The Library of Congress has announced its annual list of National Recording Registry selections. It contained a surprise: Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. The august institution would doubtless have the staples of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway during the Golden Age of American Music (Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” was selected this year) as perennial contenders, a nod to jazz, maybe rock-n-roll (in its black heyday and its subsequent white flavoring), R&B (we see you, Issac Hayes!), even country music. But rap and neo-soul, although popular as products of today’s youth culture, have not made much of an impression on the institution. In 2010, Tupac Shakur’s “Dear Mama” made its entry on the list. Once when pigs flew, both Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy made their way onto the list of culturally worthy and representative musical artifacts of American civilization. Thereafter, the post-2010 years have been an apparent cultural blank for rap as a contributor to the American cultural landscape. Or so says the Library of Congress.
So a change of tune is nice. Add some very enthusiastic words about Hill’s artistry, and it’s an appropriate and welcomed openness to rap’s consistent cultural cachet: “Lauryn Hill’s debut solo record…is a work of honesty in which Hill explores her feelings on topics that included the deep wonder of pregnancy, the pitfalls of modern relationships and the experience of the sacred. The album effortlessly fuses soul, rhythm and blues, rap and reggae. Hill’s vocal range, smooth clear highs and vibrato are stunning. The rapping is rhythmically compelling while always retaining, and frequently exploiting, the natural cadence of conversational speech.”