A Quick Review: Joan Morgan’s “She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”
I just finished Joan Morgan’s She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (2018). While reading, that thing that Language Arts teachers beseeched us to do began to happen — I began to make connections. I kept connecting Morgan’s arguments about Hill and Miseducation to a Jay Z quote that I first heard in December 2010. In conversation with public intellectual Cornel West and writer/curator Paul Holdengräber about his book Decoded (2010), Jay served as an apologist for rap music and by extension himself, making both intelligible, when he argued “anything out of context is a lie.” He wanted both hip hop naysayers and its disciples to approach the culture in truth.
With She Begat This Morgan offers context to help us get at the truth to why we fell in love with Hill and Miseducation in the first place. Morgan takes readers back to the zeitgeist and volksgeist that engendered the album so that contemporary listeners, and oldheads with new understandings, can learn what Miseducation spoke to and for black women in that generation. While reading, I was reminded of why we still love Miseducation and Hill — it is a dope ass album gifted to us by a magical ass black woman. We’ve wanted more of it and her. But Morgan and her scholar-sister-friends also look back to show us what we did with that which was gifted to us. We created something of the art and artist then , and we’ve co-created what the art and artist have become.
Morgan centers black women’s memories and applies her black feminist analytic to remind and caution. The artist and beautiful art was birthed in a particular moment, one that does not exist anymore , but one that we want to hold on to and get mad because we want that old thing back. We want Hill to save us again, but she can’t, and that is okay.
Morgan offers this context, while also reminding us that Hill begat a new freedom while trying to figure out what that freedom looked like for her. That freedom begat the sounds and courageousness and vulnerability and beauty of many of those that we love today — from old/new Kanye to Solange. Knowingly or unknowingly they looked back to Hill while Hill was looking back and around to offer a new pedagogy of love and freedom cause we all had been miseducated.
I hope that people will read She Begat This, jam the record, and remember where they were when they fell in love with Miseducation and remember what it does for them when it does that thing.
I was on the fourth floor of Evans Library at Texas A&M University, a few days into my first year, fake studying, when Lavar and Alicia passed around the Miseducation CD. I borrowed it for a few minutes and played it on my walkman. I knew it was something special then, but I must admit it was not on repeat for the next few weeks. I did not make a copy. I heard the magic, but I was not listening. It would take me more life to live to realize how special it was, and more life to live for it to do something for me. However, since I was hopelessly in love with the hope of love “Nothing Even Matters” did something for me immediately. For years, it was the only song from the album with frequent plays. I played it for every new love when she and I were isolated from others, getting to know each other without distraction. I wanted love that made me feel ten feet tall. I wanted to look at my love religiously so that she would know that she was a blessing. I also wanted to get that snap count down (still trying).
By the second album, I was full out stan of Hill because MTV Unplugged №2.0 (2002) spoke to and helped me find peace of mind during a years-long depression. I needed those sermons — rebel, get out, find peace of mind, everyday is another day to get it right, the real you is more interesting than the fake someone else, the rain falls on every man’s house, the conquering lion breaks every chain — preached over what sounded like the same guitar chord to get through dark days and sleepless nights. She was prophet and counselor. Unplugged is the album that I have listened to the most in my entire life. It is the album that took me back to Miseducation. I was now ready for it because mine own miseducation, by way of codependent R&B songs and neoliberalism, had broken me.
“Ex Factor” finally meant something to me when I had two relationships where we kept hurting each other because neither one of us wanted to be the first to say goodbye. “To Zion” was beautiful when I was childless black male, but after becoming a father the first time I loved what it pointed to about choices and sacrifices. “Tell Him” became my wake up song because I needed to conjure hope when joy didn’t come in the morning. I can go on and on about my love of Hill and how I came to love Miseducation. I will still buy tickets, because I want to be with other congregants reliving the moments when Hill’s music was salvific, even when the music don’t sound the same as I remember.
I also hope people will read She Begat This to learn another context for understanding the album and Hill. This book extended my belief that reducing Hill to crazy is a lie. We need better words, better analysis to understand this black woman who attempts to live life on her own terms, terms that we can’t understand and terms that are not fitting for consumer demands, but still her terms. She gave us a gift, but we don’t own her. We have to decide how we want to live with her terms without reducing another black woman to crazy.