So, full disclosure: Hip hop is not my thing and most contemporary R&B and neo soul is, as far as I know, not my thing. But this record was a big deal at the time and is arguably still quite a big deal today.
As far as I can tell, Hill has written a pretty strong set of songs. Compared to the few other albums I’ve listened to in this area, it feels as though there is more catchy material here for such a long runtime than on comparable albums, such as Wyclef’s debut album, which is this long but definitely feels way longer than this record. I think that’s because of Hill’s songwriting.
Hill’s lyrics offer a fresh (to me) perspective. Virtually all hip hop I’ve heard is by men, and most of the R&B from this era by women I’ve heard has been the kind that you wonder how much the female performer had to say in regard to the songs. Obviously it’s a spectrum, but Lauryn Hill sounds more like a singer-songwriter to me than most female R&B singers I’ve been exposed to.
One of my biggest complaints about hip hop and R&B in the 1990s is the interstitials. And though there are interstitials here too (but of course), I will say that they are all at least themed, and are less annoying than many I’ve heard. (I’d still much rather listen to a shorter album without them, but beggars can’t be choosers.)
Even though I cannot imagine myself listening to this record ever again – except for maybe to record another podcast about it – but this feels like an important moment to me in hip hop/R&B. I am speaking from a position of ignorance but it feels to me like this played a major role in the launch of the “R&B/Hip Hop singer-songwriter” (who, of course, works with many other songwriters) that has to come to greatly dominate our music in the 21st century. But what do I know?
8/10 for its influence