Lauryn Hill

“I wanted to write songs that lyrically move me and have the integrity of reggae and the knock of hip-hop and the instrumentation of classic soul” Lauryn Hill

Arguably one of the most talented music artists in the last 25 years, Lauryn Hill’s name alone brings forth memorable lyrics from the critically-acclaimed album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.  Nowadays, many want that same old school Lauryn Hill back, but some of her performances in the past few years have come with mixed reviews of her showing up late, not performing the songs she became famous for, or doing more talking than performing.

It’s been 20+ years since her award-winning solo album.  The now 45-year-old mother of six reflects on the times when she loved creating music:

“I wanted to write songs that lyrically move me and have the integrity of reggae and the knock of hip-hop and the instrumentation of classic soul,” explained Hill. “[My engineer and I worked on] a sound that’s raw. I like the rawness of you being able to hear the scratch in the vocals. I don’t ever want that taken away. I don’t like to use compressors and take away my textures, because I was raised on music that was recorded before technology advanced to the place where it could be smooth. I wanna hear that thickness of sound. You can’t get that from a computer, because a computer’s too perfect. But that human element, that’s what makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I love that.”

Hill’s background was always filled with artistry and expressing herself. While growing up in New Jersey, Hill took acting lessons in Manhattan. She began her acting career in 1991 appearing with Jean in Club XII, MC Lyte’s Off-Broadway hip-hop rendering of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. While the play was not a success, an agent noticed her. Later that year, Hill began appearing on the soap opera As the World Turns in a recurring role as troubled teenager Kira Johnson.

She subsequently co-starred alongside Whoopi Goldberg in the 1993 release Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, playing Rita Louise Watson, an inner-city Catholic school teenager with a surly, rebellious attitude. In it, she performed the songs “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”

(a duet with Tanya Blount) and “Joyful, Joyful”. Director and veteran actor Bill Duke credited Hill with improvising a rap in a scene: “None of that was scripted. That was all Lauryn. She was amazing.” Critic Roger Ebert called her “the girl with the big joyful voice.” After teaming up with the Fugees in 1994, her career took off from there.

After appearing in court for tax evasion, Hill was sentenced to three months in jail and had to attend “counseling” due to her “conspiracy theories”.

According to the IBTimes, Hill told the court: “I am a child of former slaves who had a system imposed on them. I had an economic system imposed on me.” Furthermore, Hill also believes that artists are being oppressed by (what the article calls) “a plot involving the military and media”. Because of these statements, Hill was ordered to undergo “counseling”, on the premise that she was in some way “mentally ill.”

In 2012, Hill published an open letter describing the corruption, the oppression and the control of the music industry and her desire to escape it. In one part of the letter, Lauryn states:

“It was this schism and the hypocrisy, violence and social cannibalism it enabled, that I wanted and needed to be freed from, not from art or music, but the suppression/repression and reduction of that art and music to a bottom line alone, without regard for anything else. Over-commercialization and its resulting restrictions and limitations can be very damaging and distorting to the inherent nature of the individual. I Love making art, I Love making music, these are as natural and necessary for me almost as breathing or talking. To be denied the right to pursue it…

according to my ability, as well as be properly acknowledged and compensated for it, in an attempt to control, is manipulation directed at my most basic rights! These forms of expression, along with others, effectively comprise my free speech! Defending, preserving, and protecting these rights are critically important, especially in a paradigm where veiled racism, sexism, ageism, nepotism, and deliberate economic control are still blatant realities!!!”

Despite the rants, stories and what you’ve heard about Ms. Lauryn Hill, the mother of 6 has raised a beautiful tribe of children and seems to be back on track.

She recently penned a letter praising the class of Temple University:

I hope that you understand the power of your youth—its grace and vitality.

I hope that you understand the power of opportunity and the privilege of knowledge.

I hope that you protect your youth, value your opportunities and continue to grow your knowledge.

The world desperately needs youthful optimism and people prepared to help lead and guide its course with wisdom and informed perspective.

Make no mistake, our times aren’t easy, but they aren’t impossible to alter and positively affect either.

Acts of kindness, acts of courage, acts of responsibility, acts informed by wisdom and preparation can help bring stability, clarity and positive vibration back.

Knowledge is a cure for ignorance.

Confidence and preparedness, a cure for insecurity and instability.

Respect the fact that a paradigm still exists to teach, enlighten and encourage young minds to walk into the future with a tool-kit full of possibilities and solutions.

Remember that in this age, learning HOW to learn is just AS valuable as learning a particular subject, skill or trade. Consider yourselves and work hard to be assets in whatever field, lane or space you find yourself.

You can be living, breathing, and dynamic, solution and possibility-makers.

Do your best to contribute to the health of the world, to add to it and not to subtract,

BECAUSE, you can. Begin to imagine and then create the world as you know it has the

potential to be when intelligence, ingenuity and optimism enter the room.

Be that intelligence.

Be that ingenuity.

Be that optimism.

Be that light.

I look forward to experiencing the impact of your particular charge and contributions to the world. Don’t be afraid to shine in your most authentic form, nor should you be afraid to self-reflect and fine tune that light as you go.

Extend gratitude to your families, and to the faculty and administrators who assisted in the

development of your full-of-potential young minds. You’ve grown from promising students into mature, more-than-capable young adults ready to accomplish incredible goals in your respective fields and beyond.

We celebrate you.

You invested in yourselves.

May the return on that investment lead to accomplishment, fulfillment, happiness, and a most meaningful journey!

Here’s what we all can learn for the rise and education of Lauryn Hill:

1. Don’t kick a person when they’re down – no matter kind of mental illness, real or fake, that Ms. Hill was facing or is facing, no one can benefit from targeting and putting someone down. Everyone has a rough patch sooner or later, so let’s get all the facts and then make a decision on how to help, not tear down.

2. They love you and then they hate you – make no mistake, in the public eye, everyone may love you at one point, there are many who don’t want to see you succeed. Take care of your business so when that happens you can ride the wave without many bumps.

3. Find strength in family/friends – No matter what you say or don’t say about Ms. Hill, her family loves her.  Facing ridicule and/or heavy scrutiny, confide in those who support you and tell you the truth no matter what.

Despite what mainstream media reports, Hill may not have been just not mumbling incoherent “conspiracy theories” but is rather speaking the truth. Her statements are a result of her first hand experience within the industry and her desire to not be part of its madness. Hill’s “theories” are simply an intelligent person’s clear analysis of a situation.

However, many in today’s society are quick to write someone off as “crazy” or “not right in the head.” But until we take a serious look at the “what” and “why” someone said or did something against mainstream, we cannot lump them all in the same box.  Only after that assessment we can determine if they need to be treated and fixed.

As a genre, as fans, and as humans, we owe a little bit more respect to those who are dealing with the demons of mental illnesses. Let’s tear down the walls of stigma by educating ourselves on the hereditary factors of mental illnesses, its effects on families (especially children), instead of ridiculing conditions that must be medically controlled. After all, you never know whose life you may save.

Until then, free speech should remain just that: free.

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