The Lauryn Hill Chronicles

Lauryn Hill. The name alone conjures up images of what an entertainer can aspire to become. Part rapper. Part singer. Part actress/activist. All woman. The consummate professional with countless awards to back it up. Which makes her current absence all the more puzzling, considering her influence among countless peers, veterans and rookies. As the lone female member of the Fugees, Hill stood out between Wyclef Clef and Pras Michel on the trio’s 1994 debut album Blunted on Reality. Tracks like “Nappy Heads” and “Vocab” seemed to be a warm up for what Hill and Co. would unveil next. Released on Feb. 13, 1996, The Score more than smashed any notion of a Fugees sophomore jinx as L-Boogie proved how sick she could be on the mic by warning rivals not to “dis refugees” on “Fu-Gee-La” and “defecating on your microphone” while playing Nina Simone on “Ready or Not.” But it was the group’s remake of Roberta Flack’s hit “Killing Me Softly” that catapulted the group to international stardom while showing off the vocal prowess Hill first displayed on “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” and “Joyful, Joyful” from the movie Sister Act 2: Back In the Habit. And with stardom came demand and a few magazine covers as music heavyweights like Nas and Common mined Lauryn’s voice for a Kurtis Blow homage (“If I Ruled the Word”) and a song dealing with abortion (“Retrospect for Life”). Throw in a solo rhyme for DJ Scribble (“Keep It Tight”), a theatrical cameo with the Fugees on Bounty Killer’s “Hip-Hopera” and some neo-soul on the Love Jones soundtrack (“The Sweetest Thing”) and the chatter builds for a Lauryn Hill solo album. But not before she looked out for Clef by appearing on two songs from his 1997 debut The Carnival. Finally, after much anticipation, Hill unleashed her freshman effort, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on Aug. 25, 1998. Although “Lost Ones” proved to be a solid lead single, it was Hill’s follow-up “Doo-Wop (That Thing),” that ignited the L-Boogie takeover. The album offered a glimpse into the singer’s joys and pains with personal testimonies such as “Ex Factor,” “Everything is Everything” and “To Zion” a track dedicated to her son. By the time it ran its course, Miseducation yielded multi platinum status and a number one single. Not to mention 11 Grammy nominations for which the Hill netted five awards in one night for Best New Artist, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album, and Album of the Year, the first for a Hip-Hop artist “This is crazy because this is Hip-Hop music,” a stunned Lauryn, said during her Grammy speech. Indeed, history was made as the entertainer accomplished what no other female artist had done before at that time – collect five Grammys in one night.How’s that for solo beginner’s luck? The ‘90s proved to be a golden decade for Hill as she exposed fans to her other talent, producing. Lauryn worked alongside a slew of greats while crafting beats and arranging songs for Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and CeCe Winans. She even managed to repay Carlos Santana for playing guitar on “To Zion” by producing, singing and arranging a song off the music legend’s hit album Supernatural, the Cee-Lo Green assisted “Do You Like the Way.” Overall, Ms. Hill could do no wrong. Or so we thought while patiently waiting for the follow up to Miseducation. A year into the new millennium and word spreads regarding a new Lauryn Hill project called MTV Unplugged 2.0. The album, which consisted of an MTV Unplugged special Hill taped in an intimate setting, came as a surprise for those expecting an extension of Miseducation. Instead, they got an offering full of original songs from a new version of Lauryn, who arrived with a new outlook on life and the music industry. The polished vocals and production of her previous efforts were replaced with an acoustic guitar and message driven material that showcased Lauryn’s rough voice. Despite mixed reaction from fans and critics, the album garnered platinum sales and a Grammy nomination for the song “Mystery of Iniquity.” But the reality was that any sign of the old Lauryn was gone as the new Hill made no bones about where she stood on certain issues. Nowhere was the new attitude more present than at a 2003 Christmas concert at the Vatican. It was there that L-Boogie denounced the Catholic Church in response to the church’s cover- up of the child molestation of young boys by Catholic priests. “Who feels sorry for them, the men, women and children damaged psychologically, emotionally and mentally by the sexual perversions and abuse carried out by the people they believed in?” said Hill, who called on church leaders to “repent” and encouraged the crowd to “not seek blessings from man, but from God.” A more outspoken persona was only the tip of what Hill would give us. As the years went by, music from the vocalist was similar to the occasional UFO sightings from the ‘70s and ‘80s. A song here; a song there. A Lauryn sighting emerged in 2002 with “Selah” a song dedicated to her daughter that appeared on the soundtrack to the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Although we enjoyed her as a solo artist, what we wanted was L-Boogie, Clef and Pras back on the scene as a musical superpower. Sure enough, prayers were answered four years ago as the Fugees reunited for comedian Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. The ball continued to roll as the group brought a bit of nostalgia as the opening act of the 2005 BET Awards. Soon after, a new single called “Take It Easy” leaked online, fueling talk of a new Fugees album despite mixed reviews on the track. Nevertheless, it wasn’t meant to be. Although they put up a unified front with a series of concerts in Europe as well as a special show in Hollywood, it was anything but. Rumors about Lauryn’s demeanor during the making of the Fugees album cast a big shadow over the project as fans wondered if the collective could co-exist long enough to put out a solid follow-up to The Score. The final nail in the coffin was hammered in as Pras alluded to some things that Lauryn needed to deal with. So long Fugees reunion as well as frequent appearances on whatever music channel, show or venue you could find.When she did appear, the new Lauryn displayed an afro and what looked to be old clothes. Loyal fans became disillusioned observers as they stood for hours waiting for the tardy diva to show up and perform a less than stellar set. As word came down about Hill forgetting her lyrics or stopping mid set, it became clear that something was going on with Lauryn that was different from what we were used to. Still, love for Hill continued to reign as fans such as Talib Kweli paid tribute to her in song with “Ms. Hill.” John Legend, who played piano on “Everything is Everything” managed to snag the elusive artist for his “So High” remix, while Joss Stone followed the crooner’s lead by getting Hill to contribute a verse on “Music” off her latest album Introducing Joss Stone. Lauryn even managed to stay around long enough to host J. Period’s critically acclaimed two-CD mixtape titled The Best of Lauryn Hill, and the cryptic song “Lose Myself” off the Surf’s Up soundtrack. So where does that leave us? No word on when and if we’ll get a new Lauryn Hill album to enjoy, with the exception of some scattered rumors involving Ms. Hill’s scribbling of lyrics in her bathroom. All we can do is fall back and reminisce on the brief period Ms. Hill graced us with her limitless talent. In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep a light on, preparing for another semester of her advanced Miseducation and a class reunion from the lady with the melodic vocab.

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