"Don't forget about the dean / The Sirat Al-Mustaqim"
The dean, Allah, the Creator, God—whatever you want to call it, Lauryn Hill is a believer.Deep Thought
Sirat al-Mustaqim is a common Arabic phrase that means "the straight path," or the path of God. Although Lauryn Hill is known to be a devout Christian, her music draws on several faith traditions. In the years since The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released in 1998, Hill has become increasingly religious, at times to the point that media sources have accused her of being a part of some sort of cult.
Spiritual beliefs aside, Hill might not be in the good graces of quite as many Catholics anymore—ever since that time she put the Vatican on blast in 2003. After being invited to perform at a Christmas concert at the Vatican, she tore into the Catholic Church for failing to stop sexual abuse in its ranks. The pope was not present at the event, but several cardinals were thoroughly scandalized by what was perceived as a disrespectful use of the stage. In her defense, though, those were abused were probably thoroughly scandalized by the disrespectful use of their person, so maybe she has a point.
"If ya feel real good wave your hands in the air / and 'lick' two shots in the atmosphere"
The music video features a split screen of two block parties, one that takes place in the mid-1960s and one that takes place in the late-1990s.Deep Thought
The images of a 1960s block party don't actually look that different from the 1990s block party, although that might be the point: Hill seems to suggest that things haven't changed much. In any case, this line evokes the song's soulful-but-fun block party feel, even suggesting a couple of gunshots in the air. (We're sure she means squirt-gun shots…)
"'Member when he told you he was 'bout the Benjamin's"
In other words, girl, you knew all he cared about was money.Deep Thought
If you're one of the girls Hill is talking to, your boyfriend and P. Diddy have a little too much in common. Money, or "Benjamins"—ya know, as in Ben Franklin, the guy on the $100 bill—, is more important than love to some, but that’s clearly not a philosophy Lauryn Hill can get behind.
"Talking out your neck sayin' you're a Christian / A Muslim sleeping with the gin"
You're a lyin' hypocrite, according to Lauryn Hill.Deep Thought
"Talkin' out your neck" means lying; a Muslim sleeping with the gin is another way of saying hypocrisy, since many Muslims refrain from drinking alcohol of any kind.
Hill sings this song with a cheerful, sweet tone of sisterhood, but she is also pretty openly critical of other young women who claim Christian morality but go out and "give it up so easy." Guys shouldn't womanize, she says, but girls shouldn't mess around with guys who do. And if you’re claiming to be devout, well you best back it up, sister.
"Now that was the sin that did Jezebel in"
Jezebel: princess, goddess, or fallen woman?Deep Thought
The name “Jezebel” derives from Hebrew scripture. The Bible tells of a princess who promoted her pagan religion in ancient Israel. (She is depicted in the Hebrew Book of Kings.)
Today, the symbol of Jezebel has come to mean a false prophet at best, or at worst a sinful and fallen woman—often a woman who lives in sexual or material excess. Basically, Lauryn Hill has figured out a polite way to say something not too terribly polite.
"Let it sit inside your head like a million women in Philly, Penn."
The Million Woman March was held in Philadelphia in 1997 as an answer to the Million Man March of 1995.Deep Thought
Both marches were conceived as ways to unite African Americans who were invested in their children, neighborhoods, and futures—and both marches included a wide variety of ideas about what that unity should mean, exactly. The Million Man March, held in Washington, D.C., in 1995, included a keynote from controversial black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. The event was accused of sexism and exclusivity for its focus on men, although many women's groups worked in solidarity with the event, and Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou were both invited to speak. The Million Woman March was a far more grassroots effort, and it involved fewer celebrities, but it is possible that nearly as many people came out for the event as had for the Million Man March (turn-out numbers for both marches have been hotly contested).
"Look at where you be in / Hair weaves like Europeans"
Hill points out a potentially controversial fact: that weaves and extensions may be a way of imitating "white hair."Deep Thought
Weaves are fake-hair extensions that are literally woven into the hair (hence the name "weave"), and they became extremely popular among African American women in the 1990s. But some have asserted that weaves are a way for black women to try to make their hair look more like white Europeans' hair.
Although this assertion may seem out of place, it's worth keeping in mind that the big female hip-hop stars in Hill's time were people like Lil' Kim, who is pretty much notorious for her blonde weave, scandalous outfits, and outwardly sexual persona. Here Hill blatantly—and maybe a little unfairly—criticizes women who go down Kim's path.
"That thing, that thing, that thing"
Has anyone else ever wondered what exactly "that thing" is?Deep Thought
At certain points in the song, it feels self-evident: that thing is, you know, that thing. The thing that happens in romantic relationships, maybe. Or the thing that girls go chasing after when they go chasing after guys they like. "That thing," from Hill's perspective, can be misleading and often points down the wrong path—but it's also something everyone needs. Is "that thing" love itself?
It’s hard to know for sure, but here's the best explanation we’ve found so far of what "that thing" really is: "As I think about what direction things are going, it reminds me of the cycle that the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote seems eternally caught in," wrote Alex Gee and John Teter in Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets(2003). "We all have a little Wile E. inside of us, and that thang is the Road Runner." Girls chase guys, guys chase girls, and everyone chases that thing.