Afrobella of the Week: Lauryn Hill, the ultimate Hip-Hop Heroine

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 people’s appreciating the value of my honesty, then it’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.

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Comments

  1. lauryn has always been and will forever be the epitome of black beauty to me. she has a beautiful complexion, pretty shaped eyes, nice lips and beautiful hair- whether its locs, afro, or a wig.

  2. you know when you don’t do what people want/expect from you, they label you crazy.

  3. Congrads to Ms. Hill she is a strong and powerful sista. I respect her and the many others before her.

    Her story reminds me of how Dave Chapell walked away from his millions the same way. Regardless of fame and money, deep down inside you know when something ain’t right and it is not worth selling out for.

    I love this site!! New fan here

  4. First, I love your site, and I can’t help but agree wholeheartedly with every afrobella of the week you bring up. You article about Lauryn almost brought tears to my eyes. She is exactly what our afrobellitas need to see the beauty in themselves. We have india arie and goapale but, if we can’t get enough to drown out the bootie shakin’? Let’s at least give them a few alternatives.
    Lauryn was as inspiration to me, and I hope she’s feeling the “come on back” vibes we’re sending out.

  5. I love Lauryn…so very very much. Not only is she a talented MC but her singing voice is incredible. I consider the most disrespectful thing to say to anyone is that they are “crazy” because it’s dismissive. I am quite certain that Ms. Hill had many many things going on in her life that were of a personal nature. She had her reasons for walking away and those reasons are between she, her family and god. I am looking forward to seeing more of her…it’s been too long!

  6. Glamourgirl says:

    Thank you, Thank you Afrobella for recognizing Ms. Hill. I miss her so much. What a great message she has sent out to our young girls. You can be famous AND intelligent and respectful (Ms. Hill never shook her butt for anyone. We could see how beautiful and sexy she was with ALL her clothes on!). And that VOICE!! (The only other voice that rivals hers in my opinion is Aaliyah – miss her too.) She was such an inspiration to me when I decided to grow locs. Looking at her as an example made it easier for me to embrace my naturalness. When she just walked away from it all was saying to us – really the media – that she can do what she wants, be good at it and not need anyone in the process. Just walks away from fame because she doesn’t need it to define her. I’m sure she loves her fans but she’s trying to put a message out there to society in general. I agree with Mz. Foxy, some things are not worth selling out for.

  7. Glamourgirl says:

    By the way, love your site. It’s awesome! And your mom is so beautiful! (Yeah, I read all of your posts starting from the very first – all caught up now.)

  8. Afrobella I really appreciate this post. After listening to Ms. Hill’s unplugged album I too began theorizing about her absence from the music scene. The way we classify those as crazy in this society is very ignorant. Ms. Hill has reached a level of intellectual splendor and people can’t understand that. People can’t understand why someone would chose to distance themselves from fame. I can totally see where she is coming from. People guide themselves by the capitalist model of life in American society. To them fame is the ultimate achievement; fame in the capitalist world attributes that you have “made it”. Fame and money does not cure problems. It doesn’t not change the money driven, poverty filled world we live in. Fame is about the individual, Ms. Hill is about the collective. She is actively choosing not to be a part of an industry that exploits art forms for profit making, while continuously operating through racist, sexist, and heterosexist systems. I respect her so deeply!

  9. Yes, I like Lauryn too, and I love all her work. She is definitely a powerful being. But, the unseen knows her strength and continously tries to bring her down. I hope she returns to the mic for real one day soon!

  10. in a long while i haven’t read a commentary about lauryn that wasn’t calling her crazy and lost. i just never got what the big deal was about her hiatus. i would much rather an artist not put out anything and stay away than have an album out every 8 months full of commercialized garbage. and the comments about her hair are so silly most times. her’s and badu’s. in lauryn’s case, many determine her level of crazyiness by her hairstyle.

  11. I think you summed it up perfectly Bella Anais our society views fame and its derivatives as its ultimate achievements, for someone to walk away from it all and fill justified for doing so is viewed as crazy. I think MS Hill is beautiful, talented and brave. She has certain convictions and is choosing to stick to them. She is demanding respect, embracing her individuality, and fighting to keep control of her art. In a society and an industry where her race and her sex dictate so much I’m proud to see her fight for that respect and control. I think she should be applauded not viewed as mentally unfit. Whether she comes out with more work or not she has given us an incredible, and timeless body of work to enjoy. The say good things take time I’m hoping this is the case with MS Hill. I am perfectly content to wait and see what she has instore.

  12. I miss the self empowerment that she always had in her songs, the emphasis on what did you DO or not do based on your morales and beleifs. The honest introspection and the universality of each and every song. I hope she comes back because the fan base is here and we want her to need her to. The young singers out here, well too few have the voice or the radio pull to be played so that younger generations will know what real singing is. She does. I do not blame her from walking away from fame. There is a constant demand to be ON and that has to be too much for anyone.

  13. Reading this post made me go and buy The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill again. I love and miss Lauryn. She has a message in each and every one of her songs.

  14. My sentiments exactly……I love the body of work that Lauryn has given us and desperately await her return to hip hop. It was soo funny how you used the same quote I use daily about music from Ms. Hill “Music is supposed to inspire….so how come we ain’t getting no higher?” The game is surely missing Lauryn and whenever she decides to return, I will be there to support.

    Perfect choice for Afrobella of the week, but for me she’s the Afrobella of the century!

  15. jerseybred says:

    Lauryn come back, strong and hard. Music needs you.

  16. This site keeps getting better and better! Afrobella you rock ! Lauryn hill is amazing growing up in my country of Haiti, where there is the whole light skin vs Dark skinned issue. It was great for me As a young girl in middle school seeing this Talented dark skinned Goddess on tv! she is just like me I thought! If she can accomplish this I can accomplish anything.

  17. that was beautiful !!!!

  18. Chosen1One says:

    Lauryn Hill is fine and not crazy, matter a fact the record company didn’t release her album b/c “it wasn’t mainstream enuff” so that just goes to show u how messed up this industry is…

  19. greetings bella,

    there’s something about your energy that feels so bright. i really enjoyed this post about lauryn hill. it’s nice to read a perspective that doesn’t simply dismiss lauryn’s absence from the industry as “strange” or “crazy.” i’ve found that when you have a good sense of who you are, and the purpose for which you’re here, following that may mean alienating those who don’t operate from that spirit-center. lauryn, unlike most, is on this journey to discover more of who she is and why she’s here. thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    peace,

    ileaveyouwords

  20. Dang!!!! After watchin’ this video here…you just made me realize how much i really miss this queen. She is awesome….i loved her in Sister Act 2. My children love her too. When the miseducation cd came out….i was totally addicted…(can’t find it to this day..i believe my husband hid it!) However….she needs to let us know something. She has made such positive impacts on black women being napptural…i mean….dang!!! I am hoping her absence is making her heart grow fonder of her “true” fans!!!

  21. JUstMYwOrD says:

    Who doesn’t love Lauryn?–the girl is powerful!? She personifies beauty and proves that real beuty is sooooo powerful!!!! I sooooo wish she would make a come back—I know she hasn’t lost an ounce of her fanbase! She’s truly a role model, a non conformist who’s not afraid to hold onto the God given values and beauty that were meant to make women the treaures that they are. I give her much respect for not letting the industry “rape” her of that—so many people talk against the industry, but so many are willing to be slaves to it, all for the mighty dollar—it’s a crying shame, but I won’t get off on that tangent right now…back to Lauryn– She shows that a women can be empowered, and even be a “rebel” without loosing sight of her womanhood….Lauryn is an example that true empowerment only ehances your sexuality, it doesn’t rob you of it. I will always love Lauryn for so much more than just her incredibly gifted musical achievements–in every respect, she’s one of the greats!

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