Artist: Lauryn Hill
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of XXL Magazine.
I kept hearing about the album; there was a hype there, and when “Doo Wop” dropped, it was more than I expected.
There’s always a void when it comes to the female MC world, and she went beyond that. It checked me as an MC because she was pure. There was no chains, no fancy cars, she checked us on all of that. On songs like “Superstar” and “Lost Ones” and “Doo Wop,” she talked to us, she went into who we were as men and women. And that was needed at the time and to this day. To me it was like the soul of Roberta Flack, the passion of Bob Marley, the essence of Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson and the essence of hip-hop wrapped up in one thing. All that was inside that album.
When it starts and you hear the classroom and then they go on to talk about love, she’s teaching people what love is. It made me wonder, “How the hell does this person know about love the way she’s singing about it?” She sang about love and betrayal and hurt and rejoicing and happiness and joy like someone who’s been here longer than she had.
It’s a timeless record, pure music. And that’s what we don’t hear anymore. She birthed her sound, and that’s timeless. She didn’t try to be cool, she was already cool. She didn’t have to fit in with any style, she was the new style, and it’s a positive style.
It represents the time period—a serious moment in Black music, when young artists were taking charge and breaking through doors. It cleared the way for rap music to be what it is today. We demanded that the whole world pay attention, so the music had to be that dynamic, and she represents that. She was one of the soldiers in that mission. Before then, it was in its place. Beyond that, musically, the content—it’s an album that everyone today should listen to if they wanna make an album. No matter who you are—R&B, rap, rock, soul, whatever—you wanna make an album, I would say everyone should take a listen to this before you start working on yours.
And then I’ll go beyond that. It’s a piece of work that’s needed in your deck, in your CD chamber, in your iPod. It’s one of those records that you need, like Legend like Bob Marley, or all those Stevie Wonder albums. See, we didn’t have that, our generation didn’t really have that. We had the soul of Mary J. Blige, but she was pretty much out there alone in terms of an artist who was giving you the music like that, where you can believe it and you feel it. It was the closest thing we have since our parents’ era. She was the other female that gave us the closest thing we had since our parents’ era, Stevie Wonder and all that music that we grew up listening to, no artist in our generation except Lauryn—Mary and Lauryn, as far as women we concerned—and she was doing that thing and gave us a feeling that our parents had, and made sure we didn’t miss out on the feeling. She had that for us.
The album cover is her face scratched into the desk and she’s wearing dreadlocks, and she’s proud of who she is, and today I don’t see enough black women—there are lots of proud black women—but there’s so many that don’t really tap into their natural beauty. She tapped into hers and rapped about it. We were like, yo, this girl, we’re about to embark on a journey with this young woman, and we’re just gonna allow her to take us anywhere we want to go. -@Nas (as told to @Dan Rys)