It’s been a while since we looked at a female artist in this series – the last time being Lil Kim’s iconic Kimnotyze – and what better a way to jump back into the swing of things than with the legendary Lauryn Hill. The song was the debut single from her first studio album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and released in August 1998, coming up on 23 years ago, and was the first example of a woman hitting #1 on the charts with a track they’d produced, mastered and written individually for years.
The video was created in New York, with Lauryn at a block party in a unique split-screen setup featuring one half of the screen set in the 60’s, and the other in the 90’s. This was aimed to be an homage to “old school” hip-hop and “new school” – looking back, it’s interesting to see both eras side by side and the stark contrasts to today’s scene. Lyrically, Lauryn is widely regarded as nothing short of masterful, with “That Thing” acting a a metaphor for sex and lust, and the whole track being a self-worth and self-respect anthem for women and men alike, in a world where “some guys/girls are only about that thing”. Particularly so expressing her instructions for women, Lauryn emphatically says “Baby girl, respect is just a minimum” – her words wouldn’t go amiss in a 2021 record, with many an artist preaching similar words of motivation to the public today.
As a result of this track, as well as a number of others from the album, Lauryn won the “Best New Artist” award, while this song in particular won “Best R&B Song” as well as “Best Female R&B Vocal Performance” at the 1999 Grammy Awards for its success. Lauryn’s speech was poignant, and she took to the stage to read a biblical verse rather than a conventional acceptance, before thanking her nearest and dearest and finishing up with “one love, y’all”.