Previous Joints

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Alternative: The Three Unicorns part 2

2 - Ms Hill

Lauryn Hill wrote another book for the bible in 1998. Nothing short of divine intervention could have caused a mere human being to produce such a (almost) perfect album.

I distinctly remember the first time I heard the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I was too young –  I wasn’t ready for what I experienced. I wasn’t in the car, I wasn’t chilling out somewhere – I was smack bang in front of our family’s portable stereo, with my nose to the speakers. I was unable to move. I was transfixed. 

That album is vitally important to black music. It is rare to hear a confident and intelligent black woman talking about religion, relationships and her life without sexualising herself. Ms Badu is probably the only other artist to come close to Ms Hill. I didn’t have an overbearing need to shag Ms Hill when I was listening to her album, I had an urge to listen to her and by the end of it I was awe struck. You compare this album to any hip-hop/ RnB offering of today and you start to realise how far black music has fallen.

To this day, I had never heard anything as fierce, as delicate, as raw or as beautiful as The Miseducation. It was and it still as an extraordinary album.

The problem is the greatness of Ms Hill’s debut solo album. The Miseducation was/is so great that expectations were impossible for Lauryn Hill to meet. In other words – the only way was down. The music that she did release after that act of God, such as that MTV Unplugged album that had no beats (word to 50) didn’t come anywhere close to meeting the standards she set for herself. Not even close.

Then she went on a decade long hiatus. A hiatus which saw all sorts of rumours about Ms Hill starting to swirl. A hiatus which saw her fellow Fugees add fuel to the fire by feeding those rumours. I started to lose hope that we would ever see Lauryn Hill come back into the public spotlight.

Then she, along with Pras and Wycleff, took part in David Chappelle’s Block Party and her performance was nothing short of magical. I started to dream again. Then every song she released since, every performance she has done has been substandard. It breaks my heart to say it, but there it is. Substandard.

I went to a gig she did in London. Ms Hill was late, but I didn’t mind. What I did have beef with was what she did during her performance. The majority of her set was double timed and most of the singing tracks she did was a hybrid of untimed rapping. It hurt so bad watching that performance – but it didn’t feel good (I’ll get my coat).

To make it worse, my experience at this gig wasn’t the exception, it was the rule. The reviews she got from her own fans were just hard to stomach.

Also hearing her talk lately is even more  heartbreaking. She sounds pretentious and has lost her ear to the ‘streets’. One of her biggest asset was that you related to everything she said and I don’t get that impression when I read her open letters.

So why I'm hopeful that she’ll release a new album and I’m I hopeful that album will be any good? The answer is... I don’t know. I am more hopeful of a Lauryn Hill album than I am of a Dr Dre album, that is for sure.

In the past 5 years, Ms Hill has tried to engage more with her fans, which is a start. Yes, there have been moments of madness, but it is a start. Also, her latest track Neurotic Society isn’t half bad – she’s trying to say some real shit on that track.

Importantly, as cruel as it sounds, I think we’ll get an album because she needs the money. Her tax woes have forced her to sign a new music deal which I hope gets her to focus making a stellar album.

I am well aware that this all sounds very selfish, hoping that another human’s plight forces them to do something that might benefit my life – but bloody hell does RnB need Lauryn Hill. All I know is that Janelle can’t do it by herself and Beyonce sends to many mixed signals for my liking.

Importantly, hip-hop needs her because Nicki Minaj is doing Ms Hill's legacy of female MC-ing an injustice that smacks of disrespect.