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Song of the Week: Ex-Factor

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Max Tirouvanziam

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Lauryn Hill’s only solo studio album to date turned 20 this past month. Mixing R&B with rap and reggae, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was a phenomenon at its release; Ms. Hill moved more units in the album’s first week than any other female artist had before her. It won Album of the Year at the Grammys in 1999, and Hill went on an extensive global tour following her success.

The album has left a considerable imprint on R&B of the following decade and contemporary hip-hop, despite her own production of music falling off after a 2002 live album with mixed reviews and controversies with collaborators. Hill put socially conscious lyrics into the spotlight and discussed religious themes in ways comparable to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Other current rappers point to her as an inspiration: J. Cole has sampled her multiple times and Kanye West has mentioned her by name and furthered the message and melody from her “Mystery of Iniquity” on his 2005 hit “All Falls Down.”

I started listening to Lauryn Hill again after another prominent rapper, Drake, sampled “Ex-Factor” on his single “Nice For What” back in April. Drake sample of Hill’s outro serves as a good base layer in the heavily-produced anthem, but the songs also match thematically. Drake’s speaking to and empowering an already independent woman on his track, and that’s who Lauryn Hill is on her track.

Hill’s emotive lyrics on the track proclaim her independence in a couple of ways. As the frontwoman of New Jersey trio the Fugees, Hill had already reached international fame but was creatively overshadowed by bandmate Wyclef Jean. She was also romantically involved with Jean, despite his marriage. Hill’s musical vision comes through on this track which she created herself, as the layers of instrumental lines and vocal harmonies form a solid backing for her lead vocal work. Hill’s singing on “Ex-Factor” is some of the most expressive she produced in her career as she puts forth her pain and frustration with her relationship with Jean.

I had to choose one song to highlight here, but the entire Miseducation album is an integral listen for someone looking to understand hip-hop as a genre. In an era where fans are quick to jump on Twitter and label a brand new album “classic,” Lauryn Hill’s work is a reminder of what that word truly means.

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Decatur High School, GA
Song of the Week: Ex-Factor