What The F@%! Happened?!: LAURYN HILL
Over the next four weeks, I’ve decided to focus on some of my generations most-beloved Hip Hop/Soul artists that up and disappeared on our asses! Why did we love them, why did they fade into oblivion, and is there even a snowball’s chance in hell that they’ll come back to us one day? These are the questions I’ll attempt to answer for ya’ll.
So without further delay, let’s get into this week’s cry for help.
An obvious one….
Lauryn Hill is arguably the most influential female artist of the past 15 years, impacting the works of everyone from Beyonce to Amy Winehouse to Kanye West (as well as the entire Neo-soul genre). Beginning her musical career as a member of the Fugees, she hit the big time with their 1996 classic The Score, due in no small part to her masterful solo cover of Roberto Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” Of course, the Fugees would soon be lost to oblivion as well, as inner-group turmoil would send its three members going their separate ways. The world mourned their demise…until The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill dropped in 1998. Working on the project with a tight-knit collective of friends and collaborators, Hill dug deep, telling deeply personal tales of love, heartbreak, betrayal and greed that resonated with an entire generation. Hill’s intelligent and intoxicating mixture of Hip Hop, Soul, Classic R&B and Reggae captivated millions worldwide, winning 5 Grammys (including Album of the Year), selling 8 million copies in the U.S. alone, and bringing (quality) Hip Hop to its largest and most wide-ranging audience up to that point. At the tender age of 23, and just one album into her solo career, Lauryn Hill was catapulted unexpectedly into mega-stardom, and looked upon with an almost divine level of adoration and respect. Clearly, Hill was not ready for it.
What The F@%! Happened?!
Well…a lot of shit happened. First, some of the musicians and collaborators who’d worked on Miseducation sued Hill, claiming they weren’t credited with the writing and conceptualizing they’d contributed to the production of the album. In other words, they accused Lauryn (who’d received an “All songs produced, written, arranged and performed by” credit in the album’s linear notes) of being a phony. This alleged betrayal, combined with a total disdain for and discomfort with fame and its baggage, led Hill to close ranks, pushing away almost all of her industry friends and acquaintances. According to journalist Toure, Hill sought the guidance of a spiritual advisor (or cult leader, potentially) named Brother Anthony, and plunged herself into strict religiosity. Around this time, her infamous Unplugged 2.0 performance was filmed, recorded and released, informing the world that although she was still a phenomenal writer and artist, Lauryn Hill was clearly in the midst of a prolonged emotional breakdown.
That was 2002.
Since then, I’m pretty sure Hill hasn’t been able to make one move, appearance, decision or performance that wasn’t controversial or shambolic in some capacity. She called out the Vatican for its handling of child abuse scandals…while performing before the top brass of the Vatican…inside of the Vatican. She participated in the reformation of the Fugees, only to be the reason for its demise a few years later (without an album or respectable single ever being released from their reunion). Rumor has it she makes everyone she deals with (whether the occasion is a meeting or an informal interview, or even an interaction with other artists backstage) refer to her as “Ms. Hill,” only and always. Aside from a few forgettable contributions to a couple random soundtracks (Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood and Surf’s Up, to be exact), Hill has remained musically silent, and there are no indications that a proper follow-up to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill will see the light of day any time soon. Though she’s intermittently embarked on small tours (mostly across Europe), each one has been plagued with consistent tardiness or outright cancellation, and the performances are routinely reported as being marred by Hill’s erratic, unpolished onstage behavior.
Currently, Lauryn Hill lives in a deluxe apartment at a luxury hotel in Miami, Florida, where she raises her five children with Rohan Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley. According to friends and spokespeople, included Rohan himself, Lauryn still writes music, and has enough finished recordings under her belt to release several albums if she wants to. But clearly she does not. And that’s fine. Great artists don’t owe the public anything really, and if it makes Ms. Hill happy to raise her children quietly and stay out of the public eye, than more power to her. Still, it’s sad to think that this incredible voice, this incomparable mind, whose music truly defined a period in my life and the lives of my peers, will likely never make the return we’ve been waiting for.
Well I’m done waiting, per se. But if she does come back, I can assure you that I’ll be in the front row. Don’t count her out either, because anything is possible, time heals all wounds, and people can change. Hey…Lauryn said it best:
“Everything is everything.
What is meant to be will be.
After winter must come spring.
Change, it comes eventually.”
I sure as hell hope so.