“Doo Wop (That Thing)”

’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Doo Wop (That Thing)”

The one hundred twenty-fourth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill. The track was the first release off Hill’s debut solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, a CD that went on to sell 8.6 million units and generate five Grammy wins, including Album of the Year. The record, which Hill also produced and wrote, is still routinely lauded by critics as a masterwork. (Rolling Stone magazine, for example, ranked it No. 5 on its list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1990s, the highest placement by a female artist.)

Before going solo, Hill was already a well-known actress and singer. She broke out as a co-star, alongside Whoopi Goldberg, of the 1993 film Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, a role that also allowed her to demonstrate her singing talents. She then joined Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel to form The Fugees. The trio had one of 1996’s best-selling albums, The Score, which most memorably contained a globally successful cover of “Killing Me Softly,” a No. 1 hit for Roberta Flack in 1973. “Killing Me Softly” was really a Lauryn Hill track credited to The Fugees; it’s just Hill singing over a simple drumbeat. (It didn’t chart on the Hot 100 because it wasn’t released as a physical single.)

“Doo Wop (That Thing)” is notable for featuring Hill both singing and rapping — and doing both exceptionally well. Even today, with an extra 20+ years of artists to choose from, you can count on one hand the number of performers in this category, female or male. “Doo Wop” was a brilliant introduction for Miseducation, which produced two more hits, the ballad “Ex-Factor” (peak: 21) — which Drake fans will recognize for being sampled on his 2018 smash “Nice For What” — and the mid-tempo “Everything Is Everything” (peak: 35). All three singles also inspired exceptional music videos that were heavily rotated on MTV.

Hill famously befuddled fans and critics by retreating into her shell after Miseducation, for various confirmed and rumored reasons you can read about elsewhere. As of this writing, she still has not released a follow-up studio album of new material. She did an MTV Unplugged performance in 2001 that was released on CD the following year, and has dropped a couple standalone singles and contributed to a few soundtracks, but nothing has been successful. These days she performs sporadically, to mixed reviews.

“Doo Wop (That Thing)” contains advice for men and women about their behavior. Musically, it features instruments rarely (perhaps never) heard in Hip-Hop music in 1998, including piano and horns. Some of the singing portions hearken back to the girl groups of the ’60s.

Let’s take a few minutes to listen again to “Doo Wop (That Thing)”:

This is one of the best songs of the ’90s. It scores well across all dimensions — composition, lyrics, performance, instrumental arrangement and message. It’s at once retro, of its time and forward-looking. And while most Hip-Hop from the ’90s sounds old school and often passé, this somehow holds up remarkably well. Our only criticism is that we didn’t hear more from Lauryn Hill after Miseducation. Imagine how her talents could’ve further influenced modern music for the better.

Does it hold up? Yes. As mentioned, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is still cited as a classic album, and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” is the most memorable and enduring track from it. The video, as of this writing, has more than 100 million views on YouTube. That’s holding up pretty well, we’d say.

Dopeness: 5 of 5 Birkenstocks

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Lauryn Hill
“Doo Wop (That Thing)”
2 weeks at No. 1, starting Nov. 14, 1998
Preceded by: “The First Night,” Monica
Followed by: “Lately,” Divine

’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?

– John

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