Mention Lauryn Hill and many (white) people will say one of two things. ‘Oh didn’t she say some terribly racist thing about white people not buying her music?’ or ‘She was great, but didn’t she go a bit mental and not pay her taxes?’
And herein lies the problem with the way that female artists, and especially Lauryn as a black female artist, are portrayed. It is not the music, the talent, the genius or the creativity that is the focus but the scandal, the shame, the salacious and the downright untrue. Of course Lauryn Hill never said she would rather her children starve than white people buy her music. But this lie serves certain mind sets well, allows them to negate the phenomenal success of a young black woman by calling her a racist.
My emancipation don’t fit your equation.
Yes, it is true that she went to prison for three months for an unpaid tax bill of $1.8 million dollars. All of which she was able to pay back, and had been paid by the time she served her sentence. In an open letter at the time, Hill stated she purposely refused to pay her taxes to a Government that she felt did not represent her or other black people fairly.
While I’m not saying that withholding your taxes as a political decision is right, if it was a political decision, she had a point.
To understand how truly ground breaking Lauryn was, her award winning Miseducation Of…album, released in 1998, held sales records that were not beaten until the pop colossus that is Adele came along and smashed the shit out of everything.
In the hyper-masculine world of hip-hop, Hill didn’t use her sexuality to compete with the boys. She was authentic and never seemed like she was trying to be something she wasn’t. The album itself is both delicate and tough. Heartbreaking and raw, self-assured and forthright, yet never cocky. On the track To Zion, Hill sings of how she was encouraged to abort her first child so it didn’t interfere with the music machine.
Think of your career they said,
Lauryn, baby, use your head.
In the video for Doo-Wop (That Thing), Hill is quite clearly pregnant with her second child. Can you think of any other stars who have done this? Can you think of any record labels happy for their stars to do this? The music industry has no problem with the heavy sexualisation of music videos, but when it comes to the reality of female reproduction, it gets a bit icky for them.
Hill has been labelled a recluse, much the same way that Kate Bush, for ‘turning her back on the music industry’. Lauryn Hill has six children. Maybe she just thinks it is more important to be a good mother than be on promotional tours and making pop videos. She herself has said she found fame hard to deal with. Most young mums can run to the shops to buy their kid some medicine after being up all night without worrying about having a camera put in their face or being criticised for how their hair or skin looked.
I don’t know the kind of things Lauryn Hill experienced growing up under the scrutiny of the public eye (she was just 21 when The Fugees multi-platinum album The Score was released). Her first love, heartbreak and loss played out through the lens of world touring. Having a baby just as her first solo album dropped. It probably wasn’t the life she had planned for herself. Lauryn Hill is still making music, just on her own terms, outside the corporate oppression of the industry.
Without Lauryn Hill, there would be no Adele. There would have been no Amy Winehouse. There would be no Beyonce. To this day she is still being sampled by artists like Cardi B and Drake. She was a true innovator and inspiration to all who have come after.