix. [Laughs] She came up with that part at the end—we actually introduced her to those [background singers], they were all church girls we knew from St. Paul’s back in Newark, same church that Faith Evans went to. She already had the “Cry for me, cry for me, you said you’d die for me” part.
Kilo: Every instrument on the planet was in this booth—they had a harp in there. This dude came, he was a percussionist, he was making noises with everything. It was the most instruments I’ve ever seen in a session before.