Tale of the Tape: Lauryn Hill Vs. Best R&B Album Grammy Nominees
In 1999, Lauryn Hill was nominated for 10 Grammy awards and raked in five gramophone trophies at the 41st annual Grammy Awards for her masterpiece, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. With her five wins, including the coveted Album of the Year honor, the rap veteran became the first woman to win five or more awards in a single night before it was broken by Beyoncé in 2010 with six wins.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is also credited - maybe erroneously - as the first hip-hop album to earn Album of the Year. (Whether Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a hip-hop album or an R&B album has been a long-standing debate among music snobs.)
Among Hill’s wins was in the Best R&B Album category for Miseducation. Albums by Erykah Badu, Maxwell, Brandy and the late Aretha Franklin, were also nominated in the same field but lost to Hill. While Miseducation was a landslide favorite at the Grammy Awards, the other nominees delivered exceptional albums as well.
So this is not a competition, but we're going to use this "tale of the tape" to highlight the other nominees’ projects and offer an explanation of why they should have won over Lauryn Hill’s most beloved album.
Check out how the other R&B albums stack up below.
Live – Erykah Badu
Although Lauryn Hill delivered many engaging facets about womanhood on Miseducation, Erykah Badu wasn’t too far off from the same topics with her Live album.
In fact, Badu and Hill share a lot of similarities when it came to the recording process of their albums. Hill was pregnant with her second child while recording Miseducation and Badu recorded her concert album while pregnant with her first child Seven and released it on her son’s birth date - November 18, 1997.
Live featured Badu performing cover songs by Chaka Khan ("Stay"), the Mary Jane Girls ("All Night Long”), Roy Ayers (“Searchin’”) among others, as well as tracks from her debut album Baduizm. The R&B singer added a jazzy twist to songs like “Otherside of the Game” and “Next Lifetime,” which all tackle different complicated issues that come with being in a relationship.
Badu also talks about motherhood (much like Hill on “To Zion”) with her tranquil ballad “Ye Yo.” But the album’s centerpiece is “Tyrone,” an impromptu freestyle. The song has become a universal anthem for women who have to deal with a no-good men. It also sparked debates by men who accused Badu of male bashing.
But the R&B vet said that's not the case. "I'm not apologetic for 'Tyrone.' It's the jam and I love it," she told Clutch magazine. "It's one of my favorite songs to perform on stage and it's still hilarious to me."
Side Note:"Tyrone" was nominated in the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance category but lost to Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)."
Never Say Never – Brandy
By the time Brandy was nominated for four trophies at the 1999 Grammy Awards, she was a bonafide R&B superstar. The R&B singer had a platinum-selling album under her belt and she was starring in her own sitcom Moesha that was a hit on the UPN Network.
For her second album, Never Say Never, Brandy enlisted the help of upcoming producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins and legendary composer David Foster. Much like Hill and Badu, Brandy's LP also featured songs about the ups and downs of relationships. On “Almost Don’t Count,” Brandy sings of a love that’s not being reciprocated. On the Diane Warren-penned ballad "Have Your Ever?," the R&B singer yearns to find her true love. Of course, the standout is "The Boy Is Mine," her duet with Monica, which sparked a fictional beef between the two singers that has now become a a decade-long feud.
"The Boy Is Mine" won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal beating out Hill's "Nothing Even Matters," her soulful duet with D'Angelo on Miseducation.
A Rose Is Still a Rose – Aretha Franklin
In a strange twist of fate, Aretha Franklin was nominated for three Grammy awards in the same R&B categories (including Best R&B Album) as Lauryn Hill, who ironically, penned her uplifting title track, “A Rose Is Still a Rose.” For her album, the late Queen of Soul tapped several go-to hitmakers like Puff Daddy, Dallas Austin, Daryl Simmons and others to create hip-hop-infused soul music for the project.
Tracks like the Puff Daddy-produced “Never Leave You Again” and the Tom Tom Club-sampled "Here We Go Again" (produced by Jermaine Dupri) feel like hip-hop beats were crowbarred into the heavily-produced urban-contemporary material. But a "Rose Is a Rose" delivered the right mixture of hip-hop and soul. On the song, Franklin delivers motherly advice to a young woman whose heart is broken from a bad relationship. Ironically, Franklin's song samples Boogie Down Productions's "Super Hoe," which Hill also used on her diss track "Lost Ones" for The Miseducation.
Hill beat out Franklin is all three categories. Nevertheless, Franklin’s album deserved the recognition and nominations it received.
Embrya – Maxwell
Maxwell’s Embrya probably had a long shot on winning any trophies at the 41st annual Grammy Awards but deserved to be recognized for its musical brilliance. The music was vastly different from his usual R&B contemporary sounds that made his 1996 debut album Urban Hang Suite, an enjoyable listen. Maxwell teamed up with Sade collaborator Stuart Matthewman to deliver sonics that was heavy on basslines, orchestral strings, pulsating beats and grooves that would command listeners' full attention.
Maxwell’s trademark falsetto shines on ballads like “Know These Things: Shouldn’t You” and “Eachhoureachsecondeachminuteeachday: Of My Life,” while songs like “Matrimony: Maybe You” and “Luxury: Cococure” deliver a soulful groove palatable for urban radio.
Maxwell received two Grammy nominations for his work - one for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Matrimony: Maybe You" (but lost to Stevie Wonder's "St. Louis Blues") and Best R&B Album, of which Hill took home the honor.