"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" broke so much new ground its no wonder its lessons are still being learned 20 years later. And Ms. Lauryn Hill was more than ready to dole them out Sunday night at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater. "Thank you so much for celebrating with us," said Hill, as she kicked into a fiery version of "Lost Ones." "We appreciate you."
Hill, wearing a gray blazer over her yellow party dress, pulled out all the stops for this party. Backed by a 13-piece band, she played up the soul influences in the songs, punctuating them with gorgeous vocal runs or hard-hitting rhymes. "When It Hurts So Bad" was reinvented into a lush jazzy ballad. The only non-“Miseducation” song — “Can’t Take My Eyes Off if You” — took on a Whitney Houston vibe in both phrasing and power. “Every Ghetto, Every City” took on a Tina Turner edge, much rougher and more swaggering than the recorded version, adding an a capella of “Can we bring the foundation back?”
It was part of her theme of bringing back music with integrity, something she prayed for at the end of her hit "Doo Wop (That Thing)," which was a throwback in itself, but also brought hip-hop to new heights. When “Miseducation” was released in 1998, it set a new sales record for solo female artists. When it received 10 Grammy nominations, she set another record. And when it landed the album of the year Grammy, it became the first hip-hop album to receive that honor.
While there were plenty of female rappers before Hill, she was the first to bring a huge commercial audience to her hip-hop activism. She set the stage for the commercial success of today’s solo female rappers like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, as well as activist firebrands like opener M.I.A., whose nonstop, 30-minute set was stunning as she wove together bits from her Sri Lankan heritage and British grime. “I love her til death,” M.I.A. said of Hill, following her smash “Paper Planes.”
Uniondale native Busta Rhymes was also impressive in his opening set, which he said marked his first return to the Jones Beach stage in more than a decade, when he was on a bill with David Bowie and Moby. The world loves what we do, said Rhymes, adding that fans' loyalty made his career possible.
DJ Funkmaster Flex made a surprise appearance to show his support for Hill, while also working in Strong Island classics from LL Cool J and Ashanti into his set.