Lauryn Hill is the greatest female rapper of all time. Over the hill? Judging by her fan base and still-eager anticipation even after many almost-comebacks and let downs, the answer seems to be: Never. A new track, “Repercussions”, recently released to the web [LISTEN BELOW] and the buzz is growing similar to in recent years when she was working on a comeback with The Fugees.
Calling someone the greatest is a bold statement, considering many other female rappers hold records of some sort to support their claim. From Billboard, Guinness and RIAA to The Recording Academy (Grammy), NAACP and Soul Train. Others certainly can point to the the voluminous work they have created as solo artists. Some can say they were making music in the 80s while Hill was still a young child.
But Ms. Hill can lay claim to a career that has featured rapping, singing and acting. And the juggernaut of an album by the name of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The release is one of the most revered albums in hip-hop and R&B and is certified 8x Platinum by the RIAA, moving 422,624 copies in it’s first week of sales. No other album featuring female rap has sold more copies.
In a recent interview given to NPR [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128149135], Hill spoke on her return to a music industry that, while making her a superstar after the release of Miseducation, did not offer a lot of subsequent support. “[The] support system that I needed was not necessarily in place,” she explains. “There were things about myself, personal-growth things, that I had to go through in order to feel like it was worth it. In fact, as musicians and artists, it’s important we have an environment — and I guess when I say environment, I really mean the [music] industry, that really nurtures these gifts. Oftentimes, the machine can overlook the need to take care of the people who produce the sounds that have a lot to do with the health and well-being of society, or at least some aspect of society. And it’s important that people be given the time that they need to go through, to grow, so that the consciousness level of the general public is properly affected.”
Almost 20 years before Drake would be lauded for his success with with rapping and singing, L-Boogie was breaking onto the scene with bandmates Wyclef Jean and Pras (Prakazrel) Michel in The Fugees. The Score, released in 1996, would be a smash success. The first single, “Fu-gee-la” featured Hill on the hook and rapping. The second single, “Killing Me Softly” – a cover of the Roberta Flack classic – would eclipse the first in terms of success and catapult demand for a solo record from Ms. Hill into the stratosphere.
It’s funny how money changes situations, miscommunication lead to complications…
Those telling lyrics were rapped by Hill on her first single from her debut solo release Miseducation, released in 1998. She seems to speak to a generation that was rocked by the recent murders of hip hop laureates Tupac Shakur and Christopher “Notorious BIG” Wallace. Her lyrics, whether spoken or sang, was our conscience speaking to itself about the absence of love in a growing music genre.
Her raps have always been that especially rare mix of skill and style with a healthy dose of consciousness. No raps about how tight her birth canal [to borrow from Dave Chappelle] is. She wasn’t overbearing or preachy even if her message was at times (certainly in the late 90s after the senseless violence and misogyny, some preaching was necessary). She’s swift and thought-provoking yet understandable. You want to hear what she has to say.
And as Lauryn Hill encountered fame and all that came with it, she soon found herself entangled in the very money situations an miscommunications she rapped and sang about. And over the last ten or so years, with the exception of 2002’s MTV Unplugged album, her voice was largely silent.
Even with the reports of erratic behavior in public and during performances, the super-late arrivals to scheduled events, and the evolution of music itself over these years, her voice has still been missed. As we find her today, she seems more poised than we have seen her since her emergence in the mid-90s to release new music.
She points to the time and effort it has taken over the last decade to raise her five children, the youngest of which having just turned 2. “[She’s] old enough that I can leave her for a period of time and know she’s going to be OK. That’s one reason [Hill is starting to perform again]. And I think it’s just time. I’m starting to get excited again. Believe it or not, I think what people are attracted to about me, if anything, is my passion. People got exposed to my passion through music and song first. I think people might realize, you know, ‘We love the way she sounds, we love the music, but I think we just love how fearless she is. How boundless she is, when it comes to what she wants to do.’ And I think that can be infectious.”
Could we be on the verge of new music from L-Boogie? Only time will tell. But what we can be sure of is that the rare jewel of a voice possessed by Lauryn Hill is one that has been missing in hip-hop since her absence. Check out a never before heard track from her entitled, “Repercussions”, below. Also scroll down for recent performances in Lisbon, Portugal and Rwanda.