Three albums that shaped the soundtrack of my junior year

Kiarra Rocker ‘23, Feature Editor

 From listening while doing homework, to car rides, the following albums from 1998 to 2022 have all impacted my year in one way or another. Exploring the themes of solitude, growth, and love, they have significantly shaped my year in one way or another.  

Few Good Things by Saba:

After the success of Saba’s widespread critically acclaimed album, CARE FOR ME in 2018, his third project “Few Good Things” released Feb. 4. While CARE FOR ME grapples with the death of his cousin by showcasing his raw emotions and mental struggles from track to track, Few Good Things casts a different light on Saba. He described the album as “an anti-CARE FOR ME,” which is shown by breaching into an entirely different territory, lyrically and conceptually. The introspective album revolves around the concepts of community and arriving at a sense of fulfillment after your past and youth.

Saba explained the concept of “Few Good Things” in a press release as “the realization of self after a search for fulfillment. It is the satisfaction and completeness you gain by simply living a life that is yours.” Tracks consist of the concept of finding meaning in the “few” and accepting the things that cannot be changed. He continued by saying, “Few Good Things is to grow comfortable with the empty, and despite that, finding your fullness.” The album is a personal narrative from his past, reflecting on the growth into his present self, while also being incredibly lyrically moving.

Along with the album, Saba released a beautifully compelling artistic short film directed by C.T. Roberts who brings his career back to the driving force of his life and music to where it all began: the city of Chicago. The film starts off with a dedication to “those who came before and never got to see it through,” as a tribute to his upbringing in Chicago. His talent of storytelling is shown throughout the film by showcasing the similar themes of the album—making peace with one’s past and the appreciation of the “few” in life; all while being captivating and vulnerable. 

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Ms. Lauryn Hill:

The debut solo album of singer-rapper Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, is highly regarded as one of the greatest albums ever created since its release on Aug. 25, 1998. It is inevitable to find The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on a number of best-selling and top album lists such as Rolling Stone or the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History—and for good reason. 

Touching on the personal circumstances of Hill’s life, she was inspired to make her first and only studio album. Not only do lyrics from the album directly correlate with her pregnancy and troubles with her former group—Fugees—she also touches on themes of love, heartbreak, motherhood, and God. From songs like “To Zion,” in which she speaks on her feelings of family and the pressures put on her career with her decision to carry her son, to “Lost Ones,” which touches on turmoil with Fugees, Hill made a deeply personal album that resonates with listeners to this day.

Despite the album being critically acclaimed, Hill never intended for it to be commercially attractive; she wanted to create something that was, “uniquely and very clearly a Lauryn Hill album.” As a neo-soul and R&B album, she integrated elements of soul, hip-hop, and reggae, achieving an album that is distinctively hers. 

Hill’s legacy continues to shape hip-hop, and quite honestly, the music industry in general. Through her breaking of barriers such as being one of the best selling albums by a female rapper, being the first woman to receive 10 Grammy nominations and five wins for a single project, having the first solo album to be selected for inclusion in the National Recording Industry, still 24 years later, the album remains one of the greatest in the industry.

For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver: 

For Emma, Forever Ago is the debut album self-released in 2007 by the indie folk band Bon Iver. It was written, recorded, and produced by Bon Iver’s lead singer-songwriter, Justin Vernon. Vernon experienced illness of mononucleosis and pneumonia and he began to feel the frustration of his setbacks, not only in his personal life, but songwriting as well. They influenced him to leave his life behind to travel to his fathers secluded hunting cabin in northwestern Wisconsin for an extended period of time. His cathartic time in self-imposed isolation resulted in the hauntingly timeless folk album.

Vernon rejected his old methods of song-writing to complete the album by not only drawing inspiration from a number of different groups, which resulted in the choral arrangements and his iconic falsetto register heard throughout the album, but also altering his entire writing process. After recording wordless vocal lines and melodies, only then did he write the lyrics according to the sounds of the melodies which resulted in the free moving melodies that can be heard on the album.

For Emma, Forever Ago encapsulates exactly the environment it was produced in—solitude and seclusion. As a summarization of Vernon’s feelings of longing and mediocrity, it transforms the nine-track record into a narrative of his life that pushed him into isolation. From “Skinny Love,” which evaluates the need for relationships in his life, to “Re: Stacks,” which concerns his gambling problem, the album is truly a glimpse into Vernon’s experiences. He views the album as a victory for his mental health and a “closing of his own history.”

Few Good Things, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and From Emma, Forever Ago, are just a glimpse into some of my favorite, most listened to albums of junior year. Isolation and reflection to community, growth, and love continue to be the themes of my year, and said themes can influence other listeners’ years as well.

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