From her work with hip hop group the Fugees to her impressive solo releases, Lauryn Hill has spent her legendary career breaking down barriers and erecting entirely new genres. Her pioneering work throughout the ‘90s changed hip hop forever and fused soul, R&B, and rap together for a one-of-a-kind rhythmic and lyrical experience. Though she only put out one album as a solo artist, the record was so innovative and awe-inspiring, it would be the only one she’d ever need to release.
The winner of Grammys and music awards many times over, and recognized as an iconic artist of a generation, we delve into Hill’s spiritually invigorating work, one hit at a time.
- 12. Everything Is Everything
- 11. Nobody (with Nas)
- 10. Tell Him
- 9. So Much Things to Say
- 8. Nothing Even Matters (feat. D’Angelo)
- 7. To Zion (feat. Carlos Santana)
- 6. Fu-Gee-La
- 5. Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You – (I Love You Baby)
- 4. Ex-Factor
- 3. Ready or Not
- 2. Doo Wop (That Thing)
- 1. Killing Me Softly With His Song
12. Everything Is Everything
A breakout late ‘90s hit featured on her debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, ‘Everything is Everything’ deals with the hardships and obstacles disenfranchised populations face while trying to better their futures. The uplifting track acts as a reminder for struggling youth that things do get better; the song’s title, ‘Everything is Everything,’ is a slang term used to describe life’s balance when things are going according to plan. Nominated for many awards including Grammys and MTV Music Awards, the single was hailed as a masterpiece that reimagined R&B and soul, and fused genres together like never before. Another fun fact: The piano on the track was recorded by a then-19 year old John Legend.
11. Nobody (with Nas)
Legendary rapper Nas teamed up with Lauryn Hill for their second collaboration with ‘Nobody,’ a commanding hip-hop track that features rap work from Hill herself. An anthemic song criticizing the demanding, overpowering expectations of the music industry, critics and fans were especially taken with Hill’s verses. Reviewers have honored her intelligence and soulfulness over the years by classifying her as a “sage,” and this meaningful, lyrically-driven track speaks to that title. Due to its critically-acclaimed reception, the 2021 single received a nomination for the BET Awards’ “Impact Track.”
10. Tell Him
A keenly philosophical tune, ‘Tell Him’ features Hill’s masterful story-telling abilities. A song rooted in love and devotion to what is right and true, Lauryn borrows from the famous biblical passage of 1 Corinthians while elaborating on these principled subjects. The passage from the bible begins with the lines, “Love is patient, love is kind,” and Hill creatively rearranges these statements, saying to her partner (or possibly, a higher power she has devoted herself to), “Let me be patient, let me be kind. Make me unselfish, without being blind.” The powerful track closes out her iconic The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album.
9. So Much Things to Say
One of MTV’s best shows in the late ‘90s and early 2000s was their “Unplugged” series, a wide array of episodes featuring live, acoustic-based performances from the biggest artists in the entertainment industry. Hill appeared on this series multiple times. For her second MTV Unplugged performance, she performed a special rendition of a Bob Marley classic, ‘So Much Things to Say.’ With just an acoustic guitar to back her vocals, she intertwines some of her own lyrics with Marley’s original words while singing about fighting oppression and living boldly.
8. Nothing Even Matters (feat. D’Angelo)
Hill commanded another moving duet with ‘Nothing Even Matters,’ this time pairing up with contemporary soul singer D’Angelo. Hill wrote this romantic track while dating the future father of her children, Rohan Marley (yes, of THE Bob Marley family). She wanted to write something sensual, focusing on the human side of love which she felt was so often overshadowed by outwardly sexual tracks in mainstream music. This notable The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill track became a favorite among listeners and reviewers alike because it showcased what happens when two of R&B’s most powerful modern singers fuse their voices together for a united purpose.
7. To Zion (feat. Carlos Santana)
Just as her career was taking off, Hill and then-partner Rohan Marley found out they were pregnant. Despite her label’s fears that the baby would slow her down, she persevered through the uncertainty and soon realized her firstborn son brought her nothing but joy. The song’s title is named after Marley and Hill’s first child together, and focuses on the happiness and contentment Zion brought to their family. They would go on to have four more children together before they parted ways in 2011. ‘To Zion’ features the guitar work of legendary rock fusion guitar player Carlos Santana, who was a huge influence on Hill while growing up and finding herself as an artist.
Recommended: More songs about pregnancy.
Before Hill embarked on a successful solo career, she headed up hip hop group the Fugees alongside Wyclef Jean. While juggling college classes, Hill and her band also experienced widespread success and had to take their show on the road. ‘Fu-Gee-La’ was one of their big hits, and features each member’s vocal abilities with their own dedicated verses. Sampling rhythms and instruments from songs like Teena Marie’s ‘80s classic ‘Ooo La La La,’ and a ‘70s Ramsey Lewis rendition of ‘(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to be Right,’ Hill interspersed lyrics over the samples to create a Fugees masterpiece. Appearing on the album The Score, the group’s recording work earned them a Grammy for Best Rap Album.
5. Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You – (I Love You Baby)
The original version of this enduring track goes all the way back to the ‘60s, when a member of The Four Seasons, Bob Gaudio, co-wrote ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ for a Frankie Valli album. Despite a ton of pushback from their label, the song was eventually released and became one of Frankie’s biggest hits. When Lauryn sampled the tune in the late ‘90s she was about to give birth to her first child. The love, excitement, and uncertainty surrounding that wonderful experience inspired her rendition. Though she didn’t release it as a single, a DJ heard the tune and began playing it at his station. The song spread like wildfire, and soon stations across the country added the moving track to their rotation. Hill noticed the trend and decided to add ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You (I Love You Baby)’ to her debut album as a hidden track. It has since been recognized as “The Best Hidden Track of All Time” by critics, and it received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
A Hill original that has since been sampled by contemporary greats like Drake, ‘Ex Factor’ is a single about a toxic relationship Lauryn wanted to get out of but couldn’t because of the emotional connection she shared with her partner. Many speculate it was about Wyclef Jean, who she was linked to for some time. A sample of Wu-Tang-Clan’s ‘Can It Be All So Simple’ anchors the song while Hill takes listeners on a stirring emotional ride. The heartbreaking tune was one of several single releases that charted high in many counties and on different Billboard listings like the Hot 100. It also won an award in 2000 for Best R&B/Soul Single for a female artist at the Soul Train Music Awards.
3. Ready or Not
When ‘Ready or Not’ debuted off of the Fugees’ hit album The Score, the group was ready to call it quits. After a torrid romance, bandmates Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill were ready for fresh starts. Hill channeled her heartbreak into recordings such as this one, and all of her raw pain and suffering stands out in the tracks. Her authentic studio performances spurred album sales, and The Score ended up selling over 6 million copies. This anthemic tune represents the democratic nature of the hip-hop group, who all felt they were voices of underrepresented, marginalized people. Though it wasn’t released as a single in the States, it was released as a stand alone track in the UK and it climbed all the way to number one on the charts.
Recommended: This one appears on Barack Obama’s playlist.
2. Doo Wop (That Thing)
A groundbreaking single for both Lauryn Hill and hip hop as a genre, ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ was her debut single release and it served as a game changing factor for the music industry as a whole. The lyrics are centered around a message encouraging self respect. She wrote the tune after feeling dismissed as a female artist in the industry because she wouldn’t use sex appeal as a main component of her look. Hill was determined to show women they could succeed in the industry without having to use their body in a sexual way. With her debut single release she proved it. ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ quickly became a number one hit. It also received a record number of Grammy award nominations. And Hill won five of them, including awards for Best Rhythm & Blues Song and Best Female Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance. Her slew of 1998 Grammy Awards was an iconic moment. It marked the first time a female artist had ever one that many at a single Grammy awards show.
1. Killing Me Softly With His Song
A tune originally written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel in the early ‘70s, the moody ‘Killing Me Softly with His Song’ has become a hit for every female artist who’s subsequently recorded it. Lori Lieberman was the first to release it in ‘72, and she connected with it because it reminded her of experiencing ‘American Pie’ songwriter Don McLeod in concert once (he was “delighted” by her referencing him as her own inspiration to sing the song). Roberta Flack made the song a hit once again years later when she put her own spin on it in the studio. And when Hill’s hip hop group the Fugees got a hold of Flack’s version, they made it a historic R&B single. It remains the group’s most popular hit, and one of Hill’s most successful releases to date.
Recommended: Our curated list of 90’s hit songs.