It could all be so simple … why did Lauryn Hill disappear?

The artist – who has announced a string of arena dates – retreated after the release of her seminal album. What happened?

If being sampled by the biggest rappers on the planet is acknowledgment of your influence, then Lauryn Hill still has stock in the game. Her track Ex-Factor, from her only studio album, 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, has been interpolated by both Drake (Nice for What) and Cardi B (Be Careful) of late – just in time for Ms Hill to announce that she’s touring the record in full across North America and the UK.

Post-Fugees, she was one of the most famous musicians in the world, earning a reported $40m as her solo album went eight-times platinum in the US. Hollywood even came calling: roles were offered to her in Charlie’s Angels and, weirdly, The Bourne Identity. But then, like Drake, she was a TV star before she became a singer, appearing in As the World Turns at 15. However, the superstar life and its constant exposure didn’t sit well with Hill and the following two decades have been messy, peripatetic and almost entirely devoid of music. She developed a reputation for being unreliable. After an ill-fated attempt at a Fugees reunion in 2007, bandmate Pras Michel said: “Before I work with Lauryn Hill again, you have a better chance of seeing Osama Bin Laden and [George W] Bush getting a latte.”

The problems started when four musicians claimed they were not properly credited for their work on Miseducation. The suit was settled out of court, with Hill paying them $5m. Emotionally scarred, she then fell in with a de facto spiritual adviser who offered, as alleged by Pras, “real cult shit”.

Lauryn Hill in Los Angeles, 2018
Lauryn Hill in Los Angeles, 2018 Photograph: Chelsea Lauren/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

When she resurfaced in 2001 on her MTV Unplugged 2.0, she performed alone and with damaged vocal cords. The record was a commercial disaster. She subsequently decamped to Miami to attempt to record a second solo album, reportedly asking potential collaborators to “do it for God” – ie for nothing.

New music was infrequent. In 2013 she rush-released single Neurotic Society, a mix of eddying electro and double-time stream of consciousness. The reason for its quick release was that two days later she was imprisoned for three months for tax evasion of more than half a million dollars. A year later, she played a string of shows, with the first night marred by sound issues and lateness.

Yet such drama only serves to whet the appetite for her coming shows, as does her recent “remix” of Drake’s track. The setlist may be an admission of defeat as far as new material is concerned, but Miseducation remains a classic: only last month NPR ranked it No 3 in its 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women list.

As Hill herself put it in a recent statement: “I hope the love and energy that permeated this work can continue to inspire change.” Whatever that means, it’s great to have her back.

Lauryn Hill tours the UK with the Miseducation 20th Anniversary Tour, 23 Nov to 3 Dec


Pete Cashmore

The GuardianTramp

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