Lauryn Hill is one of the most notorious female rappers to ever walk the planet. It seems as if, she has been around forever but alone she has only released minimal albums in comparison to other female rappers who have the same reputation in the industry. Hill was in the Fuguees which was a successful group that saw quite a bit of success in the ‘90s, she was the stand-out star from the group. Her solo career saw an iconic album which, to this day, is one of the most acclaimed rap albums of all time. Before she was an artist who struck it big, she lived a modest life in New Jersey.
Lauryn Noelle Hill was born May 26, 1975, in Newark, New Jersey to Valerie Hill who had a career as an English teacher. Her father, Mal Hill was a computer management consultant. Hill grew up in a religious household with one older brother named Malaney who was three years older than her. For a time, the family was a part of the baptist church and moved to New York and eventually settling on a more permanent residence in South Orange, New Jersey.
Considering her parents were fans of music, Hill realized that it was her passion pretty early on. HIll said her parents had so many records and were really into the arts. It wouldn’t be uncommon for the young star to hear new and original music purchased by her parents. Her mother also played the piano while her father sang as a side hustle professionally. Hill stated that her father performed for weddings in the area.
Hill got her first taste performing for large crowds when she was in the 11th grade. Her school approached her and asked her if she would like to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a basketball game. Her performance was so well-received by her classmates and the school board that they used a recording of the performance and played it for future games. She decided to pursue music further and tried out for a spot on Amateur night on its “Showtime at the Apollo” in 1988. She decided to sing “Who’s Lovin You” by Smokey Robinson. She did however receive negative reactions initially from the audience but sang through her performance.
Hill went to Colombia High School, Hill was pretty active and was on the track team, cheerleading squad. The singer even went to school with future actor Zach Braff. HIll was an exemplary high school student who took advanced classes and was well respected by her peers. When interviewed Hill claimed that she was a bit of an academic who also loved the arts. And that she enjoyed being active in sports and academics.
When she was a freshman in high school, she was approached by one of her classmates Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, who informed her about a musical group he was creating. The group he created at the time was called Translator Crew. Hill was a part of a trio with Michel and another female artist. Later that female artist would be replaced by Michel’s cousin Wyclef Jean who was a multi-talented artist who could play a few instruments. The group performed for local showcases in their community. Hill was the only singer in the group for a while until she learned that she could also rap.
The trio eventually renamed their group The Fugees which was a take on the word “refugee” which is considered slang in Haiti. While in the group both Jean and Hill had a romantic relationship. Eventually, they signed Columbia Records in 1993 and they immediately became known for the genre-blending sound. Their first studio album Blunted on Reality was released in 1994. Blunted on Reality was a breakthrough success reaching number 62 on the Billboard charts. Despite the critical success of the album, it sold poorly in stores and therefore the group had to come together and create a hit album.
The Fugees’ second album, The Score was released in 1996 and was a huge success. Peaking at number one the album stayed in the charts for well over half a year. The album won the Grammy Award for the Best Rap Album that year and was even included in the Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time.
At 21 years-old and super famous, the singer was still living at home with her parents at the time. The singer decided to continue her education and enrolled in Colombia University to pursue a history major. Considering “The Score” was doing so well in stores and selling millions of copies, the singer couldn’t keep up with her studies and had to drop out.
In 1997 the Fugees split to pursue solo careers. Jean said the official reason why they split was due to his relationship with Hill which he claimed was particularly toxic. Hill was dating Jean while he was with his wife Claudinette. But in the summer of 1996, Hill met Rohan Marley who is the son of the late Bob Marley. Rohan played football at the University of Miami. The two began a relationship while Hill was still involved with Jean which lead to further speculation about the split of the rap group. Hill became pregnant with Marley and they had their first son Zion David on August 3, 1997. The couple lived a peaceful life down the street from Hill’s parents after she bought their house.
In 1997, Hill began recording for her first solo endeavor, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Recording rapped for this album in late 1998. Her former bandmate and ex-boyfriend Jean initially did not support the album being recorded. He later offered to help with production and Hill ended up turning him down. Several songs on the album touch on the topic of her group being disbanded, including “I Used to Love Him.” Other songs like “To Zion” were a tribute to her son with Marley. Hill stated that the album’s title was somewhat proactive.
“Miseducation,” every day it means something more to me. People automatically thought, “Maybe her teachers didn’t teach anything.” But that wasn’t it. The meaning behind it was sort of a catch in me, learning that when I thought I was my most wise, was not wise at all, and when my humility and innermost places that most people wouldn’t expect a lesson to come from — that’s where I learned so much. I term the phrase “miseducation,” not because it was a miseducation per se, but just because it was sort of contrary to what the world says is education. This education that came from life and experience, and not necessarily all academic but related to living” she said of the album.
Hill stated that the album was very personal to her. “I had gone through a lot, a huge emotional and spiritual battle before the creation of that album. And the funny thing is that while I was going in the battle, I couldn’t see my hand to spite my face. I mean, I really couldn’t see anything, because I was so emotionally entangled in everything that I’ve gone through. But it was like, once I was delivered from that situation, and once I got the perspective — was able to look back at heartache, and look back at pain and disappointment — for some reason it all was so clear. It was just like the picture started to form itself. The songs started to create themselves. I was able to look back and be the narrator of my situation. But the interesting thing was that it couldn’t happen while I was in the middle of the confusion.” She said.
Released on August 25, 1998, the album received rave reviews from critics and fans alike. The album was so popular it became the most acclaimed album of that year. Critics claimed that the album perfectly blended both reggae, doo-wop, and hip hop. Critics also claim that the album was an honest representation of what it is like to live Lauryn Hill’s life. The album sold over 423,000 copies in its first week after its release and topped the Billboard charts for a total of six weeks. The album sold over 8 million albums in the United States and 12 million copies worldwide.
Lauryn said recording the album was a spiritual experience and she didn’t allow the record company to get in her way. “Every time that God navigates my ship, there’s nothing cerebral going on. There’s very little thought. It’s almost as if I have the directions. Every time I try to do it myself, I’m conjuring up my concoction and trying. It’s a little more difficult to do it that way because it takes a lot of thought and it takes a lot of energy. But it’s like, when I’m led, it kind of really is just, it’s all there and it’s clear. “These are your orders. Just go forth and carry them out.” So I was going to say that this album gets to be what I think, but I don’t know. Who knows? Who knows what that will be? Because I think that what I’ve consciously decided to do was be patient and wait for those instructions again, as opposed to the instructions from the record company. Unfortunately, I can’t fulfill their needs.” She said.
After the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, we haven’t heard as much from the artist over the recent years. She started writing a screenplay about the life of Bob Marley in the early ‘00s. She was to play the role of Marley’s wife, Rita. She dropped the project because she got pregnant with her second child. During this time, Hill also turned down roles in the popular hit movies, Charlie’s Angels, The Bourne Identity, The Mexican, The Matrix Reloaded, and The Matrix Revolutions.
In the year 2000, Hill dropped out of the public eye completely. She claimed later, that the pressures of fame tend to harm her mental health. She felt overwhelmed by all the publicity and the constant demand for her appearance in songs and movies. She ended up firing her management team completely and decided to teach bible study classes up to five days a week. The singer also decided that interviews were no longer sufficient for her career path and decided to stop doing them altogether. She later was involved in what some would be described as a cult with Brother Anthony.
HIll interviewed with Essence magazine and described this period. “People need to understand that the Lauryn Hill they were exposed to in the beginning was all that was allowed in that arena at that time … I had to step away when I realized that for the sake of the machine, I was being way too compromised. I felt uncomfortable about having to smile in someone’s face when I really didn’t like them or even know them well enough to like them” She said.
In January 2010, Hill made a public appearance at the Raggamuffin Music Festival.in New Zealand and Australia. Many songs she performed were recorded in six years. In June of 2012, the singer was charged with three counts of tax fraud for failing to file taxes. She started paying off the debt immediately after her release.
Hill released her first album in over a decade entitled “Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix)”. on May 4, 2013. The singer took to her Tumblr to announce that she experienced a lot of pressure from her label and was required to release the album at that time. In April of 2016, HIll and headlined a festival in Brooklyn. The purpose of the festival was to showcase the plight of black artists.
Lauryn Hill has music in her blood. The multi-talented and extremely intelligent artist has been through a lot to get to where she is today. Although she does not find the pressure of fame ideal, this certainly isn’t the last time you are going to hear from this artist. If she comes to your area to play a show, you need to stop by and see this legend.