What Happened To Lauryn Hill?

On the 10th anniversary of Miseducation, we mine the classic recording for clues about what went wrong.

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The Confessions of Lauryn Hill
By Teresa Wilitz

Scroll back a decade, and there was Lauryn Hill—top of the world, Ma!—clutching five Grammys and sending shoutouts to her babies, thanking them for not spilling stuff all over her designer duds, clearly overwhelmed by the massiveness of it all: “This is crazy,” she said, “’cause this is hip-hop music!”

If you were young and female and hip-hop, it couldn’t get more fabulous than Lauryn, more celebrated, more anointed, more praised. Ten Grammy nominations: No woman and no hip-hop artist, had managed to do that. Ever. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which was released 10 years ago this month, has since taken its place in the canon of popular music. Lauryn produced, wrote and arranged the album which mixed and matched rap, gospel, doo-wop, reggae, old-school soul and folkie fervor, touching a collective nerve in a way that no hip-hop album had done before. Rolling Stone declared The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill the album of the year; Spin pronounced Hill “Artist of the Year.” Fans compared her to Martin Luther King Jr.; Chuck D compared her to sunlight. She was, he said, “the Bob Marley of the 21st century.”

It didn’t hurt that she was beautiful and petite. It didn’t hurt that she didn’t seem to want any of it, that she wore the money and fame as lightly and ironically as she did those $3,500 frocks she rocked in the fashion rags.

And then, just like that, she all but disappeared. Only to pop up from time to time for a few random stage shows and a tense mini-reunion with the Fugees in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. (You can’t really count that half-hearted MTV Unplugged CD as anything, but more on that later.) Ten years after Miseducation, she remains one of hip-hop’s biggest mysteries, mocked for her eccentricities, her every misstep gossiped about in the afrosphere.

There are extroverted divas—Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna—who’ve mastered the art of peddling persona, pimping everything from clothing lines to perfume to American Express. The music seems almost incidental, just another unit to move. Then, too, there are the pragmatic ones—Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, and, to a lesser extent, Erykah Badu—who find a way to live within the world of fame, being in it, but not of it. But then there are the sensitive souls—D’Angelo, Maxwell, Lauryn—emotional tenderonis who seem to internalize their art, folks for whom fame is a beast. Lauryn, after receiving a big, wet kiss of affirmation, slammed the door on fame. Went into hiding. Not that we shouldn’t have expected it. In retrospect, listening to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill feels more like eavesdropping in on “The Confessions of Lauryn Hill.”

She was leaving clues for us all along the way.

Music is supposed to inspire

How come we ain’t getting no higher?

Now tell me your philosophy

On exactly what an artist should be

Should they be someone with prosperity

And no concept of reality?

Clue No. 1: She wasn’t feeling fame. The spotlight was something to be feared; the people who could bring you riches—record label suits, peddlers of “the capitalist system”—were to be actively mistrusted. In Miseducation, she paints herself as a warrior woman, doing battle against the oppressive “They”: The ones who insisted that she get an abortion in “Zion.” The ones who “shoot you down in the name of ambition” in “Forgive Them Father.” Even as a very young woman—she was 23 at the time—she was acutely aware of the downfalls of being a superstar: “They’ll hail you then they’ll nail you,” she sings in “Superstar,” “…They’ll make you now then take you down.”

At times, her wariness borders on paranoia, with references to “wolves in sheep clothing” and warnings of “beware those who pretend to be brothers.” And indeed, later, producers/songwriters Johari Newton, Rasheem Pugh, Vada Nobles and Tejumold Newton would sue her, claiming that they were co-creators on the album and deserved both credit and a cut of the action. (She later settled with the group for a reported $5 million.)

So perhaps it’s no surprise that she took the estimated $25 million that she netted from the sales and merchandising of the triple-platinum-selling Miseducation—and ran.

Clue No. 2: Her consuming relationship with religion. After she pulled her disappearing act,

For the rest of the story, click here.

8 thoughts on “What Happened To Lauryn Hill?

  1. Did anyone read the interview with her in People Magazine (I think it was last week or the week before) what did it say???

  2. its soo bad ol’ girl done messed up. she was very talented. i still listen to the miseducation till this day.

  3. I read the whole article. I have never posted anything on any blog but this woman, inspires me. I feel in some way the commentary portrays the Unplugged stint in a dark light. I admire this womans for sharing with us, personal demons. True fans, are here to ingest pure lyricism (is that a word?). I love Jasmine too but we are talking in terms of MLK and OBAMA.. She is the tree, Jasmine is a fruit.

  4. I do wonder what happened to lauryn, not to be nosy but because miseducation got me through some difficult times transitioned into a young woman. I still listen to the album from time to time wishing she would come out with some peices. When you know what rare greatness she is capable of how could one not pine for more? She seems to be a very intelligent woman. Whatever her reason for pulling away from the public eye, I imagine it is a worthy one.

  5. Lauryn Hill is my #1 artist in the world. I have bought anything she ever came out with : movies, cds, mix tapes you name it . I always have loved her since sister act 2. I take her very seriously because I love her that much. Talking about lauryn is a personal issue in my home . Even my mom knows not to talk anything bad about lauryn for I take offense when it comes to her. She’s one of the rather REAL/OFFICIAL artists and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next. You don’t have to ask………………………YOU KNOW I’M BUYING IT.
    LOVE YOU LOTS LAURYN
    YOUR #1 FAN

  6. jasmine sullivan is no lauryn hill. jasmine is an incredible singer….yes. but, still no lauryn hill. the insight and profound thinking found in lauryn’s lyrics are what made me a fan. i too wondered where she was. hopefully she is well……wherever she chooses to be.

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