The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, perched in the #1 slot on the Billboard 200 albums chart for the second week in a row, is shaping up to be more than just a financial success and a personal artistic achievement for savvy Fugees singer/rapper Hill.
The album's strong showing has, according to artists and music-industry experts, demonstrated more than ever before that women rappers are a force to be recognized within hip-hop and that they don't have to rely on exploiting their sexuality to gain record sales.
Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA (born Robert Diggs) said from a Los Angeles hotel on Friday that he thought Hill's triumph isn't surprising in light of the chart success found by such sexually frank female rappers as Salt-n-Pepa, Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown.
But, he added, it still is important to recognize Hill's influence.
"What Lauryn is doing is opening doors for female artists who aren't materialistic and flashing their titties," said RZA, who has done some production work for an all-female rap act called the Deadly Venoms. "She represents a beauty and a wholesomeness that's more down-to-earth. She makes music that people can relate to, which is why she's done so well."
In its first week of release, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which features the single "Doo Wop" (That Thing)" (Real Audio excerpt), sold 424,000 copies -- the highest one-week sales figures for a female solo artist since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991. The previous record-holder was Madonna, for her electronica-influenced Ray of Light, which sold 371,000 copies during the sales week ending March 8, 1998.
Last week, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill moved 265,000 copies and remained in the #1 slot, bringing its two-week total up to 689,000. That was enough to earn Hill a gold album (500,000 copies sold) from the Recording Industry Association of America and catapult the singer into the small club of artists, including punk/rap superstars the Beastie Boys and rapper Master P, who've earned the award this year in just two weeks.
"I think we are in the midst of an amazing surge of women in music," Rae Zander, the content director for the all-women Internetcast music show Amazon City Radio (radio.amazoncity.com), wrote in an e-mail.
"My guess would be that the marketing campaign is not wholly responsible for [Hill's] first-week success," Zander continued. "Instead, the success is most likely due to the market's need for female voices (with shared perspectives) that until now have mostly gone unheard -- coupled with the rapid sharing of information amongst women that happens as a by-product of our relationships."
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is, without question, a personal album. It offers tracks such as "To Zion," which celebrates Hill's love for her son, the failed-relationship lament "Ex-Factor" and the history lesson "Every Ghetto, Every City."
Roberto Goodin, urban music supervisor at music retailer HMV in the Bronx, N.Y., said that, in his store, sales for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill have been consistently strong, especially among women.
"It just seems to be one of those 'must have' albums for our customers," Goodin explained. "We expected this to be a success, but it really seems to have hit a nerve with people."
One of the people the album has really reached is renowned hip-hop producer Sean "Puffy" Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy. In a SonicNet online chat on Thursday night, he had nothing but nice things to say about The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
"I really like what Lauryn and the Fugees have done," Combs said. "Lauryn especially has a new album that's off the hook on the R&B and hip-hop tip. I can't wait to remix one of her songs if she'll let me."