Birth name – Lauryn Noelle Hill
Also known as – Ms. Hill, L. Boogie
Born – May 26, 1975 (age 38)
Origin – East Orange, New Jersey, U.S.
Genres – R&B, hip hop, soul, reggae fusion
Occupations – Singer-songwriter, record producer, rapper, actress
Instruments – Vocals, guitar, piano
Years active – 1987–present
Labels – Columbia, Ruffhouse
Associated acts – Fugees, Nas, D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige, Santana
Lauryn Noelle Hill (born May 26, 1975) is an American singer-songwriter, rapper, producer and actress. Hill was born and raised in South Orange, New Jersey and began singing with her music-oriented family. Hill’s vocal talent took her into acting and her role as Rita Watson in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993) brought her to national prominence. At high school, Hill was approached by Pras Michel to start a band with his cousin Wyclef Jean. They formed The Fugees and released two albums; Blunted on Reality (1994) and the Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum The Score (1996). Hill’s tumultuous romantic relationship with Jean led to the split of the band in 1997 to focus on solo projects.
Hill’s pregnancy with Zion inspired her to focus on the theme of love. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998) remains Hill’s only studio album; it received critical acclaim, some suggesting it was the greatest neo-soul album of all time. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold 19 million copies worldwide, spawning the singles “Doo Wop (That Thing)”, “Ex-Factor”, and “Everything Is Everything”. At the 41st Grammy Awards, the album earned her five Grammy Awards, including the Album of the Year. Soon after, Hill dropped out of the public-eye, mainly because of her dissatisfaction with the music industry. Her last recording, the live album MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 (2001) sharply divided critics, but reached number two on the Billboard 200. Hill’s subsequent activity has been sporadic; she has occasionally released songs and performed at music festivals.
Although The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill focused primarily on love, Hill’s work with the Fugees and recent repertoire has been heavily focused on social injustice. It is also concerned with racism and female empowerment. Hill’s work has won her various awards including eight Grammy Awards (two for Album of the Year), 4 MTV Music Video Awards and 4 NAACP Image Awards. She has six children, five of whom are with Rohan Marley, son of reggae musician Bob Marley.
In 2013, Hill signed a deal with Sony Music to release a new album. It will be her first studio release in over 15 years.
Life and career
1974–90: Early life
Lauryn Noelle Hill was born on May 26, 1975 into middle-class family in East Orange, New Jersey. The family moved to New York and Newark for short periods, until settling in South Orange, New Jersey. She is the youngest of two children of high school English teacher Valerie Hill and computer programmer Mal Hill. Hill said of her musically-oriented family: “there were so many records, so much music constantly being played. My mother played piano, my father sang, and we were always surrounded in music.” Whilst growing up, Hill listened to a lot of Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight; years later she recalled playing Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On repeatedly until she fell asleep to it. In 1988, Hill appeared as an Amateur Night contestant on It’s Showtime at the Apollo. She sang her own version of Smokey Robinson’s song “Who’s Lovin’ You?”, garnering an initially harsh reaction from the crowd; she persevered and later applauded, although cried off-stage. Hill graduated from Columbia High School, recalling her education, she commented “I had a love for – I don’t know if it was necessarily for academics, more than it just was for achieving, period. If it was academics, if it was sports, if it was music, if it was dance, whatever it was, I was always driven to do a lot in whatever field or whatever area I was focusing on at the moment.” In 1993, Hill enrolled at Columbia University but left after less than a year to pursue her entertainment career. Hill began her acting career in 1991, appearing on the soap opera As the World Turns, in a recurring role as Kira Johnson.
1991–96: The Fugees and films
Main article: The Fugees
In 1993, she co-starred in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit as Rita Louise Watson, in which she performed the songs “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (a duet with Tanya Blount) and “Joyful, Joyful”. It was in this role that she first came to national prominence, with Roger Ebert calling her “the girl with the big joyful voice”. Her other acting work includes the play Club XII with MC Lyte, and the motion pictures King of the Hill, Hav Plenty, and Restaurant. Through mutual friends, Prakazrel “Pras” Michel approached Hill about a music group he was creating. Hill and Pras began under the name Tranzlator Crew; chosen because they wanted to rhyme in different languages. They renamed to The Fugees, a derivative of the word “refugee”, which was a derogatory term for Haitian-Americans. The group contained another female vocalist, who Michel replaced with his cousin, Wycelf Jean; Hill began a romantic relationship with Jean soon after. The Fugees became known for their genre-blending, particularly of reggae, rock and soul, which was first experimented on their debut album, Blunted on Reality, released in 1994 and reached number 62 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Although the album made little impact, Hill’s rapping on “Some Seek Stardom” was seen as a highlight. Hill’s image and artistry placed her at the forefront of the band, some fans urging her to begin a solo career.
The Fugees’ second album, The Score (1996), peaked at number one on the Billboard Albums chart. It sold six million copies, won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album, and was later included on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Singles from The Score included “Ready or Not”, “Fu-Gee-La”, and “No Woman, No Cry”, but the breakout hit was Hill’s rendition of “Killing Me Softly”. Buttressed by what Rolling Stone publications later called Hill’s “evocative” vocal line and her “amazing pipes”, the track became pervasive on pop, R & B, hip-hop, and adult contemporary radio formats. It went on to win the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. After her rise to musical stardom, she reportedly turned down roles in Charlie’s Angels, The Bourne Identity, The Mexican, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. In 1996, Hill responded to a false rumor on The Howard Stern Show that she had made a racist comment on MTV, saying “How can I possibly be a racist? My music is universal music. And I believe in God. If I believe in God, then I have to love all of God’s creations. There can be no segregation”. In 1997, the Fugees split to work on solo projects; Jean would go on to claim that this was because of his tumultuous relationship with Hill, and the fact he married his wife Claudinette, whilst still dating her. In the summer of 1996, Hill met Rohan Marley, the son of reggae musician Bob Marley and soon after started a family. They have five children together: Zion David, Selah Louise, Joshua Omaru, John Nesta, and Sarah.
1997–99:The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
In late 1997, Hill began recording the album that would become The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill; ending in June 1998 at Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica. The title was inspired by The Mis-Education of the Negro book by Carter G. Woodson and The Education of Sonny Carson, a film and autobiographical novel. The album featured contributions from D’Angelo, Carlos Santana, Mary J. Blige and the then-unknown John Legend. Songs for the album were largely written in an attic studio in South Orange, New Jersey, and recorded at Chung King Studios in New York City. Wyclef Jean initially did not support Hill recording a solo album, but eventually offered his production help; Hill turned him down. Several songs on the album concerned her frustration with The Fugees; “I Used to Love Him” dealt with the breakdown of the relationship between Hill and Wyclef Jean. Other songs such as “To Zion” spoke about her decision to have her first baby, even though many at the time encouraged her to have an abortion so to not interfere with her blossoming career. Hill’s pregnancy revived her from a period of writer’s block, she would later comment, “When some women are pregnant, their hair and their nails grow, but for me it was my mind and ability to create. I had the desire to write in a capacity that I hadn’t done in a while.”
The Miseducation contained several interludes of a teacher speaking to what is implied to be a classroom of children; in fact, the “teacher” was played by poet and educator Ras Baraka speaking to a group of kids in the living room of Hill’s New Jersey home. Hill requested that Baraka speak to the children about the concept of love, and he improvised the lecture. In terms of production, Hill collaborated with “New Ark” consisting of Vada Nobles, Rasheem Pugh, Tejumold and Johari Newton. However, Hill spoke of pressure from her label to emulate Prince, wherein all tracks would be credited as written and produced by the artist with little outside help. While recording the album, when Hill was asked about providing contracts or documentation to the musicians, she replied, “We all love each other. This ain’t about documents. This is blessed.” Hill, her management, and her record label were sued in 1998 by New Ark, claiming to be the primary songwriters on two tracks, and major contributors on several others. in February 2001 for a reported $5 million. In the late 1990s, successful female artists in hip-hop were rare, with women mostly seen as scantily-clad dancers at best. Released on August 25, 1998, the album received rave reviews from contemporary music critics, and was the most acclaimed album of 1998. Critics lauded the album for its honest representation of a female’s life and relationships.David Browne, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called it “an album of often-astonishing power, strength, and feeling”, and praised Hill for “easily flowing from singing to rapping, evoking the past while forging a future of her own”.Robert Christgau quipped, “PC record of the year—songs soft, singing ordinary, rapping skilled, rhymes up and down, skits de trop, production subtle and terrific”. It sold over 423,000 copies in its first week and topped the Billboard Hot 200 for four weeks and the Billboard R&B Album chart for six weeks; it went on to sell more than 19 million copies worldwide. Hill, along with Blige, Missy Elliott, Meshell Ndegeocello, Erykah Badu, and others, found a feminist voice with the neo soul genre.
The first single released from the album was “Lost Ones” which reached number 27 in Spring 1998. The second was “Doo Wop (That Thing)”, which debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. This song exemplified Hill’s appeal, combining feelings of self-empowerment with self-defense. Other charted singles from the album were “Ex-Factor”, “Everything Is Everything” and “To Zion”. In the 1998 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, The Miseducation came second in the list of best albums and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” second in best singles. At the 1999 Grammy Awards, Hill broke records by becoming both the first woman ever to be nominated in ten categories in a single year, and the first woman to win five times in one night. Hill won the awards for Album of the Year, Best R&B Album, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best New Artist. In 1998 and 1999, Hill earned $25 million from record sales and touring. In 1996 she received an Essence Award for work including the 1996 founding of the Refugee Project (an outreach organization that supports a two-week overnight camp for at-risk youth), her support of well-building projects in Kenya and Uganda, and for staging a rap concert in Harlem to promote voter registration. In 1999, Hill received four awards at the 30th Annual NAACP Image Awards.
2000–03: Self-imposed exile and MTV Unplugged No. 2.0
Hill began writing a screenplay about the life of Bob Marley, in which she planned to act as his wife Rita. She also began producing a romantic comedy about soul food with a working title of Sauce, and accepted a starring role in the film adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved; she later dropped out of both projects due to pregnancy. Hill became dissatisfied with the music industry; she felt she was being unfairly controlled by her record label, and disliked being unable “to go to the grocery store without makeup.” She fired her management team and began attending Bible study classes five days a week; she also stopped doing interviews, watching television and listening to music. She started associating with a “spiritual adviser” named Brother Anthony. Some familiar with Hill believe Anthony more resembled a cult leader than a spiritual advisor, and thought his guidance probably inspired much of Hill’s more controversial public behavior.
In 2000, she dropped out of the public eye. She described this period of her life to Essence saying “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.” 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.” 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.”
On July 21, 2001, Hill unveiled her new material to a small crowd, for a taping of an MTV Unplugged special; an album of the concert, titled MTV Unplugged No. 2.0, was released and featured only her singing and playing an acoustic guitar. Unlike the near-unanimous praise of The Miseducation, 2.0 sharply divided critics. AllMusic gave the album 4 out of 5 stars, saying that the recording “is the unfinished, unflinching presentation of ideas and of a person. It may not be a proper follow-up to her first album, but it is fascinating.”Rolling Stone called the album “a public breakdown”.NME wrote that “Unplugged 2.0 is a sparse and often gruelling listen, but there is enough genius shading these rough sketches to suggest that all might not yet be lost.” Despite the mixed reviews, 2.0 peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 200. Her song “Mystery of Iniquity” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Rap Solo Performance and used as an interpolation by hip-hop producer/song-writer Kanye West for his single “All Falls Down” (eventually recorded by Syleena Johnson).
On December 13, 2003, Hill, during a performance in Vatican City, spoke of the “corruption, exploitation, and abuses” in reference to the molestation of boys by Catholic priests in the United States and the cover-up of offenses by Catholic Church officials. High-ranking church officials were in attendance, but Pope John Paul II was not present. The Catholic League called Hill “pathologically miserable” and claimed her career is “in decline”. The following day, several reporters suggested that Hill’s comments at the Vatican may have been influenced by her spiritual advisor, Brother Anthony.
2004–09: Sporadic touring and recording
Hill performing in Central Park, New York, 2005
For the first time since 1997, the Fugees performed in September 2004 at Dave Chappelle’s Block Party in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The concert featured Hill’s nearly a cappella rendition of “Killing Me Softly”. The event was recorded by director Michel Gondry and was released on March 3, 2006, to universal acclaim. The Fugees also appeared at BET’s 2005 Music Awards on June 28, where they opened the show with a 12-minute set. One track, “Take It Easy”, was leaked online and thereafter was released as an internet single on September 27, 2005. It peaked at number forty on the Billboard R&B Chart.
The Fugees embarked on a European tour in late 2005. Old tensions between Hill and the other members of the group soon resurfaced, and the reunion ended before an album could be recorded; Jean and Michel both blamed Hill for the split. Hill reportedly demanded to be addressed by everyone, including her bandmates, as “Ms. Hill”; she also considered changing her moniker to “Empress”. Hill’s tardiness was also cited as a contributing factor. Hill slowly worked on a new album and it was reported that by 2003, Columbia Records had spent more than $2.5 million funding Hill’s new album; installing a recording studio in the singer’s Miami apartment and flying different musicians around the country. In 2004, Hill contributed a new song, “The Passion”, to The Passion of the Christ: Songs. Around this time, Hill began selling a pay-per-view music video of the song “Social Drugs” through her website. Those who purchase the $15 video would only be able to view it three times before it expired. In addition to the video, Hill began selling autographed posters and Polaroids through her website, with some items listed at upwards of $500. In 2005, she told USA Today, “If I make music now, it will only be to provide information to my own children. If other people benefit from it, then so be it.” When asked how she now felt about the songs on 2.0, she stated “a lot of the songs were transitional. The music was about how I was feeling at the time, even though I was documenting my distress as well as my bursts of joy.”
Lauryn Hill performing in Brazil, June 2007.
Hill began touring, although to mixed reviews; often arriving late to concerts (sometimes by over two hours), performing unpopular reconfigurations of her songs and sporting an exaggerated appearance. On some occasions, fans have booed her and left early. In June 2007, Sony Records said Hill had been recording through the past decade, had accumulated considerable unreleased material and had re-entered the studio with the goal of making a new album. Later that same year, a new album entitled Ms. Hill, which featured cuts from The Miseducation, various soundtracks contributions and other “unreleased” songs, was released. It features guest appearances from D’Angelo, Rah Digga and John Forté. Also in June 2007, Hill released a new song, “Lose Myself” on the soundtrack to the film Surf’s Up.
Reports in mid-2008 claimed that Columbia Records then believed Hill to be on hiatus. Rohan Marley disputed these claims, telling an interviewer that Hill has enough material for several albums: “She writes music in the bathroom, on toilet paper, on the wall. She writes it in the mirror if the mirror smokes up. She writes constantly. This woman does not sleep”. From 1998, Hill reportedly lived in both the Caribbean and an upscale hotel in Miami, however, by August 2008, Hill was living with her mother and children in her hometown of South Orange, New Jersey. One of the few public appearances Hill made in 2008 was at a Martha Stewart book-signing in New Jersey, perplexing some in the press. In April 2009, it was reported that Hill would engage in a 10-day tour of European summer festivals during mid-July of that year. She performed two shows for the tour and passed out on stage during the start of her second performance and left the stage. She refused to give refunds to angry consumers for the show. On June 10, Hill’s management informed the promoters of the Stockholm Jazz Festival, which she was scheduled to headline, that she would not be performing due to unspecified “health reasons.” Shortly afterward, the rest of the tour was canceled as well.
2010–present: Second studio album and imprisonment
In 2010, Hill returned to the live stage and performed in stops across New Zealand and Australia on the Raggamuffin Festival, and the Rock the Bells hip-hop festival series. Five days later, Hill appeared at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, California, her first live American performance in several years.
An unreleased song called “Repercussions” was leaked via the internet in late July, debuting at number 94 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (and peaked at number 83 the following week), making it her first Billboard chart appearance as a lead artist since 1999. In April 2010, many of the songs that Hill had performed and recorded over the past six years were included on an unofficial compilation album titled Khulami Phase. The album also features a range of other material found on the Ms. Hill compilation. Hill continued touring; including a set at the 6th Annual Jazz in the Gardens, in Miami Gardens, Florida in December. In Spring 2011, Hill performed at the Coachella Valley Music Festival, New Orleans JazzFest and at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. In July 2011, Hill gave birth to her six child, Micah, her first not with Rohan Marley; the father remains unknown.
In February 2012, Hill performed a new song titled “Fearless Vampire Killer”, during a sold out performance at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC. In late 2012, Hill toured with rapper Nas; her portion of the tour, titled “Black Rage”, is named after her song, released October 30. Hill has described the song as being “about the derivative effects of racial inequity and abuse” and “a juxtaposition to the statement ‘life is good,’ which she believes can only be so when these long standing issues are addressed and resolved.” On May 4, 2013, Hill released her first official single in over a decade, “Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix)”. She later published a message on her Tumblr describing how she was “required to release [it] immediately, by virtue of the impending legal deadline.” Following a deal with Sony Music, Hill will publish her first album in fifteen years in 2013. On May 6, 2013, Hill was sentenced to serve in prison for three months for tax evasion and will face three months house arrest afterwards. Hill had failed to pay taxes on about $1.8 million of earnings between 2005–07, saying that she had intended to pay them, but had not done so after withdrawing from her music career and raising her children. Hill is scheduled to report to prison on July 8, 2013.
Main article: Lauryn Hill discography
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 (2002)
1991 – As the World Turns …. Kira Johnson
1992 – Here and Now
1993 – King of the Hill …. Elevator Operator
1993 – Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit …. Rita Louise Watson
1996 – ABC Afterschool Specials …. Malika
1997 – Restaurant …. Leslie
1998 – Hav Plenty …. Debra (cameo)
2013 – Man in Wood …. Unknown
Red Everything Movement