Monday, September 24, 2012

More than a Woman: Ms. Lauryn Hill

Every six months, I need Lauryn Hill. I may not recognize that The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is what I need, but it is. That album came out in 1998, when I was nine years old. Somehow now I connect that album to womankind and my woman connection. The timelessness of music amazes me.

I remember thinking she was so pretty when I was kid, Ms. Lauryn Hill --her, RuPaul and David Bowie. They were so beautiful and glamorous. They got me wanting to wear lipstick and eyeliner and cool clothes.

She wasn't over-processed and she had real talent. In an era when boy bands and Britney Spears ruled the airwaves, Lauryn Hill could be found doing her own thing. She won Grammys, NAACP awards.

Above and beyond award committee recognition and album sales, Ms. Hill wrote and sang a perfect album. A perfect album is one that from start to finish leaves naught to want. You can listen to it all the way through, or pick select songs. Either way, you're going to feel satisfied.

There are ballads, soul-crushing ballads, that range in topic from leaving a hurtful lover to a love song for God/Jesus/the Lord. Then there's the smoothest love jam duet with D'Angelo, "Nothing Even Matters". "Doo Wop (That Thing)" and "Everything is Everything" act as the most upbeat tracks, and even those songs have lesson-filled lyrics. The wisdom projected through the lyrics astonish when you remember that at the time, she was only 23 years old.

"To Zion" most wholly reflects Ms. Hill's musical ability and her heartfelt wordsmanship. Close to the beginning of the album, this mid-tempo track addresses Ms. Hill's decision to keep and raise her child, while it demonstrates her vocal range. The emotionally-charged melodies amplify the powerful and personal lyrical message.

Perhaps giving birth to a child made her grow up. Maybe it was the level of success she had already achieved with The Fugees.

However she crafted each song to be her own unique expression, Miseducation is a classic.

Apparently after that point, she appeared on and helped produce Carlos Santana's incredibly successful album Supernatural.

Artist, producer, mother: what can this woman not do? Apparently, make amends with the media or with sections of society.

Three years after her stellar solo debut, Ms. Hill released MTV Unplugged 2.0.

If you've ever been a confused, disheartened, creative, female millennial, and you've spent hours scouring YouTube for live videos of Lauryn Hill, you know what I mean.

The album received varying reviews, and the media started to portray her as a lost student of a strange Christian advisor named Brother Anthony. Now I don't know anything about a Brother Anthony other than what Wikipedia has told me, so maybe he was a crazy cult leader that convinced Ms. Hill of things detrimental and unfounded.

Between then and now, she's released some music and continued to create controversy. And she started touring again.

When February rolled around in 2010, I had almost forgotten that I had tickets to Ms. Hill's First Ave show. It had been so many months prior that I had woken up on a Saturday morning to wait for the online sale to begin. I hadn't done that kind of ticket buying in a long time.

Music is really big in Minneapolis, but we don't get many big acts coming into town. Ok, ok we get Parliament every year and Toots every year. But where's Erykah Badu, or even Prince?

In 2010, Ms. Hill was notoriously late to her U.S. concerts. Although I'd read a couple reviews, I kept an open mind because lord knows, this woman's music got me through being a small-town brown girl. When I couldn't relate anymore to the aggression of bands like The Buzzcocks, or the smarmy croon of Elvis Costello, I needed something real and relatable. Enter Lauryn Hill.

In that time in my life when I was just getting used to "womanhood", I knew little (and still don't know a whole lot), but I knew didn't want to be a quiet, subordinate version of woman. Ms. Hill is a powerful, talented woman that speaks her truth, and still feminine. By feminine, I mean that she never gives up any part of her womanhood to say what she has to say. She was and is a role model for the 21st century feminist.

I waited the two and a half hours in First Ave that February 2010. A room full of people yelled and pushed and grew more and more impatient as the time neared midnight.

Finally at 11:55 PM, she appeared in a fur vest, armfuls of thick bangles and enormous bell-bottoms waisted with a Chanel belt.

The performance covered much of Miseducation and the hits from the Fugees days. She began and ended the show with Bob Marley covers, and awesomely, Rohan Marley --father to five of Ms. Hill's children --showed up.

During several tracks I forgot to breathe. It was therapeutic, like a fast, or staying in a sauna for several hours, might be.

Ms. Hill urged her band through songs, waving her arm for them to keep pace. She kept saying, "Come on. Come on.", looking back at the two drummers, two bass players, three guitarists and several back-up singers.

The energy was incredible, and I couldn't believe I'd seen something so powerful. Although time has taken its toll on Ms. Hill's voice, she still sang like a beautiful bird, directed her band like a young Sly Stone or James Brown; she made every song worth the wait.

It looked a little something like this:

My expectations were nonexistent, honestly. I didn't need new songs, or punctuality. I would've liked to hear something from the Unplugged session, but beggars can't be choosers. Honestly, that's what we are at a certain point: just folks begging an artist to present themselves again so that we may see them, too.

I don't care why Ms. Hill doesn't pay her taxes. I don't even care if she continues touring. She created a masterpiece of human emotion, and all any artist can hope for is just one.

Ms. Lauryn Hill, you are more than a woman to me. You are the reason I keep my head up. You are the reason I believe in who I am, regardless of what anyone else thinks. You are the reason I am proud to be a female musician singer/songwriter. Your music makes me proud to be a woman.

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