There will never be another Lauryn Hill. Musically, she didn't capture or advance a trend, because she created her own inimitable sound. Even on a light pop track like "Doo Wop (That Thing)," her skills as an emcee and her ability to fuse a live neo-soul feel with actual rapping and emotive singing stand out. This is not the shallow rap song with a catchy hook that every music critic complains about. This is the real stuff, marked with the heavy influences of the past that have traditionally been a mark of the genre, but graced with the freshness, originality, and social consciousness that have always kept hip-hop cutting edge.
Over the classy sounds of a tinny piano, a deep soul bass line, and a fresh but simple hip-hop beat, Hill delivers a sound that draws from Motown and Stax as much as it does from 1990s hip-hop. According to back-up singer Lenesha Randolph, Hill had a clear vision of a barbershop-style vocal harmony on "Doo Wop." The harmonies were initially recorded a capella and laid over beats in what eventually amounted to 128 separate tracks on the song. But even with all that computerized mixing, Hill insisted that the entire record maintain an earthy, live feel, without overproduction on any of the vocals.
The vocals come through loud and clear on this track, capturing the empowering emotion behind the song: "The very timbre of her voice," wrote Touré in his review of the album for Rolling Stone, "that deep, oven-roasted sound when rhyming, the sweet, melancholy-tinged midrange she owns when singing, the way she always comes confidently from deep within her chest – it communicates a self-respect and self-love."
Critics praised not just the great sound itself, but the feeling and meaning behind the sound. Hill was inspired by reggae and hip-hop, but she also clearly placed her work in the wonderful world of soul, that secular beauty birthed from black church history. No one explains the meaning of Hill's musical influences better than L.A. Times music editor Ann Powers, writing for The New York Times:
"The whole trajectory of rhythm-and-blues can be described as a journey, with plenty of baggage, from church to nightclub. What made the music so rich was not the simple union of religious content into pop but the human enigmas it illuminated. African-Americans, historically forced to adjust their own spiritual practices to fit within their oppressors' religion, created a consecrated language far more flexible than traditional Christianity had ever been. Soul music showed how that language, and the music that expressed it, could elevate people's understanding of carnal pleasures, personal relationships and social concerns. In bringing religion down to earth, it sanctified the commonplace.
"Lauryn Hill enters into this context and finds universal lessons in contemporary scenarios. Although many of the songs on 'Miseducation' tackle the troubles of earthly love, nearly all of them make reference to the Bible or its God. The link she forges with this God replays the African diaspora's process of spiritual syncretism, or adapting a belief system to new circumstances, on a personal level."