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

Contributor

Pete Cashmore

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tracks of the week reviewed: Lauryn Hill, Grimes, Pet Shop Boys
This week we welcome back an old favourite, we’ve got a sleek heavyweight banger, and there’s a dreamy autumnal ballad

Gavin Haynes

22, Nov, 2019 @11:00 AM

Lauryn Hill – review
A restless Hill puts on the exact opposite of a nostalgic singalong with a rough, electrifying performance, writes Alex Macpherson

Alex Macpherson

15, Apr, 2012 @4:06 PM

Article image
Lauryn Hill, Coliseum, London

Coliseum, London

David Peschek

14, Jul, 2005 @10:00 AM

New music: Lauryn Hill – Repercussions

Is this leaked song an old unreleased track or a hint that the singer will finally release a follow up to her 1998 solo album?

guardian.co.uk/music

27, Jul, 2010 @11:45 AM

Article image
Hair soon is now: will the indie aesthetic ever disappear?
Paul Weller may have cut his famed fringe, but the indie bouffant – part mod, part mullet – will never die

Leonie Cooper

27, Jul, 2018 @12:00 PM

Article image
Lauryn Hill announces rare UK appearance
Singer to appear for one night only in London in September

28, Apr, 2014 @11:58 AM

Article image
Lauryn Hill begins prison sentence for tax evasion
Rapper will serve three months in a Connecticut jail after failing to pay tax on $2m earnings

Sean Michaels

09, Jul, 2013 @11:07 AM

Article image
Lauryn Hill, the mystery
25 August 1998: Number 39 in our series of the 50 key events in the history of R&B and hip-hop music

Angus Batey

12, Jun, 2011 @11:12 PM

Article image
The hot tickets – Lauryn Hill, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ai Weiwei

The former Fugees singer comes to Brixton, Ai Weiwei exhibits his biggest UK show to date, and Kristin Scott Thomas stars in an electrifying Electra

The Guardian

01, Sep, 2014 @4:45 AM

Article image
Lauryn Hill marks 20 years of Miseducation album with arena tour
The former Fugees singer will play five dates in the UK and Ireland in November and December

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

23, May, 2018 @6:00 AM