Lauryn Hill

Genre R&B, Soul, Neo-Soul, Hip-Hop
Official website

Lauryn Noelle Hill (born May 26, 1975) is an American singer, songwriter and rapper, known for being a member of Fugees, and for her solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which won many awards and broke several sales records. Raised mostly in South Orange, New Jersey, Hill began singing with her music-oriented family during her childhood. In high school, Hill was approached by Pras Michel for a band he started, which his friend, Wyclef Jean, soon joined. They renamed themselves the Fugees and released the albums Blunted on Reality (1994), and the Grammy Award–winning The Score (1996), which sold six million copies in the U.S. Hill rose to prominence with her African-American and Caribbean musicinfluences, her rapping and singing, and her rendition of the hit "Killing Me Softly". Her tumultuous romantic relationship with Jean led to the split of the band in 1997, after which she began to focus on solo projects.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998) remains Hill's only solo studio album. It received critical acclaim showcasing a representation of life and relationships and locating a contemporary voice within the neo soul genre.

The album debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 and has sold approximately eight million copies there. This included the singles "Doo Wop (That Thing)" (also a number one), "Ex-Factor" (became her biggest solo hit in UK), and "Everything Is Everything". At the 41st Grammy Awards, the record earned her five awards, including Album of the Yearand Best New Artist. During this time, she won several other awards and became a common sight on the cover of magazines.[1]

Soon afterward, Hill dropped out of the public eye, dissatisfied with the music industry and suffering with the pressures of fame. Her last full-length recording, the new-material live album MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 (2002), sharply divided critics and sold poorly compared to her first album and work with the Fugees. Hill's subsequent activity, which includes the release of a few songs and occasional festival appearances, has been sporadic. Her behavior has sometimes caused audience dissatisfaction; a reunion with her former group did not last long. Her music and public statements have become critical of pop culture and societal institutions. Hill has six children, five of them with Rohan Marley. In 2012 she pleaded guilty to tax evasion and served a three-month prison sentence the following year. 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. As Hill herself put it in a recent statement: “I hope the love and energy that permeated this work can continue to inspire change.”[2]

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

1975–1993: Early life and career beginnings[edit]

Lauryn Noelle Hill was born on May 26, 1975[4] in East Orange, New Jersey.[5] Her mother, Valerie Hill was an English teacher and her father Mal Hill a computer and management consultant. She has one older brother named Malaney who was born in 1972.[6][7][8] Her Baptist[9] family moved to New York and Newark for short periods before settling in South Orange, New Jersey.[5]

Hill has 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."[5] Her father sang in local nightclubs and at weddings.[10][11] While growing up, Hill frequently listened to Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight;[12] years later she recalled playing Marvin Gaye's What's Going On repeatedly until she fell asleep to it.[5]

In middle school, Lauryn Hill performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a basketball game. Due to its popularity, subsequent games featured a recording of her rendition.[6] In 1988, Hill appeared as an Amateur Night contestant on It's Showtime at the Apollo. She sang her own version of the Smokey Robinson track "Who's Lovin' You", garnering an initially harsh reaction from the crowd. She persevered through the performance, however she later cried off-stage.[13]

Hill attended Columbia High School, where she was a member of the track team, cheerleading squad[6][7] and was a classmate of actor Zach Braff.[14] She also took violin lessons, went to dance class, and founded the school's gospel choir.[11] Academically, she took advanced placement classes[11] and received primarily 'A' grades.[7] School officials recognized her as a leader among the student body.[11] Later recalling her education, Hill 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."[5]

While a freshman in high school,[8] through mutual friends, Prakazrel "Pras" Michel approached Hill about a music group he was creating.[12][15] Hill and Pras began under the name Tranzlator Crew. They came up with this name because they wanted to rhyme in different languages.[12] Another female vocalist was soon replaced by Michel's cousin, multi-instrumentalist Wyclef Jean.[12]The group began performing in local showcases and high school talent shows.[8] Hill was initially only a singer, but then learned to rap too; instead of modeling herself on female rappers like Salt-N-Pepa and MC Lyte, she preferred male rappers like Ice Cube and developed her flow from listening to them.[10] Hill later said, "I remember doing my homework in the bathroom stalls of hip-hop clubs."[16]

While growing up, Hill took acting lessons in Manhattan.[11] She began her acting career in 1991 appearing with Jean in Club XII, MC Lyte's Off-Broadway hip-hop rendering of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.[8] While the play was not a success, an agent noticed her. Later that year, Hill began appearing on the soap opera As the World Turns in a recurring role as troubled teenager Kira Johnson.[6][16][17] She subsequently co-starred alongside Whoopi Goldberg in the 1993 release Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, playing Rita Louise Watson, an inner-city Catholic school teenager with a surly, rebellious attitude.[6][8] In it, she performed the songs "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" (a duet with Tanya Blount) and "Joyful, Joyful".[18] Director Bill Duke credited Hill with improvising a rap in a scene: "None of that was scripted. That was all Lauryn. She was amazing."[6] Critic Roger Ebert called her "the girl with the big joyful voice", although he thought her talent was wasted,[19]while Rolling Stone said she "performed marvelously against type ... in the otherwise perfunctory [film]."[8] Hill also appeared in Steven Soderbergh's 1993 motion picture King of the Hill, in a minor but pivotal role as a 1930s gum-popping elevator operator. Soderbergh biographer Jason Wood described her as supplying one of the warmest scenes in the film.[20] Hill graduated from Columbia High School in 1993.

1994–1996: The Fugees[edit]

Pras, Hill and Jean renamed their group the Fugees, a derivative of the word "refugee", which was a derogatory term for Haitian Americans.[8] Hill began a romantic relationship with Jean.[15] The Fugees, who signed a contract with Columbia/Ruffhouse Records in 1993,[16] became known for their genre blending, particularly of reggae, rock and soul,[12] which was first experimented on their debut album, Blunted on Reality, released in 1994. It reached number 62 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart[21] but overall sold poorly[6][16] and was met by poor critical reviews due to their management's attempt insistence they adopt gangsta rap attitudes.[8] Although the album made little impact, Hill's rapping on "Some Seek Stardom" was seen as a highlight.[22] Within the group, she was frequently referred to by the nickname "L. Boogie".[23] Hill's image and artistry, as well as her full, rich, raspy alto voice, placed her at the forefront of the band, with some fans urging her to begin a solo career.[8][22]

The Fugees' second album, The Score (1996), peaked at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200[24] and stayed in the top ten of that chart for over half a year.[8] It sold about six million copies in the United States[25] and more than 17 million copies worldwide.[11] In the 1996 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, The Score came second in the list of best albums and three of its tracks placed within the top twenty best singles.[26] It won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album,[27] and was later included on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[28] Almost all of the writing and producing for it was done by Jean.[8] The Score garnered praise for being a strong alternative to the gangsta idiom, and Hill stated, "We're trying to do something positive with the music because it seems like only the negative is rising to the top these days. It only takes a drop of purity to clean a cesspool."[10]

Singles from The Score included "Fu-Gee-La" and "Ready or Not", which highlighted Hill's singing and rapping abilities,[29] and "No Woman, No Cry". Her rendition of "Killing Me Softly" became her breakout hit.[30] Buttressed by what Rolling Stone publications later called Hill's "evocative" vocal line[12] and her "amazing pipes",[28] the track became pervasive on pop, R&B, hip hop, and adult contemporary radio formats.[12] It won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.[27][31] On the album, Hill combined African-American music and Caribbean music influences with socially conscious lyrics.[29] Newsweek mentioned Hill's "irresistibly cute looks" and proclaimed her "the most powerful new voice in rap."[10]

At 21 years old, the now-famous Hill was still living at home with her parents.[8] She had been enrolled at Columbia University during this period, and considered majoring in history as she became a sophomore,[8][10] but left after about a year of total studies once sales of The Score went into the millions.[6] 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."[16][32]

In 1996, Hill founded the Refugee Project, a non-profit outreach organization that sought to transform the attitudes and behavior of at-risk urban youth.[33] Part of this was Camp Hill, which offered stays in the Catskill Mountains for such youngsters; another was production of an annual Halloween haunted house in East Orange.[33] Hill also raised money for Haitian refugees, supported clean water well-building projects in Kenya and Uganda, and staged a rap concert in Harlem to promote voter registration. A 1997 benefit event for the Refugee Project introduced a Board of Trustees for the organization that included Sean Combs, Mariah Carey, Busta Rhymes, Spike Lee, and others as members.[34]

In 1997, the Fugees split to work on solo projects,[35] which Jean later blamed on his tumultuous relationship with Hill and the fact he married his wife Claudinette while still involved with Hill.[35][36]Meanwhile, in the summer of 1996 Hill had met Rohan Marley, a son of Bob Marley and a former University of Miami football player.[13] Hill subsequently began a relationship with him, while still also involved with Jean.[13] Hill became pregnant, and in August 1997, Marley and Hill's first child, Zion David, was born.[9] The couple lived in Hill's childhood house in South Orange after she bought her parents a new house down the street.[16]

Hill had a cameo appearance in the 1997 film Hav Plenty. In 1998, Hill took up another small, but important role in the film Restaurant;[37] Entertainment Weekly praised her portrayal of the protagonist's pregnant former girlfriend as bringing vigor to the film.[38]

1997–1999: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill[edit]

Hill recorded her solo record The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill from late 1997 through June 1998 at Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica.[4][32] The title was inspired by the book The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933) by Carter G. Woodson and The Education of Sonny Carson, a film and autobiographical novel.[39] The album featured contributions from D'Angelo, Carlos Santana, Mary J. Blige and the then-unknown John Legend.[40] Wyclef Jean initially did not support Hill recording a solo album, but eventually offered his production help; Hill turned him down.[13] 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.[39] 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.[16][39] Indeed, Hill's pregnancy revived her from a period of writer's block.[32]

In terms of production, Hill collaborated with a group of musicians known as New Ark, consisting of Vada Nobles, Rasheem Pugh, Tejumold Newton, and Johari Newton.[39] Hill later said that she wanted to "write songs that lyrically move me and have the integrity of reggae and the knock of hip-hop and the instrumentation of classic soul" and that the production on the album was intended to make the music sound raw and not computer-aided.[39] 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.[39] She also wanted to be appreciated as an auteur as much as Jean had within the Fugees.[13] (She also saw a feminist cause: "But step out and try and control things and there are doubts. This is a very sexist industry. They'll never throw the 'genius' title to a sister."[29]) 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."[13]

Released on August 25, 1998, the album received rave reviews from contemporary music critics,[41] and was the most acclaimed album of 1998.[42] Critics lauded the album's blending of the R&B, doo-wop, pop, hip-hop, and reggae genres[16] and its honest representation of a woman's life and relationships.[42] 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".[43] 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".[44] In 2017 NPR rated the album as the 2nd best album of all time created by a woman.[45]

It sold over 423,000 copies in its first week (boosted by advance radio play of two non-label-sanctioned singles, "Lost Ones" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You")[46] and topped the Billboard 200 for four weeks and the Billboard R&B Albums chart for six weeks. It went on to sell about 8 million copies in the U.S.[25] and 12 million copies worldwide.[13][47][48] During 1998 and 1999, Hill earned $25 million from record sales and touring.[13] Hill, along with Blige, Missy Elliott, Meshell Ndegeocello, Erykah Badu, and others, found a voice with the neo soul genre.[49]

The first single released from the album was "Lost Ones", which reached number 27 in Spring 1998.[50] The second was "Doo Wop (That Thing)", which debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.[50] It exemplified Hill's appeal, combining feelings of self-empowerment with self-defense.[49] Other charted singles from the album were "Ex-Factor", which has been interpolated by Drake and Cardi B,[51] "Everything Is Everything" and "To Zion".[50] In the 1998 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, Miseducation came second in the list of best albums and "Doo Wop (That Thing)" second in best singles.[52]

In November 1998, Marley and Hill's second child, Selah Louise, was born.[7][53] Of being a young mother of two, Hill said, "It's not an easy situation at all. You have to really pray and be honest with yourself."[16]

In the run-up to the 1999 Grammy Awards, Hill became the first woman to be nominated in ten categories in a single year. In addition to Miseducation works, the nominations included her rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" for the 1997 film Conspiracy Theory, which had appeared on Billboard charts,[54] and Hill's writing and producing of "A Rose Is Still a Rose", which became a late-in-career hit for Aretha Franklin.[55] She appeared on several magazine covers, including Time, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Teen People, and The New York Times Fashion Magazine.[29] During the ceremony, Hill broke another record by becoming the first woman to win five times in one night,[29] taking home 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.[56] During an acceptance speech, she said, "This is crazy. This is hip-hop!"[29] Hill had brought forth a new, mainstream acceptance of the genre.[11][29]

In February 1999, Hill received four awards at the 30th Annual NAACP Image Awards.[57] In May 1999, she became the youngest woman ever named to Ebony magazine's 100+ Most Influential Black Americans list;[58] in November of that year, the same publication named her as one of "10 For Tomorrow" in the "Ebony 2000: Special Millennium Issue".[59] In May 1999, she made Peoplemagazine's 50 Most Beautiful People list.[7] The publication, which has called her "model-gorgeous",[23] praised the 5-foot-4-inch (1.63 m) Hill for her idiosyncratic sense of personal style.[7] In June 1999, she received an Essence Award, but her acceptance speech, where she said there was no contradiction in religious love and servitude and "[being] who you are, as fly and as hot and as whatever,"[60] drew reaction from those in the public who thought she was not a good role model as a young, unwed mother of two.[61] This was a repetition of criticism she had received after the birth of her first child, and she had said that she and Marley would soon be married.[16] In early 2000, Hill was one of many artists and producers to share the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for Santana's 1999 multi-million-selling Supernatural, for which she had written, produced, and rapped on the track "Do You Like the Way" (a rumination on the direction the world was headed, it also featured the singing of CeeLo Green and the signature guitar runs of Carlos Santana). She was also nominated for Best R&B Song for "All That I Can Say", which she had written and produced for Mary J. Blige. Also, her concocted duet with Bob Marley on "Turn Your Lights Down Low" for the 1999 remix tribute album Chant Down Babylon additionally appeared in the 1999 film The Best Man and later received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

In November 1998, New Ark filed a fifty-page lawsuit against Hill, her management, and record label, claiming that Hill "used their songs and production skills, but failed to properly credit them for the work" on Miseducation.[62] The musicians claimed to be the primary songwriters on two tracks, and major contributors on several others, though Gordon Williams, a prominent recorder, engineer, and mixer on Miseducation, described the album as a "powerfully personal effort by Hill" and said "It was definitely her vision."[42] Hill responded that New Ark had been appropriately credited and now were seeking to take advantage of her success.[62] New Ark requested partial writing credits on most of the tracks on the album as well as monetary reimbursement.[63] After many delays, depositions took place during the latter part of 2000.[62][63] In part, the case illustrated the difficult boundaries between songwriting and all other aspects that went into contemporary arranging, sampling, and recording.[62] The suit would eventually be settled out of court in February 2001, with Hill paying New Ark a reported $5 million.[39] A friend of Hill's later said of the suit, "That was the beginning of a chain effect that would turn everything a little crazy."[13]

2000–2003: Self-imposed exile and MTV Unplugged No. 2.0[edit]

Hill began writing a screenplay about the life of Bob Marley, in which she planned to act as his wife Rita.[13] She also began producing a