The Seven Ingredients Behind the Success of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
Lauryn Hill's classic album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a timeless piece of musical art that is still being talked about since its debut back in 1998. The record was hip-hop, it was R&B, it was young, fresh, and a timely piece that was needed in our culture.
But before the album dropped and became the topic of conversation, there was the album's first single, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” that started it all. The hit single was written and produced by Lauryn Hill herself and was released in July a month before the album dropped on August 25, 1998.
The song won Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song at the 1999 Grammy Awards on February 24, 1999. The single debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the tenth song in the chart's history to do so, and the first debut single to do so.
The song became a hit, but what are the proper ingredients for a hit? Is it the lyrics, the video, or the producer? We are taking a look at all the elements that made “Doo Wop (That Thing)” a classic hit single.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
When Whoopi Goldberg made her return back to the big screen as Sister Mary Clarence in the1993 musical comedy Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, she starred alongside a familiar face–Lauryn Hill.
Hill's character Rita Louise was a sassy, stubborn teenager who wanted so badly to sing but also had a huge chip on her shoulder. Every kid who grew up in the '90s remembers the film's all-star ending with Hill leading the way with her strong vocals and cool dance moves
Hill's film debut showcased her ability to act, rap, sing, and dance. These would be the very skills she would use when debuting her first single, “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
Lauryn Hill was the breakout star of one of the greatest hip-hop groups ever, The Fugees. The New Jersey-based group consisted of Wyclef Jean, Pras Michel, and Hill. The group recorded two albums, Blunted on Reality and The Score.
Although the group disbanded in '97 Hill's membership in The Fugees gave her a major headstart when she decided to become a solo artist. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” was Hill's first song as a solo artist but it wasn't the first time people had heard her music.
High anticipation for Lauryn Hill's solo project
When Lauryn Hill split from The Fugees the anticipation for what her album would sound like was high. Fans knew she could sing and rap but people still didn't know what a Lauryn Hill album would consist of. Would she rap, sing, or do both?
In an interview with MTV, she spoke about her musical influences growing up.
"My parents had a love for music...there was so much music constantly being played. My mother played piano and my father sang," Hill said. "I didn't go to Julliard or I wasn't classicly trained but by listening I grew an appreciation for certain musical philosophies and ideas and concepts."
When "Doo Wop" was released Hill already had fans ready to hear what she had to say. Hill's intense vocals on the song were the backdrop to her thought-provoking rap lyrics. The single was the perfect snapshot of what fans could anticipate from her album.
Woke Female Rapper
It's been three weeks since you were looking for your friend, the one you let hit it and never called you again. 'Member when he told you he was 'bout the Benjamins? You act like you ain't hear him, then give him a little trim. To begin, how you think you're really gon' pretend
like you wasn't down and you called him again? Plus, when you give it up so easy you ain't even foolin' him If you did it then, then you'd probably f*ck again.
When Lauryn Hill released, "Doo Wop (That Thing)," the lyrics on the song made people sit up straight and listen. Women in hip-hop were making waves on the music charts in the late '90s but they were also being oversexualized. Their lyrics were raunchy and while the culture ate it up Hill's single became a beacon of light and a breath of fresh air.
Hill managed to flip the idea that female emcees could only top the charts if they stuck to a certain formula. Not only did she talk about sex she had a message for young women and men who used their bodies as objects. The entire song is a cautionary tale about what can happen when you don't have love and respect for yourself.
In the late '90s and early 2000's, there were a few female rap beefs but the overall mood was that of collaboration and sisterhood. When Hill made her debut, she was met with nothing but support from other female hip-hop artists like, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and Missy Elliott who were also dominating the music charts.
Every summer we try and predict what song is going to be the song of the summer. If an artist is successful at giving fans a strong summer single that can change the course of their entire career.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released August 25, 1998, the single itself was released in July. The summer of '98, in particular, was an amazing time for R&B, both Brandy and Monica released their albums and had a hit with their duet single "The Boy Is Mine." Destiny's Child still had people singing, "No, No, No, No, No," and some of hip-hop's most classic albums were released that same summer.
When "Doo Wop (That Thing)" dropped on the airwaves there was nothing else on the radio that sounded like it. This was the perfect summer song for Hill to work her way up the charts and create a fan base as a solo act.
The video itself was hot
When the video for "Doo-Wop" dropped people couldn't stop talking about the visual storytelling. The video was filmed in New York's Washington Heights and it showcases a split screen of a block party during two different time periods.
On the left side of the split screen, Hill takes us back to the 1960s and everything on that side is a reflection of that period. Hill pays tribute to the doo-wop era and R&B. On the right side, it's 1998 which was present day and you can see how hip-hop has influenced the culture.
Hill is performing in both time periods at a block party; the video shows us that as much as things change a lot remains the same. The overall message from the song mixed with the video helped to make this song unforgettable.