When Katrina Parker sang the Lauryn Hill version of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” last night on The Voice, it made me nostalgic for a certain artist. (You can hear the Lauryn Hill version featured in my very first fan video – see above.)
It also made me suddenly cautious about whether or not David will come back to the pop scene. Don’t get me wrong: I do believe David loves music way too much to not come back to it, but pop stardom? Lots of questions and lots of low expectations. Why?
One powerful example: Lauryn Hill.
I’m one of those members of the “hip-hop generation” from the East Coast, who grew up on soul music-influenced hip hop, from the Sugar Hill Gang and Doug E. Fresh when I was school-aged to Salt-n-Pepa and Public Enemy during my high school days to Queen Latifah and Tupac Shakur during my college years. Lauryn Hill came onto the scene when I was a young adult trying to make my way in graduate school and in establishing a career. Her The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album was the anthem to my struggles as a black woman, and I love how, nearly 15 years later, it has aged gracefully and still holds the all-time record of best hip-hop album ever (IMO and the opinions of others).
In all her dark-skinned beauty and high intelligence (the Newark-born Hill had received a scholarship to Columbia University but eventually dropped out to pursue a career in music and acting) she did gigs on soap operas like As the World Turns, co-starred with Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act 2, and eventually joined the politically conscious hip-hop group The Fugees, which also featured Wyclef and Pras. When she branched out on her own – which she did to challenge the misconception that there were no “genius” female musicians – she hit it big. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that we could finally have such a beautiful dark sister with talent and intelligence who essentially changed the rap game from a chauvinistic testosterone-filled music to a womanly art form.
At the cusp of victory with a multiplatinum album and 5 Grammys to her name, Lauryn Hill was offered a co-starring role alongside Matt Damon in the first of the Bourne series, The Bourne Identity, she was offered to play the title role in Oprah Winfrey’s Beloved, and she was also offered a role in The Matrix (not sure which, perhaps Trinity?). All of these opportunities to crossover into movies, and she turned them all down.
At the time, she was pregnant with her first child. She entered into a relationship with Rohan Marley, one of the sons of the iconic Bob Marley, who Lauryn idolized, and did a follow-up “Unplugged” album, which seemed to decry the superficialities of stardom and the music industry. Many fans were disappointed (as the above video indicated, people wanted the sequel to Miseducation). Afterwards, she just disappeared from pop music…forever!!!!!!!
Some of her fans (and I am one of them) have waited in vain for the sure-to-be amazing next album, but Lauryn Hill never delivered. Instead, she retreated into a bizarre underground religion, one that emphasized that she follow her “true nature,” which apparently expects her to be a submissive “earth mother.” She is now the mother of six children and was recently dumped by Rohan after all these years.
Yes, the great Lauryn Hill, who was at the top of her game, gave it all up for religion, motherhood, and “keeping it real.” Many believed she done lost her natural mind.
So, I wish David nothing but the best and hope he can truly make a comeback after his mission. But when I think of “disappearing acts,” Lauryn Hill tops them all. She is very much a cautionary tale about being a fan and expecting way too much.
The world is definitely a bit darker without the genuine talents of some who can really light up the world. But I do have to respect individuals who make a decision to “walk away from it all.” Only they know what the high costs are, and the fact that they are still willing to do this definitely deserves our respect.
Still, when revisiting amazing songs like the one below, I can’t help but hold out hope: maybe, someday, Lauryn Hill will reclaim her throne.
I now can only hope David will do the same two years from now.