“Say it ain’t so.. One of the greatest female MC’s of our time gets 3 months in prison”
Although this title didn’t grace any news headlines, it certainly crossed my mind as I read all the media sources covering this disappointing case. It was hard to fathom that one of my favorite hip hop artists was going down for tax evasion.
As we’ve all seen, failure to pay taxes is an area that many celebrities have fallen victim to (Wesley Snipes, Ronald Isley, etc.) and now Lauryn Hill, a misunderstood musical genius, is the latest fallen star heading to prison.
It’s rather easy to ramble on about Hill’s poor judgement with money, her decision to pursue motherhood as opposed to furthering her career or the fact that she has yet to put out a second album.
But, rather than dwell on all of the drama that Ms. Hill has been involved in, I’d rather take a stroll down memory lane and focus on the great music she blessed us with these last 20 years.
Lauryn Noelle Hill is a born poet and lover of music. She broke into the music scene with rap group The Fugees in 1993, and became known for her blunt, hardcore lyrical flow as well as her angelic, soulful vocal skills. She was a double threat, mastering both rapping and singing, a talent that had never been so eloquently conveyed by an artist before.
She held her own alongside Wyclef Jean and Pras, as the group became political warriors on the mic and tackled topics that weren’t really being discussed by mainstream hip hop artists at the time. Hill was a major part of the group’s success, adding smooth hooks and fierce rhymes to some of the group’s hit songs including the Roberta Flack cover “Killing Me Softly” “Fu-Gee-La” and the dark, diss track “Ready or Not,” all from the group’s highly acclaimed second album, The Score.
When Hill decided to break out as a solo artist, she was met with much criticism, including from Fugee member Wyclef Jean. There were naysayers who thought Hill couldn’t make a name for herself in R&B and hip hop music without The Fugees. And being fresh off a platinum, Grammy award winning album, many couldn’t believe she wanted to abandon all that success. But, oh how the tables turned. Hill not only answered her fans and haters with a great album, but one that has become a staple in music.
Enter The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: an album which brilliantly details the inner most thoughts of a young female artist struggling to uphold her artistic integrity within the commerce driven music industry. The album was not just hip hop based, but incorporated many facets of music from reggae to soul, pop, Latin and even classical. Nothing was left to the imagination on Miseducation as Hill delved into many taboo subjects. They include the rift between her and Wyclef on the hard core, Caribbean- esque toned “Lost Ones,” her decision to not to have an abortion on the Latin-tinged dedication song “To Zion” and in “Superstar” she laments over musicians who are sacrificing their moral judgement and artistry to make money. She also details the consequences of sexual temptation between males and females in the soulful hip hop joint “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and gives us insight into her spiritual beliefs in “Forgive them Father.”
Hill played a major role in the overall structure of the album, writing, producing and arranging most of the tracks with help from the New-Ark producers, Rohan Marley(Hill’s companion) John Legend, D’Angelo, Pras, and others.
The album sold more than 8 million copies, earned Hill five Grammy’s, and more acclaim than she could count.
There was not a song on the album that was not profoundly well-crafted. 1998 was an incredible year for music as we were graced with a sincere, raw soul album from Hill.
Hill gave her all to this album, and when a record is this good, it only adds more pressure on the artist to deliver an equally amazing piece. It’s been over 10 years since her last studio album, but now she is ready to get back into the studio to deliver more music.
Some people are saying that her jail sentence may be a blessing in disguise because it will inspire her to write brilliant songs for her next album. It worked for Tupac, who, shortly after his stint in prison, released All Eyes on Me, one of the greatest hip hop albums of the 90s.
While I don’t doubt Hill is capable of making more great albums, she has already given us more than we could have hoped for and silenced everyone who doubted her musical greatness.
Until we see some new music (which is hopefully this year), here are a few tunes to reminisce on.
The statement below is from Hill’s trial sentencing:
“I didn’t make music for celebrity status,” she told the court. “I made music for artistic and existential catharsis, which was not just necessary for myself but it was also necessary for the generations of oppressed people who hadn’t had their voices expressed like I was able to do it. Music is not something I do from 9 to 5. It’s a state of being, and like a doctor who delivers babies, I’m on call all the time because that’s the kind of work this is.”
Check out Hill’s latest song, which was released on May 6.