So… I understand that Lauryn Hill closed out 2010 playing her ol’ crazy-ass reindeer games, eh? I can’t be too surprised though, as she’s seemed to revel in this reputation of constantly being late and putting on lackluster performances, yet still having people pay to see her. If there was ever an artist from the world of hip-hop whose career has become a tragedy over the last ten years, Lauryn is slowly but surely coming for that #1 spot, second only to DMX. It could’ve all been so simple, but she’d rather make it hard.
I first heard Lauryn in ’94 when she was a member of The Fugees, on the “Nappy Heads” remix. I wasn’t necessarily checking for the group as a whole, but it was quickly noted (not only by myself but general consensus) that the girl of the group was nice as all hell. The two dudes? Not so much. If nothing else, it appeared that there was something more to see about that Fugees group, but it wasn’t anything to do with Wyclef or Pras. Despite not exactly setting the world on fire first time around, they did build up enough of a buzz to get a second chance. And so, around late-’95, a more fine-tuned Fugees returned with a single that changed everything for them.
When “Fu-Gee-La” dropped, it took off almost instantly. It seemed as though they listened to the critics and opted to make Lauryn the centerpiece of the group. Wyclef and (to a lesser extent) Pras had even improved and carried their weight. It was a great set-up single for their second album, The Score. Shortly before the album hit the stores, there was another song that radio had started playing on their own- The Fugees’ ’96 rendition of Roberta Flack‘s “Killing Me Softly”. As overplayed as it eventually became, it completely sold me on the group, and specifically Lauryn. Once The Score came out, it was one of the best and highest-selling albums that year.
The Fugees had a formula which mixed their older musical influences with their style, and it took them from being just another group to arguably the most popular. The songs I liked most from The Score also happened to be the ones Lauryn anchored. Not that Wyclef’s musical direction didn’t also play a part in their success, but she was obviously the star of tracks like “Fu-Gee-La” and “Ready Or Not”. By that summer, not only was “L-Boogie” a star, but she had also performed the hook for the single that made Nas a national star, “If I Ruled The World”.
There were lots of female MCs during that era, but for me, Lauryn was one of those that I couldn’t even box in to that category. Often, female MCs only get matched against other females- whereas Lauryn’s lyrical talents were comparable to anyone out there. She could rhyme her ass off and sing, which made her a unique talent in a time before every other rapper was experimenting with their vocal skills (or lack thereof). Obviously, when it was announced that all three members of The Fugees were dropping solo projects, it was a no-brainer that Lauryn’s shit was gonna be the one to watch for. It was very possible that she was about to be the next big thing as a solo artist- even bigger than she already was with the group.
And she did exactly that. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill wasn’t the big MCing manifesto that I expected, but it was an album that solidified her as one of the true great artists of the time. Lauryn could do it all- from rhyming to singing to producing (though that has been contested by several unpaid contributors) to performing. She was a total package, whose music was beyond her years (she was roughly 23). My mother, who I don’t recall caring about any other music that came out in ’98, played Miseducation in the hole for almost a whole year straight. I had a neighbor who blasted “Ex-Factor” and “Zion” at least five times apiece every day. Being the bigger fan of Lauryn the MC, I was on “Lost Ones” more than anything, but was also partial to her remake of Frankie Valli‘s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”.
She took all the Grammys, got all the praise, sold a shitstorm of records, and was seen at one point as one whose career was on track to legendary status. And then… silence. After marrying Rohan Marley, Lauryn disappeared for almost two years, only to show back up in ’02 with that sad-ass MTV Unplugged. After that (and its bad reviews), she fell even further out of the scope until late-’04, when she got back with Wyclef and Pras for a planned Fugees reunion. One or two half-assed tracks later, they split up again, and she was gone again.
It ain’t hard to tell what the hell happened- that long-told story of success and the music industry not being all it’s cracked up to be. It ain’t for everybody, and apparently, it wasn’t for Lauryn. Still, she seems to be affected long after the height of her success. She’s been more known for being impossible to work with, lookin’ crazy as all fuck, bad stage shows, and overall erratic behavior than any of the things that made her a big deal in the first place. Shame it is, and I’m no doctor, but whatever it was that got Lauryn (whether psychological issues, drug issues, or general disillusionment) really got her.
At this point, all that can be said for Lauryn Hill’s post-2000 career is that it’s gonna make a great episode of Behind the Music someday. While a lot of people (including myself) held out hope for YEARS that someday she’d come back and deliver another classic, I think it’s finally become clear that it ain’t finna happen. During the late-’90s, Lauryn experienced a meteoric rise, but the crash back down to Earth was one that she’s never recovered from.