Lauryn Hill has always been a favourite with the masses. Throughout her two album career with one of the biggest selling rap groups of all time, The Fugees, it was always the young New York born rapper, singer and actress which gained the most attention from the cameras. Now, some eight years after her group released the classic album 'The Score' which showcased her immense talent for rapping on songs like 'Manifest Outro' and her unique and soulful singing ability on 'Killing Me Softly', the television screens, magazine covers and radio stations which she seemed to dominate in the same way that the likes of Beyonce and Alicia Keys do today, show no signs of the five times Grammy award winner.
It was in 1998 that Ms. Hill was at the height of her success. She had just released 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill'. Every radio station and music television station in the United States showed it great support. It reached sales of millions, gained the top awards at all of the highly regarded ceremonies and took to the road on a world tour, spanning over twenty nations. It combined influences from the artists appreciation of gospel and soul music, featured the likes of guitar legend Carlos Santana and constructed a platform for many a story on love, life, religion, politics and fame to be told on, through a mixture of the most prominent RnB music of its time and the most captivating rapping skills to be found in a music industry landscape which was dominated by ego maniacs such as Puff Daddy.
Her spotlight stealing role in the Whoopy Goldberg headed film 'Sister Act II', her mesmerising chorus to one of the nineties most important rap singles 'Ready Or Not', her individualism and self contained nature in her solo debut 'Doo Wop (That Thing)' and recollections of her stunning appearance of beautiful dreadlocks and self tailored dress is enough to have even the most distanced of music fans asking the question, 'Where is she now?'.
After a blitzed diary of international tours and promotional appearances and just one new song after her debut album, a collaboration between the late Bob Marley and herself on the song 'Turn Your Lights Down Low' things got very quiet. The lack of appearances and material in the public limelight was a stark contrast to the previously intense presence the industry favourite had held. Finally in 2002, MTV's 'Unplugged' series released 'Lauryn Hill Unplugged', a two disc package of acoustic tracks featuring little rapping, scattered amongst long and tiring spoken interludes by the artist of her reflections on the price she felt she paid for becoming famous to the extent she had done a few years earlier. The album presented an artist perhaps confused, and certainly in the middle of a transition from one mind set to another. Much of the new material voiced her concerns of society, politics and religion whilst at the same time, disowned her previous public profile as being a presentable, perfected singer.
Although selling to platinum status, the album was considered poor by most. Many reviews and fan discussions focused on the apparent lack of rehearsal on the CD, the poor guitar skills and the complexity of the subject matter. It was felt that the artist was troubled, and didn't know what she was trying to articulate with her music, resulting in a complicated, far from concise and sometimes confusing personal diary entry. 'I had to reintroduce myself to my parents' said the star in one tedious interlude, a clear indication that it wasn't the time or place for the once composed and head strong artist to be speaking to her public.
Media reports soon began to surface, suggesting that the artist was amongst other things, going through a mental breakdown and had joined a cult led by a mysterious preacher named Brother Anthony. Speculation took over, with some of the music industries leading magazines publishing articles and interviews, about and with un-named 'sources' and 'industry insiders'. To many, the name Lauryn Hill became nothing more than the title of a deranged lunatic, who had shaved her head bald, put on considerable weight and read the Bible one too many times. An artist far too obsessed with making babies, having supposedly just given birth to her fifth, and becoming the next Marley.
Contractually, new material by Ms. Hill is due soon. Various American music retailers and industry publications have said her new album is to be released in the Summer of 2005 and will be called 'Khulami Phase' or 'I Got Out'. Her personal website, not to be confused with her official record label site, is selling a book titled 'The Middle Man', a work in progress said to be a long poem touching on issues similar to her unplugged material such as marketability and righteousness. Hill was recently booked to perform before the Vatican, but instead of providing the organisers with a polished, glossy appearance which I'm sure they expected, Hill took the opportunity to voice her concerns about corruption within organised religion. This generated the most recent headlines and is surely an indication that Lauryn Hill has a lot to say, and that her focus on society and politics is far from the 'phase' which Wyclef Jean, ex band member and lover, recently suggested her state of mind to be.
This isn't the first time that an important figure in American music and song writing history has undergone a period of reclusion or decreased success. For instance, Bob Dylan at one stage in his long career, 'found God' and released the album 'Saved' to appalling reviews and drastically lower record sales. He realised the reason for the negative feedback and soon went on to release around five more albums, all a lot more successful and appreciated.
An artist of such previous success will never find him or herself without record label interest which means that whatever the quality or form of material Lauryn Hill creates for the rest of her days, if she wants, it will find its way onto record store's shelves. The deciding factor as to whether or not it will be disappearing from those shelves as quickly as 'The Score' and 'The Miseducation of…' is surely down to whether Hill wishes, or happens to find and execute a way of presenting her detailed and in-depth views and opinions into a more articulate and simple manor, the key to the success which her apparent idol, Bob Marley, reached. And its worth noting, that he didn't reach that success for a lot more than one albums worth of songs.