I don’t know what to make of the fact that the song on Lauryn Hill’s official MySpace page is Talib Kweli’s “Miss Hill,” a song lamenting her distance from hip-hop. It obviously means she knows that her fans miss her, but I don’t know if to interpret the use of the song as “yes, I feel you. I know that I’m “the one” and I’m plotting a comeback,” or if it means “yeah, I miss me too, and it’s a damn shame.”
I always love Kweli’s music, and his expression in this song resonates so pure and true: “You give us hope, you give us faith, you the one; they don’t like what you got to say but still they beg you to come, whoa now that’s powerful sis, it’s black power.” And that’s what Lauryn has. She is pure black power to the core, and she refuses to hide her strength.
That’s not to say that I believe that she’s racist, despite the awful things I’ve read about her on Bitter Waitress or that ridiculously persistent “I don’t want white people buying my albums” rumor that she eloquently puts to rest in this video clip. We hardly hear about the universality of Lauryn’s lyrics – name a woman who can’t relate to the experience of Ex Factor, or the little-reported fact that she grew up as childhood friends with Garden State auteur and Scrubs star Zach Braff. What we hear over and over again is, Lauryn’s lost it. She’s scandalous. And worst of all, she’s crazy.
Well, she gave a pretty great quote about that not too long ago in this reunited Fugees concert: “I’m a black woman who’s super-smart, can’t be bought, can’t be bribed,” she said, eliciting wild roars from the audience. “If that’s the definition of crazy, then I’m craaazy.” Whenever a celebrity steps outside of the little box we’ve created for them, that’s the easiest and most dismissive explanation. I don’t think Lauryn Hill is crazy at all. I just think she’s allergic to the trappings of fame.
Lauryn – excuse me, Miss Hill – is the only true triple threat I can think of – she’s an incredible rapper, a fantastic singer, and a passionate and believable actress who seems to have thrown her hands up and walked away from a world of opportunities. And the funny thing is, I can understand where she’s coming from with that.
After a while, being that scrutinized has to be soul-crushing. And the pressure and expectations of being a “celebrity” probably makes an intelligent person want to bang their head against a brick wall sometimes. But still, I hope.
I’ve loved Lauryn since Blunted on Reality, for real. Since “Boof Baf” and “Nappy Heads,” when Wyclef was rocking the chrome dome and acting crazy in the videos. I loved her style then with the little twists. She’s been naturally beautiful since the beginning. We have watched her hair evolution from short twists to long dreads, to crazy afros that the people aren’t ready for. I personally love her style and I always will. She’s fierce and beautiful no matter what she does.
As Lauryn’s influence became stronger and stronger, I noticed the positive effect she had on girls I went to school with. People found the courage to rock twists and embrace their dark-skinned beauty because of her. Everyone loved “Ready or Not” and “Rumble in the Jungle”.
“Fu-Gee-La” made a big impact on me because they filmed it in the Caribbean, and seeing hip-hop stars in the same kind of noticeably bright and lush setting I lived in was so refreshing and inspiring. But “Killing Me Softly” was the most memorable, I think. That video was one of the first times I saw a woman my age, rocking a fro and looking so effortlessly fly. She made me re-think my whole look.
Then I moved to Miami in ’98 and Lauryn dropped Miseducation. That was it for me. I became a bonafide stan. I went to my first Bob Marley Festival when I was a freshman, and it was a spiritual experience. Lauryn came on stage with her beautiful baby to croon “To Zion,” and she worked her way through almost the whole album. She did “Lost Ones” and “Tell Him” and of course, “That Thing.” She even did some Bob Marley songs, and she delivered the goods. I mean, that was probably one of my top five concert experiences of all time. I never got the opportunity to see her perform live again.
Unlike many, I actually loved parts of her Unplugged album, especially Water, and “The Mystery of Iniquity,” which became the hook for Kanye’s “All Falls Down”. I really liked some of the leaked stuff she was recording with the Marleys, and I hoped for a whole album. My heart soared to see the Fugees reunite at Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. I read her interview with Essence magazine with baited breath, hoping that this was it – the beginning of the Lauryn Hill comeback. Like a superhuman force, she would rise from the ashes to save hip-hop.
But ultimately, like many of you, I was disappointed by the Fugees half-assed, commercial-heavy comeback. And I’m sure Lauryn was too. Time and time again, Lauryn has made me realize how much being famous must suck. I mean, no wonder she walked away from it all. I was so saddened at the stories that she was brainwashed, which are addressed in this heartbreaking Rolling Stone article. I’m at the point where I don’t even know what to believe about Lauryn – is she coming back with the Fugees, or working on a solo album here in Miami? Will she ever be able to compromise her vision for mainstream success? All of that remains to be seen.
Whenever she performs nowadays, people make comments about her hair, or say that she’s lost it. In that Essence article, she addresses the pressure of being seen as an icon to black women :”If that icon status is the result of peopleâ€™s appreciating the value of my honesty, then itâ€™s well deserved and organic,” she says. I have to make a plea on behalf of afrobellas everywhere. We don’t just value your honesty, Lauryn – we need it.
The forward momentum we all anticipated, the evolution that you revealed has stalled since you stepped away from the mic. We need you now more than ever to come back with hard beats, stinging rhymes, and soaring vocals to rip through the male-dominated facade that has become the face of hip-hop.
Congratulations, Lauryn! You’re Afrobella of the Week. You already know that your fans love you and miss you.
You said it yourself on “Superstar,” “music is supposed to inspire, so how come we ain’t getting no higher?” Sadly, it seems that we’re not going to get much higher without you. That’s why we need you now more than ever, to elevate the game and set an example for others to follow.