Yes…Lauryn Hill has been out of the public consciousness for many years now, but recently, she has creeped back into my brain because of a history of hip-hop project I just finished with my 5th grade students. I will always believe that The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is one of the greatest albums ever and one of the most important albums created by a hip-hop artist. When she stepped away from music, I was certainly surprised. How could someone so talented just “throw it all away”? I remember when reports came out that she was “crazed” and “had lost it”. What did that mean? As it turned out, she had her reasons. I can’t begin to speak for her, but I pulled this from her Wikipedia page in order to explain. It references an article in Essence in 2006:
In the months and years after the release of her debut album, Hill became increasingly disaffected with the music industry. In the February 2006 issue of Essence magazine, Hill describes this time in her life:
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. It took a considerable amount of courage, faith and risk to gain the confidence to be myself. I had to deal with folks who weren’t happy about that. I was a young woman with an evolved mind who was not afraid of her beauty or her sexuality. For some people that’s uncomfortable. They didn’t understand how female and strong work together. Or young and wise. Or Black and divine.
During this time, Hill abandoned celebrity (italics added) and stopped doing interviews. She stopped watching television and listening to music and explored other methods of expressing herself, including creating and writing an extensive amount of music, poetry, screenplays, clothing designs, etc.
Hill said: 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. There was much more strength, spirit and passion, desire, curiosity, ambition and opinion that was not allowed in a small space designed for consumer mass appeal and dictated by very limited standards. 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.
and went on to say:
I had to fight for an identity that doesn’t fit in one of their boxes. I’m a whole woman. And when I can’t be whole, I have a problem. By the end I was like, I’ve got to get out of here.
Now…here is what I found inspirational. As italicized above, she abandoned stardom. She was labeled crazy because she did something that most “normal” Americans would not do…give up the money, the fame, and the power to lead the type of life that she wanted to live. The conscious music she produced was not some created image…that was her. It makes me wonder that if she had been born at a different time, would she have had a more fuller career? Since she grew up in this image-driven, money first, consumer society, she was not able to deal with it. Maybe there are artists that are still able to be true to themselves without compromising too much of them, but I’ll bet it’s tough.
Regardless, you have to respect someone who is not going to compromise themselves and give up on their ideals just for a paycheck. And sadly, she was always be looked at as “crazy” because she walked away from super stardom. It’s too bad that she will be vilified for that decision and looked at more as a reclusive wack job instead of someone not afraid to stand up for what she believes. In the end, I’m not surprised by her decision and, while she might never make another album, I’ll support that decision and keep listening to the music she does have. I’m surprised I didn’t see this coming…
All I wanted was to sell like 500
And be a ghetto superstar since my first album, Blunted