What Happened to Ms. Lauryn Hill

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What Happened to Ms. Lauryn Hill

photo by Toby Tenenbaum

photo by Toby Tenenbaum

photo by Toby Tenenbaum

Emma-Rose Partin

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Photo: Brooklyn Vegan

The entertainment industry is built off the expectation that artists will present their bodies of work in a timely, readily-consumable manner for the public. Artists are welcome to innovate within the boundaries of the public‰’s comfort zone, and they must churn out artistic work constantly until the public has had enough. Dare they stop earlier than that, and their names will forever be glued to the cheap, clickbaiting headline: “Where are they now?‰Û

Ms. Lauryn Hill debuted her solo career apart from the Fugees in 1998 with her first album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and she instantly soared to the stars. Her magnum opus is a blending of neo-soul, hip hop, and R&B that highlights Ms. Hill‰’s perspective on love, race, femininity, God, and maternity. The album instantly crowned her a rap queen and she set many records as a 23-year-old female artist when she was nominated for 10 Grammys and won half of them in 1999. With her first independent step into stardom, Ms. Hill set expectations for herself high.

Only months after that album‰’s release, the new star was pummeled by a lawsuit that challenged the independence in the writing of Miseducation. Four men who had worked on her album with Ms. Hill were suing for credit behind 13 of the album‰’s 14 tracks. For two years, Ms. Lauryn Hill and her lawyers fought back.

According to Rolling Stone, a friend of hers said, “She felt settling would’ve been an admission of guilt…She was very concerned about credit. It’s what eluded her from the past success [with the Fugees]. She didn’t wanna be just a pretty face and a pretty voice. She wanted people to know she knows what she’s doing.”

Ms. Hill eventually chose to settle for $5 million, and soon after she dropped out of the public eye. The rapper was a star that seemed to fly too close to the sun on its trajectory into fame. She likely felt deep shame after the lawsuit, and was simultaneously battling with how to move forward as an artist.

Fans made it very clear what they wanted from Ms. Hill: more. They wanted another full studio album. They wanted music videos and tours and franchises. The last thing they wanted was for their star to pull back from fame, as she did.

Ms. Lauryn Hill remained dormant until 2002 when she did a live album, MTV Unplugged No. 2.0. The record was fraught with distress as she breaks down in tears during the performance and admits to struggling with fame and the expectations she holds for herself. Critics tore the album apart, mainly homing in on her lack of skill at playing the guitar. Rolling Stone dubbed Unplugged a “public breakdown.‰Û

Since 2002 she has not released another album, and it‰’s likely she never will. Rumors of more full-length records from Ms. Lauryn Hill have risen and fallen with only a few new tracks ever coming to light. The expectations her fans laid out for her were just too high, too unhealthy for her to try to reach. And now everyone is content to sit back and type “What the hell happened to Lauryn Hill?‰” articles.

What happened to Ms. Hill is not a mystery. Her struggles are the product of an exploitative industry that thrives on drives adults to insanity. The music industry has truly monetized abuse via normalizing paparazzi, extensively controlling clienteles‰’ lives, stripping them of freedom. Ms. Lauryn Hill wanted to go to the grocery store without makeup, and instead her life was robbed of every choice and any movement.

America has a problem: they treat their celebrities like Gods. And after every time America is let down by a creator when they learn of some horrible secret deed (Puck from Glee being a pedophile, anyone?), or every time a creator loses their mind from the horrible life they‰’re forced to lead and has some crazy meltdown, America just picks a new God. How many human bodies will America use for performance and subsequently dump before the entertainment industry reforms?