Tied for First: ‘Tell Him’ by Lauryn Hill

A spiritual escape into a lover’s comfortable arms

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Lauryn Hill released "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" in 1998.

Angela Chen | Cavalier Daily

I’ve been collecting CDs for a couple years now, sprinting to the CD section of my local Goodwill since the dawn of my driver’s license. But my collection was merely a performance — no one in my house, myself included, owned a CD player. I’d throw a few dollars every month towards the aesthetically unpleasing, growing plastic pile on my bookcase. To me, it meant fulfillment. To me, it meant that if someday streaming services everywhere collapsed, I would be saved. I just needed a CD player. 

You’re probably thinking, why didn’t you just buy one? That is a really good question. A really, really good question. But this particularly intellectually-stimulating question was negated one day when cleaning out my shed. I found an old, rusty-dusty CD player. It worked like a dream. I dashed inside, scanning the plastic mosaic on my bookcase. I immediately popped in one of my favorite albums of all time — “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” — an easy first choice. I swiftly smashed the skip button 16 times, knowing my favorite songs of all time lay at my fingertips.

Imagine my surprise when the CD stopped at track 14. Something was wrong — was it the CD player? The CD? Fumbling the album case in my hands, I checked the tracklist on the back. “Tell Him,” track 16, arguably the zenith of artistic achievement, was nowhere to be found. A quick internet search told me that “Tell Him” was a bonus track — a simple gift to me from the streaming age gods. I unplugged my CD player, grabbed my headphones and opened Spotify. “Tell Him” whistled in my ear as I cautiously wondered — why did Lauryn Hill keep the best song of all time off her album?

Some questions have no answer, like why I didn’t just buy a CD player. But whatever Hill’s reasoning, we can nevertheless relish in the glory of her artistry. “Tell Him” is the answer to a question I didn’t know I had. And no, the question isn’t “what’s the best song of all time?” I’m not that predictable. Some answers have no questions, either. 

In her career, Hill has offered many-a-lyrical masterpiece, but this may take the cake. The first verse reads “Let me be patient, let me be kind / Make me unselfish without being blind / Though I may suffer, I'll envy it not / And endure what comes / 'Cause he's all that I got.” 

Whether interpreted as an ode to Jesus or an ode to a lover, there is no denying the delicate, exposed underbelly of the soul this song exposes — Hill needs her love and everything they represent. Further along in the song, Hill sings “I'll never be jealous / And I won't be too proud / 'Cause love is not boastful / Oooh and love is not loud,” exemplifying the kind of pure-honey, sun-kissed love she sings about. It’s quiet and docile, sugary and thick, unselfish and unrelenting and valuable beyond belief — a love that softly sings with the spring wind like emerald-green silk sheets on a backyard clothesline. A love to sing aloud in the privacy of your kitchen — mutually understood, unspoken in its affirmation. A kitchen shared.

I can say with confidence that this is the sweetest song ever written and performed. It makes my heart melt into a warm, sticky mush every time I give it a listen. The mush usually commences with the hook — “Tell him I need him / Tell him I love him / And it’ll be alright.” A simple, beautiful dedication to a comfortably shared existence. Sometimes, in this day and age — especially for early twenty-somethings — it’s really nice to hear that everything’s going to be alright. Especially when it’s Hill’s delicate croon telling you so. 

I deleted my social media a while back. At certain points, it was getting to be too much for me to bear — I was expending a lot of emotional energy on current events and tragedy. So it came as a bittersweet surprise to me when, researching for this article, I saw the comment sections of all the YouTube videos for this song flooded with support for Vanessa Bryant, who lost two loves of her life — her daughter, Gianna, and her husband Kobe — in late January. On Valentine’s Day, Vanessa posted a dedication to her late husband and daughter on Instagram, with “Tell Him” stirring in the background, playing in honorable support. “Tell Him” says all the words needed to be said when the words are so hard to muster.  

Lauryn Hill has gifted us with an immortal masterclass. It’s a reflective breeze when times are good and a warm assurance when times get tough. It forces you to reach into a past you can’t touch, to quietly and patiently revel in the beauty of what used to be. But all in all, it’s a gripping reminder that things will be alright — somehow, some way, and eventually some day. It’s a reminder that it might just be time to bring the sheets inside. 

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