Released in 1998, Lauryn Hill’s first solo album is often cited by music critics as one of the most important recordings in modern history. Award-winning feminist author and journalist Joan Morgan delivers an expansive analysis of the album and its enduring place in pop culture.
Morgan’s book honors the record’s spirit not by adding any more height to the pedestal on which it’s already been placed, but instead interrogating it, questioning its mythology, and even bringing in some dissenting black female voices to admit they never much felt like the record spoke for them ... from the likes of [dream] hampton, #MeToo activist Tarana Burke, writer Michaela Angela Davis, and Black Girls Rock founder Beverly Bond. Through this kind of multivalent approach, the lessons of Miseducation come newly alive and worthy of fresh debate ... The final section of Morgan’s book takes place in this present moment, and it does make you wonder whether we’ve strayed farther than ever from the lessons of Miseducation, if pop culture is even more prone to the sort of hyperbolic expectations that partially explain why Hill fled the public eye.
With She Begat This: 20 Years of ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Morgan takes an album that was a cultural touchstone—the kind of work that elicits ardent devotion and ardent backlash—and holds it up to the light, showcasing its brilliance and its shadows ... Morgan insists that loving something isn’t the same as giving it a pass. She Begat This makes a full-throated case for Hill’s artistic and historical importance, but this appreciation doesn’t translate into gauzy praise for some of the stickier parts of Hill’s career—including legal tussles over writing and production credits on Miseducation ... Morgan straightforwardly engages with Hill’s critics, making a point to talk to those whose opinions don’t jibe with her own ... She Begat This is thick with competing opinions, as well as chunks of dialogue. Morgan is such a fluid and candid writer that I often wanted to hear more from her. But ... It feels like the right approach to an artist like Hill; her iconic album might be 20 years old, but our understanding of it is still a work in progress.
In She Begat This, Morgan writes about Hill not as a subject to be studied but as a person to be humanized. Each chapter serves to connect her relevance to the greater black female experience ... In doing so, she creates an authentic discussion on the racial politics of black womanhood. Among other things, the book gives spaces to black mothers. Morgan draws connections between Hill’s song 'To Zion,' which talks about the young artist’s joy in carrying her first child, and Clinton-era policies such as NAFTA, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, and the 'three strikes' bill ... But where the book gets most interesting is where it’s able to critique our current understanding of Hill ... Morgan suggests that we the fans may have pushed her away ... Morgan's book isn't so much of a biography but rather a love letter to Hill, from one black girl to another. She draws personal experiences from multiple academics who are close to the works of Hill, making She Begat This a syllabus for the story of Black Girl Magic.