Saturday Afternoon Artist: Lauryn Hill

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One of the few females who have achieved royalty status in hip-hop, Lauryn Hill is multi-talented.  She not only won 5 Grammy awards for her only solo album, where she sings, composes all the songs and produces.  But she’s also an actress and mother of 5 kids.

There are many women in hip-hop, but very few of them are top rappers.  She started her musical career with the Fugees.  A group who got together in South Orange, New Jersey, Lauryn’s hometown.  In high school, she experimented with her friend Pras Michel by creating a group who rapped in different languages. They went by the handle Tranzlator Crew. Pras’s cousin Wyclef Jean came by one of the recording sessions, joined the group and this trio became The Fugees.  One of the first females to rap on TV, she freestyled on MTV with The Fugees in 1994, earning much respect with her gritty, urban poetry.

The Fugees recorded two albums, Blunted on Reality and The Score. The Score was a huge Grammy winning hit for them.  The song The Score is a classic. Lauryn moves seamlessly from velvety, strong singing to smart, personal raps.  No one else can do it that well.

It’s pretty evident that there were tensions between the alpha personalities in The Fugess (rumors were that it was between Wyclef and Lauryn, but who knows what really happened behind the scenes).  All three Fugees went on to  solo careers.  Lauryn’s was by far the most successful, taking home 5 Grammys in 1998 including best solo album and best new artist.  I always guessed that the opening track was a message to Wyclef.  “Don’t you understand universal law? What you put out comes back to you son!” She’s obviously not happy about what happened between them, but her words talk about taking herself higher and putting that anger behind her.  Putting their conflict behind her.  Somehow she manages to be both wise and strong while letting it all out. Advising him to watch his step or it will take him down the wrong path.

What makes Lauryn Hill one of the top performers on earth is not only the talent for singing and writing that she was born with.  But also she makes every song very personal. On the solo album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” she tackles the subject of her surprise pregnancy, how friend advised her to end it, and  how she chose her child and fell in love with him on first sight. Connecting in the deepest way she ever had.

After the solo album, Lauryn mostly dropped out of the public eye and rarely gave interviews or performed.  There was a 2002 MTV album and an appearance in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party Movie  in 2004.  Her song in Chappelle’s Block Party was stunning. The whole movie is a raucous, wild, noisy party on a NYC city block.  The crowd yells and talks through the whole thing.  But what’s amazing is that when Lauryn steps out on stage to perform the whole city block goes quiet with anticipation and respect.  It’s something to see. Then she starts into this song “Killing Me Softly” (which I’ve always hated) and it’s the most gorgeous thing ever. She makes it new, relevant and we feel every note.

In a 2010 interview with NPR, when asked why she stopped putting out music she says “There were a number of different reasons but partly, the support system that I needed was not necessarily in place.  There were things about myself, personal growth things, that I had to go through in order to feel like it was worth it.”

The more I research music history, the more this seems to be a situation many famous people get into. They find success, but don’t have a network of people to help them through that transition. Leave it to Lauryn Hill to just tell it like it is...

Lately she’s started to get back into performing live and has played some dates on the east coast.  This year it was Coachella and New Orleans Jazz Fest.  She’s also  out on her Moving Target Tour around the U.S this spring and summer. She plays Seattle’s Showbox Sodo this Sunday, May 22.

Michele Myers spins every Saturday on KEXP from 3-6pm. Every week she brings you a featured Saturday Afternoon Artist and plays several songs in-a-row from them. She also hosts Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6-9am on KEXP’s sister NPR station WNYE 91.5FM in New York City and is the producer/creator of KEXP Documentaries.

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