Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Lauryn Hill Rant: A Quick Thought

Alright. I'll make this brief.

For context of this post, see here.

Let me begin by stating that I am an absolute fan of Lauryn Hill's music, work, and energy. She moves with more honesty and passion than just about any other artist in my catalog.

Lauryn's withdraw from visible performance and recording soon after the release of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a well documented event. The clamor for a sophomore solo effort was deafening, especially after her record-breaking five Grammy wins back in 1999 (the most in a single ceremony for a female artist). Much to her distaste, she was quickly becoming an incredibly valued musical commodity and in 2000 retracted from the public eye in self-imposed exile.

Since her resurfacing in 2001 on MTV: Unplugged and the short-lived Fugees reunion soon after their performance on Dave Chappelle's Block Party in 2004, Lauryn has taken the stage in a number of venues across the globe to begin the rediscovery of her life as a performer. However, there have been several accounts of bizzare and unprofessional behavior from Ms. Hill that have begun to alienate even her most die-hard supporters.

A close friend of mine attended one of her shows in Michigan shortly after the release of her Unplugged album. Apparently, she appeared on stage 90 minutes late and played her guitar as if she wanted to strangle it while belting the lyrics of her set for about 40 minutes. When she was done, she tossed the instrument away from her and snorted, "There!" as she plodded off stage. The crowd was left with a feeling of complete befuddlement. This type of instability and inconsistency has been Lauryn's modus operandi for the last decade of her musical career (see the San Francisco Chronicle here, and this article from and there doesn't seem to be any sign of change on the horizon.

Furthermore, let's consider the new interpretations we've witnessed of her established work, namely the Miseducation... playlist. Now, I'm all for artistic experimentation. There would be no truly good art if we didn't continuously dance on the boundary of what's brilliant and what's utter cow dung. In fact, many times when I see Lauryn do these funk/rock/soul re-imaginings of her work, I really do get down with some of it. But at best they feel like fleeting strokes brilliance; stars burning brightly with short lifespan. They have nowhere near the sense of spine, grounding, and stability of her late 1990s stuff.

And no, she should definitely not be performing "Ex-Factor" in 2011 the same way she did in 1999. She's a different person now, and the music should be different. However, there is a very acute and palpable abrasive/combative quality to her performances now that seems to have no balance; no converse. So I can understand why people sometimes boo her at shows nowadays. They feel they're being attacked, and I would venture to say they are.

As I've watched and listened to Lauryn these past eight or nine years, I can't help but believe that she doesn't really want to be performing anymore. It's difficult for me to find an instance in which I can be certain Lauryn is having fun on stage. She still seems like a person in exile, as if exile could be a public experience. If that's true, and Lauryn isn't really enjoying her career as a performer, she should simply stop doing it immediately. Seriously. I know I wouldn't be upset, nor would any of her fans who actually cared about her psychological and spiritual health. Before everything else, she should consider exactly what she needs to take care of herself.

Of course we would miss her and talk about where we were when we first heard Miseducation... and how it changed our lives. But our memories would last a lifetime, and there's nothing anyone could say or do to taint our love for Lauryn. I hope she knows that.


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