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Inside 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill'

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"To Zion"

Jackson: She called me and sang a verse of "Zion" and I was literally in tears. I went through that with her as a friend, Wendy Williams blowing her spot about her pregnancy on the radio. No one knew! It was definitely a Where's Waldo? moment 'cause no one knew who Lauryn was dating.

Marley: She ended up having a child from myself and ones telling her she need to abort the child. Those songs, it's all her experience.

Che Vicious: I'd gotten into a bunch of Spanish records. I lived in a brownstone in Brooklyn and there was this little studio apartment on the top floor that didn't have air conditioning. I could only go in there for 20 minutes at a time to make tracks because it was too hot. And one of those 20 minutes is when I made "Zion." I came in with the track and Lauryn teared up and said, "I have this idea to do a song about my baby and I didn't know what the music should sound like until I heard that track."

Nobles: Out of all the records, "Zion" was her baby because it was about her child. Can't nobody interfere with that right there. That drum roll inspired Kanye's "Jesus Walks," I know it did!

Commissioner Gordon: I remember the first time she sang "To Zion" to me I almost started crying on the spot. Che put together a drum loop and she came over right next to me at the board and started singing "Zion" in my ear. These circumstances she's singing about I know first hand. I'm at the label hearing everybody say, "How's this girl gonna get pregnant now?!" Then Carlos [Santana] played his guitar in Miami at Circle House Studios. It was a swap. She wanted Carlos to play "Zion" and she did a song for Supernatural.

 

"Doo Wop (That Thing)"

Nobles: There was a box set that said "doo wop" sitting on the floor — the title for her single "Doo Wop (That Thing)" came off that box. We were making a song warning women about slick men, but there's some bad girls out here, so we gotta tell both sides. I thought the music was cheesy, it wasn't hard enough, so I put a really heavy drum in there just to give it some edge, something hip-hop.

Lenesha Randolph (backup singer): In November 1997, I get a phone call asking if I was available to come to Chung King Studios. Lauryn came in eating spaghetti pomodoro and garlic bread and explained where she's trying to go with this album and how she wants it to be a reflection of all of us. I was an 18-year-old girl that just wanted to sing. For "Doo Wop" she said, "I wanna play with '50s and '60s harmonies, like barbershop guys on the corner and then we all just jumped in harmonizing a cappella "whooo whoo whoo whoo." She directed us and from there history was made.

Commissioner Gordon: When I mixed "Doo Wop" at Sony Studios, it was 128 tracks — two 48-track machines plus two 24 two-inch machines all running at the same time. When James Poyser came in for "Superstar," we rented a harpsichord that was so old it fell out of tune really quickly so we had to have the tuner actually there. By the time James finished playing it once it was out of tune.

 

The Move to Jamaica

Marley: One time at Chung King Studios she was like, "I can't do this, there's too many people popping in." I said, "Let's go to Jamaica, you don't worry about anything." She needed to get away. She needed to get to the rock.

Nobles: We stayed way up in the hills and Rohan would take us to the studio. He would fly in that BMW around curves, he was messing with us. I remember being scared for my life. "Forgive Them Father" and "Lost Ones" were made at the Bob Marley Museum on 56 Hope Road. That's why on "Lost Ones" she says, "I was hopeless, now I'm on Hope Road."

Commissioner Gordon: That first day in the studio was a lot of pressure because we were late since all the equipment was held up in customs for two days. The lead engineer Errol Brown used to be Bob Marley's engineer and the family — Stephen, Damian, Julian, Ziggy — were in and out. Vada set up his drum machine and got the beat rocking. He'd always do his little dance while he's making his beats.

Nobles: Lauryn was in the studio room redoing vocals. Stephen and Damian Marley would play football at the museum and hang out. I had a MPC 3000 and an SP 1200 connected together, showing them the sounds and I said, "Wait a minute, this is hot, let me record that!"

Commissioner Gordon: Right as Lauryn walks in, she starts freestyling. A lot of Bob's grandchildren were there, all these little kids jumping around. As she kept doing that rhyme pattern, Situation! Complication! Tion! Tion!, she would point to the kids and they all chimed in "Tion! Tion!" She put down the verses on a handheld mike 'cause she always had a different vibe when she would hold a mike.

Marley: The musicians, my brothers, the whole studio was filled with people, this place was moving. And she's just walking around and dropped a verse on that, she gave everybody chills. Those lyrics, they cut through you.

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Song Stories

“Love Is the Answer”

Utopia | 1977

The message of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" proved to be a universal and long-lasting one, which Utopia revisited 10 years later on this ballad. "From a lyrical standpoint, it's part of a whole class of songs that I write, which are about filial love," Todd Rundgren explained. "I'm not a Christian, but it's called Christian love, the love that people are supposed to naturally feel because we are all of the same species. That may be mythical, but it's still a subject." Though "Love Is the Answer" wasn't a hit, a cover version two years later by England Dan & John Ford Coley peaked at Number Ten on the Billboard singles chart.

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