What happened to Lauryn Hill? – How far gone is she?

” Stardom isn’t a profession, its an accident ” –  Lauren Bacall

10 mins read

F or many of us growing up in the 90s, Lauryn Hill was an iconic figure for contemporary voice within the neo-soul genre. She is arguably one of the most talented music artists of all time.

She was a member of the popular Fugees band which had Wyclef Jean and Pras Micheal lacing the tracks. But she may be better remembered for her solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill which was a mega hit by all standards. That album broke all sales records at the time and won Lauryn many accolades and awards for her representation of the stories of her life and relationship. 

That album remains the only solo studio album from Lauryn till date. It is on record that the album sold 8million copies in the US alone and with popular tracks like Doo Wo (That Thing), “Everything is everything” and “Ex-Factor” on the album she won five Grammy awards including Album of the Year and Best New artist.  She was the first woman to ever be nominated in ten categories in a single year at the Grammys which is a giant feat considering the competition at the time. 

That same year, she took the shine off JayZ’s Hardknock life, Outkast’s Aquemini, DMX’s Its Dark and Hell is Hot etc. 1998 was such an incredible year for music. And I was only just 18!

I remember vividly Lauryn wearing this white suit pants at the Grammy looking all fly and glamourous.

It was her time in limelight. Post Fugees she was one of the most famous musician in the world earning a reported $40million dollars. Wow!

She even dabbled in Hollywood at a point.

But that appears to be the only shinny spot in her career which has been mired by a law suit, damaged vocal cords, paranoia, erratic behaviour,inconsistent music, tax evasion charges, child birth (she now has 6 children), drugs, failed relationships, overt religious fixation and even mental breakdown. Trust me the list is longer than this. It is reported that the superstar life and its constant exposure didn’t quite work well for Lauryn and the subsequent decades was awash with her struggle to manage fame, balanced relationship, emotions and religion.

I adore Lauryn Hill and she made teenage years lots of fun for many of us, but how did it go wrong so fast, so hard. Here is what this article will speak to. 

Hill’s background Pre-Fugees

Lauryn clocked 44years in May 26 this year and growing up she lived with her mother Valerie Hill in Newark, New Jersey. She grew up in a music oriented family with her mother playing the piano and her father a singer who performed at weddings and nightclubs. She was influenced by music very early in life and performed before basketball games at middle school. She was pretty popular and she was everywhere; in the cheer leader’s team, a member of the track team, attended dance classes, was in the choir and took violin lessons too.  She was pretty good at everything. It was the work ethic from her family that established her and helped her find her footing in high school. Lauryn has an older brother named Malaney.

She began her acting career in 1991. She acted in plays in an off-Broadway hip-hop rendition of Shakespeare’s 12th Night.

She was also a TV star before he became a singer, appearing in “As the world turns” at the age of 15 in a recurring role. She even appeared as a contestant on its show time at the Apollo where she rendered her own version of “who’s loving you” by Smokey Robinson.

The biggest role of her acting career was when she co-starred alongside Whoopie Goldberg for Sister Act 2:Back in the Habit. I am sure we all recollect watching this movie. She was the cute shortie in tight jeans with a sweater wrapped around her waist.

The Fugees

While a freshman at High School, Lauryn met “Pras” through a mutual friend. It was Pras who approached her about a music group he was starting out with his cousin Wyclef Jean. The new group was called Tranzlator Crew. The group intended to use lyrics that rhymed in different languages, hence the name.

There was reported another female vocalist at the star, but she would be replaced eventually by Pras cousin, Wyclef Jean.

Lauryn didn’t meet Wyclef until a month after meeting Pras and when she did, Wyclef was wearing a Batman suit (this was when superhero movies were in vogue). The trio would trudge the path to success from that moment on.

Lauryn who was more of a singer would later learn to rap after listening to Queen Latifah CDs handed to her by Wyclef.

The trio would change the group’s name to Fugees taken from an abbreviation for refugees. This alludes to Pras and Wyclef’s Haitian heritage which according to Wyclef is universal to American experience. “Everyone in the United States is a refugee, to some degree”

Their first joint was recorded in 1992 but released in 1994. It was a huge flop selling only 12,000 copies.

In 1995, the group using a studio set up in Wyclef’s uncle’s basement released a second album -The Score.

This follow-up album was what hit the limelight. That album had three commercially successful singles; Fu-Gee-La, “Killing Me Softly” and “Ready or Not”

It sold 6million copies in the US and stayed on the top ten of the Billboard 200 for 6 months. The album will go on to sell 17million copies worldwide.

The Album garnered [praise for being a strong alternative to the gangster idiom at the time.

The Affair.

Not many people could confirm that Lauryn and Wyclef were an item decades ago. This is despite Wyclef being married at the time. It started out as Wyclef being a big brother to Lauryn and it ended up in an intense relationship fueled by romance. The success of the album was attributed mainly to this relationship. And the demise of the group was an offshoot of the failure of that same relationship.

Wyclef is reported saying; “ We were deeply in love or fighting. There was no middle ground. It was like a passionate roller coaster ride every single day.”

They reportedly fought on planes, and the police had to intervene after an argument in their hotel in Germany.

Lauryn became intimate with Bob Marley’s son, Rohan. This created a love triangle between Wyclef, Lauryn and Rohan, with Lauryn getting pregnant with Marley’s child at 21. She had Zion David her first son which Wyclef believes may have been his.

The relationship with Wyclef deteriorated so badly it affected their creative relationship and the Fugees Split.

Her Solo Project

In 1997, Lauryn started out on her own with recording session at the Tuff Gong studios in Kingston, Jamaica. She put in long hours fueled by deeply broken relationship and motherhood. Her now very famous album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill hit the markets and made headline everywhere around the world.

It was a combination of soul, hip hop and reggae and she bagged 5 Grammys to her credit. Following the success of the album she began writing screen plays about the life of Bob Marley where she planned to play the role of his Wife. At the time she had her second and third child in quick succession.

How it went down, the self-exile – Post Fugees.

In 2000, still so young but extremely accomplished, she took a step away from the limelight. Her A-list status presented her with issues like being unable to run an errand without making the gossip columns and as with all women in the spotlight, the world felt entitled to commenting on her appearance anytime she was in public.

The problem started when she was sued by four musicians who claimed they were not properly credited for their work on the miseducation of Lauyrn Hill. The suit was settled out of court, with Hill paying them $5m. Emotionally scarred she went into reclusion.

As the pressures of life began to suffocate her, Lauryn found solace in a spiritual advisor Brother Anthony, who is credited with her disappearance from the music scene.

The Truth is, there have been countless theories about what happened to Ms. Hill and who or what led her to leave the spotlight. The answer given to Essence directly from Ms. Hill is shared below; 

“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.”[61] She also spoke about her emotional crisis, saying, “For two or three years I was away from all social interaction. It was a very introspective time because I had to confront my fears and master every demonic thought about inferiority, about insecurity or the fear of being black, young and gifted in this western culture.”[61] She went on to say that she had to fight to retain her identity, and was forced “to deal with folks who weren’t happy about that.”

Lauryn Hill said no and the world could not understand it. How could one walk away from being and becoming the greatest superstar in the world? How could one put their own wellbeing above fame and riches? I think this is the biggest non mystery in the world – the music industry failed Lauryn Hill and then they blacklisted her. 

She would fire her management team and began bible study classes five days a week, eventually she stopped doing interviews altogether and stuck with Brother Anthony. It is Anthony who taught Lauryn “She should be whoever she wants to be because she doesn’t owe her fans anything. God didn’t create us to be beholden unto people and entertain them….blablabla.

They became so close that Lauryn would not begin a sentence without starting with “ Brother Anthony says…”

While pregnant with her third child, it was reported that she appeared at the MTV special edition in 2001 where she accompanied herself on guitar and breaking down in tears saying “I am crazy and deranged. I am emotionally unstable” The day before it was reported that she ripped up her throat while rehearsing and refused to reschedule.

 

Lauryn knew that Rohan had been previously married at a young age but she went on to have 5 of her 6 children for him. The pair lived in a high-end Miami Hotel around 2003 before she moved into her own place in the city. Rohan was her partner for 15year and at some point they both had long periods of separation and their relationship was badly strained.

It is believed that they both have a long complex history that never culminated into marriage.

After The storm comes the storm

The Fugees performed together for the first time since the breakup at the 2005BET awards, opening with a 12minutes set. In late 2005, the trio embarked on European tour. However old tensions between Lauryn and the other members spoon resurfaced and Lauryn was blamed for the split yet again!

Lauryn had other set-backs where she passed out on stage during a performance and she also made the headlines for tax evasion sentenced to 6months in prison. It was reported she owed approximately $1.8m in taxes. She canceled tours also for unspecified health reasons.

The Grammy winner was released from prison almost three months after serving her sentence. She was released for good behaviour and began her probationary period in 2013.

Subsequent years culminated into a downward spiral with cancelled shows, lateness to shows, flopped singles and performances at music festivals and shows.

Concerned about her welfare, Wyclef has claimed in certain quarters that Lauryn needs psychiatric help. Her erratic behaviour has been a talking point for years.

Discussions about her mental state was fueled by her several post on social media and interviews talking about various historical abuses that have occured, the hypocrisy of the IRS, a vague protest of authority, the media and other institutional forces. At some point she demanded to be called Ms. Hill and thought about changing her name to Empress.

There has also been speculation about drug abuse because of her extreme statements and bizzare stage performances(where she does more talking than performing the songs she is known for) and cancellations due to “health reasons.”

She has gone quiet now, fizzled away like the morning dew, perhaps laying in wait for another opportunity. What she has on her side is time. And time heals all wounds.

In recent news, Lauryn won a court battle against a cousin over an unpaid $65,000 loan and settled another $370,000 in her legal troubles with AMEX. She is also reported to have bailed her family home from foreclosure over a $1m tax debt. She has also been showing up for more gigs although in 2018 she is reported to have showed up late to some of her shows.

In our heart, she is still the best at what she does and her only album remains a classic with the songs resonating deep within our hearts whenever we play them.

No matter what you say or don’t say about Lauryn, her family loves her and have been her strong support during these times.

We miss you LAURYN!

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