Hip-Hop Legends: The Story of Lauryn Hill

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Source : Instagram @ms_laurynhill

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of her debut solo album, Ms. Lauryn Hill has recently announced her upcoming tour, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill 20th Anniversary World Tour. The announcement was made through her website on April 18, which lists the 28 scheduled tour dates and includes additional information about the tour.

In that information, it is stated that a portion of the proceeds from the tour will go to the MLH Foundation, which “directly contributes support for education, health, agriculture, technology, and community based businesses and development initiatives throughout the Diaspora.” The tour announcement also included a personal statement from Ms. Hill about the album she will be performing:

This album chronicled an intimate piece of my young existence. It was the summation of most, if not all, of my most hopeful and positive emotions experienced to that date. I Loved and believed deeply in my community’s ability to both Love and heal itself provided it received the right amount of support and encouragement. Our world today, both complex and changing, is in need of the balance between moral fortitude and cathartic expression. I hope the Love and energy that permeated this work can continue to inspire change with Love and optimism at the helm.

The album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, was released on August 25 of 1998, and would be her first and only studio album. Regardless, her album made had a profound impact in the hip-hop community, as well as the music industry as a whole. The album is primarily described as a neo soul album, but includes elements of R&B, hip-hop, soul, and reggae. It sold 423,000 copies in its first week, held the #1 spot on the US Billboard 200 for four weeks, and went on to sell roughly 8 million copies in the US and 12 million copies worldwide. The album was extremely well-received by critics, having been ranked as one of the best albums of all time by publications like Rolling Stone and having earned numerous five-star reviews.

Although her studio album characterizes much of her career in the public eye, there is a lot more Ms. Hill’s story, both before and after the release of the album. Lauryn Hill was born in East Orange, New Jersey, into a very musical household. Her mother worked as an English teacher and played piano, while her father, who worked as a computer consultant, used to sing. Music was constantly being played in the house, but Lauryn Hill first submerged herself in music when she started going through her mother’s old record collection as a child and finding 45s that would fit on her personal record player. She even used to sleep on the floor next to a record player so she could listen to music as she fell asleep, since her headphones couldn’t reach her bed. Hill attributes her foundational knowledge of music to experiences like these, as she was never classically trained in any type of music.

In high school, Hill was a highly driven individual. She was part of the track team, a cheerleader, the founder her school’s gospel choir, and took advanced placement classes. She has attributed her active lifestyle to her love of achieving. On top of an active life in high school, Hill also started taking acting lessons in Manhattan at the beginning of high school. She went on to have a number of roles in various productions, the most notable of which being her recurring role in the soap opera As The World Turns and her role in the film Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.

While in her freshman year, Lauryn Hill became involved on a music group called the Tranzlator Crew, which would eventually evolve to become The Fugees later on. The group’s sound was primarily composed of hip-hop, soul, and Caribbean music, as the two other members of the group were Haitian immigrants \ Michel and Wyclef Jean. The group initially performed at high school talent shows and local showcases, but eventually inked a deal with Colombia and Ruffhouse Records in 1993 once the group rose in prominence. After being in the group for some time, Lauryn Hill started a romantic relationship with fellow member Wyclef Jean. Their relationship would later be the source of much of her creative inspiration for her solo debut album.

Although the Fugees 1994 debut album Blunted on Reality was somewhat of a flop, their next album, titled The Score did exceedingly well. It peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200 list and stayed in the top 10 for over half a year. At the time of the album’s release in 1996, Hill had been enrolled at Colombia University, but ultimately dropped out after The Score’s considerable success. The Fugees would eventually break up in 1997. Wyclef Jean blamed the break up on his tumultuous relationship with Lauryn Hill, but Lauryn would later state in an interview that she never wanted to leave the group, and that her solo career was somewhat unprompted:

If I had it my way, I would have been in the group forever. I enjoyed the group atmosphere, I thought it was so good to have two guys on stage backing you up. But, the interesting thing about entertainment is that, when you’re struggling, everyone goes into it with the same goals, but somewhere along the success area, you start to look at everyone around you and go, ‘wait a minute… Where are you going?’… Sometimes success can do that; sometimes it really illuminates creative differences, spiritual differences, emotional differences.

While Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean were still involved with each other, Jean married his wife, Marie Claudinette, and Hill became involved with Rohan Marley, a son of Bob Marley and a former football player for the University of Miami who she met during his Smoking Grooves Tour in 1996. During this time, Lauryn Hill became pregnant, which sparked speculation among those around her about whether the baby was by Jean or Marley. Pras Michel, the third member of the Fugees, cites her pregnancy as the point that the group began to deteriorate considerably.

Hill took the energy from the Fugees break up, her unstable relationship with Wyclef, and her decision to have her baby and put it all into recording what would become The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She would do most of the recording of the album at Tuff Gong recording studio in Kingston, Jamaica, a recording studio run and owned by the Marley family. Lauryn Hill told Rolling Stone a bit about her vision for the album, which was shared in an article published in 2008:

[I wanted to] write songs that lyrically move me and have the integrity of reggae and the knock of hip-hop and the instrumentation of classic soul. [My engineer and I worked on] a sound that’s raw. I like the rawness of you being able to hear the scratch in the vocals. I don’t ever want that taken away. I don’t like to use compressors and take away my textures, because I was raised on music that was recorded before technology advanced to the place where it could be smooth. I wanna hear that thickness of sound. You can’t get that from a computer, because a computer’s too perfect. But that human element, that’s what makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I love that.

After the album was released in 1998, the accolades came pouring in. Not only did the album and its singles top charts, but The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was certified 8x Platinum by the RIAA in 2001. At the 41st Grammy Awards, the album earned 10 nominations and won five awards, making her the first female artist to be nominated in 10 categories in a single year and the first woman to win five awards in a single night. Overall, the album was praised endlessly by critics and fans alike. In 1999, Hill received four awards at the Annual NAACP Image Awards, and four months later became the youngest woman to be named in Ebony magazine’s 100+ Most Influential Black Americans list, just to name a few of her titles. By the end of the year in 1999, it is estimated that Hill had grossed nearly $40 million from her music and related income, pocketing roughly $25 million of that revenue. Lauryn Hill’s album had put her in a position in which she could have completely dominated the entertainment industry, but instead, she withdrew from the public eye in 2000, unable to deal with the mounting pressures that fame presented.

The beginning of this withdrawal is believed to have been sparked by a lawsuit filed against Hill in 1998 by the music group known as New Ark. New Ark claimed that Lauryn Hill had failed to credit them properly for their work on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, asserting that they deserved to be credited as the prominent songwriters on two tracks and major contributors on others. Hill wanted to fight the suit, believing that they had been credited properly, but ended up settling out of court in 2001 for $5 million. The lawsuit took a heavy financial and emotional toll on Hill, and ultimately functioned as the tipping point that pushed her to retreat from the limelight of her recent stardom. In an interview with Essence, Lauryn Hill describes this chapter of her life in her own words:

For two or three years I was away from all social interaction. here was no music. There was no television. It was a very introspective and complicated time because I had to really confront my fears and master every demonic thought about inferiority, about insecurity or the fear of being Black, young and gifted in this Western culture. It took a considerable amount of courage, faith and risk to gain the confidence to be myself. I had to deal with folks who weren’t happy about that. I was a young woman with an evolved mind who was not afraid of her beauty or her sexuality. For some people that’s uncomfortable. They didn’t understand how female and strong work together. Or young and wise. Or Black and divine.

At this time, Hill cut off the outside world and started associating herself with a figure named Brother Anthony. Brother Anthony became Hill’s spiritual advisor, although some have described him as something closer to a cult leader. Some have speculated that his influence was behind her decision to fire her management team, as the Bible studies between the two became increasingly frequent, peaking at up to five times per week. Others around her at this time have described her as fanatically religious.

Hill made a return from her seclusion with the controversial release of her MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 project in 2001, the first public release of work by Hill since The Miseducation. The project was a live album that was recorded during the taping of an episode of MTV Unplugged, a show hosted by MTV that showcases performances by live artists. Although the album briefly peaked at the #3 spot on the Billboard 200 charts, the album was met with mixed reviews, many of which judged the project as a lackluster follow up to her debut album, or even a “public breakdown”, according to