Kobina: What do you mean it's been ten years since Miseducation?.. I am old.
negrita: *sigh* me too...
The First Time
Kobina: I'd just finished my fifth year at Mfantsipim and joined my father to holiday in Malawi, where he was working. My younger brother flew in from London bearing a couple of albums that he'd bought from a record store. Hip-hop was so rich back then that, randomly picking up albums that bore 'Parental Advisory' stickers, he walked away with gems that included Midnight Marauders, A Bizarre Ride to the Pharcyde, 93 til Infinity, Enter the 36 Chambers, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z... & The Fugee's Blunted on Reality.
While Award Tour was the soundtrack to that holiday, I remember looking with lust in my heart at Lauryn's sullen lips on Blunted's cover before being blown completely away by her talent: that voice (both rapping and singing). The complexity of her lyrics. Her poetry. Then I turned on the telly one day that same holiday and Sister Act 2 came on.
Hook. Line. Sinker... Game. Set. Match... I was in all kinds of love.
negrita: it was the summer of '94, i was in Grade 11 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. having grown up as the only black kids in each of our classes for years, my sisters and i jumped on every opportunity to watch ANY black movie that EVER came out (well...the ones my mother would let us watch, anyway). so you can imagine our excitement when we came across Sister Act 2. the scene in which Lauryn Hill sang "His Eye is on the Sparrow" with Tanya Blount literally moved me to tears. i could not believe the sheer power of her voice and the emotion it evoked. i knew immediately she was a force to be reckoned with. that role catapulted her to new levels of fame, and one day that same summer, she was subsequently featured in a brief story on an entertainment news magazine. they were introducing her not only as an actress and singer, but also as an emcee who made up one third of a group called the Tranzlator Crew (Refugees). they played a 30 second clip of her performing live and i was completely blown away. the lyricism, the skills, the flow. she made me sit up and listen. i had never seen such incredible, diverse talent in someone so young. and the fact that she was a proud, nappy headed, dark skinned black woman--someone on my screen with whom my little teenage self could finally identify. i was in awe. Blunted on Reality was but a minute blip on the radar of the popular music scene in Canada at the time, but the impact of my brief introduction to the Fugees, and to Ms. Hill in particular, was immeasurable.
Kobina: I was in British sixth form the year The Score came out. I bought it after hearing Fugee-La on Westwood. Hip-hop rarely went to number one back then and so I ran and commanded everybody in the boarding house downstairs to the TV room as soon as I heard Lauryn sing "Strumming my pain with his fingers..." and realized that no, this was not a joke: the Fugees were Top of the Pops... and they were singing live!
negrita: first year of university. this is the year i started to fall in love with hip-hop. my first love had always been soul music and it was only later in my young life that i truly started to listen to hip hop. at the risk of lapsing into hyperbole, i would have to say that this was a legendary year for hip hop: Nas' It Was Written; Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt; The Roots' Illadelph Halflife; De la Soul's Stakes is High; Tupac's All Eyez on Me; Outkast's ATLiens; and of course the Fugees' The Score. i cannot forget the first time i saw and heard Fugee-La. i came home to my sisters raving about this song that i just had!to!hear (not to mention the fly video that accompanied it). two years after Blunted..., hip hop videos were finally being showcased a little more in Canada and we finally had an 'urban music' (heh) section in the bigger record stores. . the way the group worked together, both on the album and live, was inspired. and from the minute i heard Lauryn's verse on 'How Many Mics?', ["My mind makes incisions in your anatomy/And I'll back this with Deuteronomy/Or Leviticus, God made this word/You can't get with this/Sweet like licorice, Dangerous like syphillis, yeah."] i was awed, once again.
Kobina: It wasn't just the album (which I was actually a little disappointed by at the time because I felt it showcased her singing at the expense of the rhymes of the greatest female rapper of all time). Lauryn - an intelligent, classy, dark-skinned girl - was on the covers of magazines that she just wasn't supposed to be on the covers of. We forget it now but the world was really at Lauryn's feet back then.
negrita:yes it was. and if this isn't proof of the sensation she became at that time, i know not what is:
this album, and all the [well-deserved] hype it generated, as well as its highly critical success was, indeed, Ms. Hill's "thesis--well written words broken down into pieces." it reads like an anthology of poems and short stories, and is an exploration of love--in its many manifestations. it chronicles a journey of self-discovery and of emancipation that is rife with pain, grief, joy, celebration, love, birth and rebirth. it is life's lessons learned, without being preachy. it is "this mixture, where hip hop meets scripture/develop a negative into a positive picture." and unlike some other female emcees who came out around the same time, she did not use overt sexuality and general nekkidness (*cough*lil kim*cough*foxy brown*cough*) to reach the masses. i, for one, think she still came hard with the emceeing, despite the fact that there was more singing on this album. she had always had the instrument, but this effort felt like she had mastered it. like she had found her own voice, emerging out of the fugee-la and exploding onto the scene as an artist in her own right. and the impact of this emergence was massive.
and it wasn't just about the music. she was not only an artist, but she became a style icon. to this day, it remains evident how much i personally was influenced by lauryn's style during this time period. for so many of us who did fit the standard mould, the fact that a dark-skinned rapper with locs had now [albeit grudgingly] become an international trendsetting cover girl was revolutionary.
This joint post came about because my musical twin, negrita & I were chatting recently about Lauryn's musical absence and artists she influenced who each possess various aspects of what Ms. Hill represented back when she was at the apex of the fame she would later come to detest.
We don't think any of these artists is trying to be Lauryn, just as Lauryn wasn't trying to be, say, Aretha or Mary J. - there can only be one. Nevertheless, here are some of the artists who came up in our conversation:
Kobina: Although Ms. Dynamite-ee-ee was the first rapper after Ms. Hill who I saw metamorphose into a socially-aware singer, Estelle really got her Lauryn on this year. The comparisons were especially inevitable given Wyclef's production on 'So Much Out the Way' and 'No Substitute Love'. Thankfully, Estelle found the comparisons flattering but went on to make her own name.
negrita: yeah...i fully gave Wyclef and Jerry Wonder the *side-eye* when i heard those two tracks. she does a remarkable job on them but you cannot help but immediately conjure up Ms. Hill upon first listen. Estelle's 'Shine' certainly does have a whif of Miseducationism to it...especially due to the fine balance between rapping and singing. she is a refreshing change from a lot of what's floating out there right now and it's lovely to see her finally break into the American market after paying her dues for so long. i think the aspect of Ms. Hill that Estelle has cornered is being able to balance the emceeing with the singing, while remaining truly original both in terms of style and content.
Genius/Madness: Amy Winehouse
negrita: lawdamercy. well, in this case, Amy Winehouse represents the parts of Lauryn Hill of which we are in awe and which we cannot even attempt to understand, respectively. they both burst onto the scene with voices unlike no other. there is only one of them. their innate skill is indisputable, their possibilities endless. they're both like vessels through which their voices come...pure, soul-full genius. also, 'Back to Black' should've been Ms. H Hill's sophomore album. pre-Unplugged. their drastic physical transformations from the artists with whom we fell in love could be due to any number of things. i believe that, quite simply, when you are this kind of talent, everyone wants a piece of you. i think a natural reaction to that, to everyone wanting to take and take from you, is to make yourself repellent. it's a case of escaping from perception, of self preservation. recent images of Ms. Hill performing, though, illustrate that she seems be back on track. we can only pray that Amy Winehouse puts down the damn crackpipe and stops trying to destroy herself.
Kobina: Apparently ?uestlove of the Roots said of Amy's Back to Black that it was the album that he had been trying to persuade Lauryn to make. I cannot help but think how dope it would have been if L-Boogie had taken his advice. I've been a fan of Amy's since her first album, Frank. The girl has crazy skills and I try to focus on only those, but with all the drama (and she/the media making her some new Abu-Hamza-meets-Wacko-Jacko-esque-pantomime-baddie-hybrid) it's been hard... really hard.
Talent/Complexity: Janelle Monàe
negrita: Janelle Monàe represents the new Ms. Hill, with whom we are just getting familiar. she pointedly refuses to fit into any mold and to be categorized. she joins this growing wave of genre-free Black artists who are so obviously influenced by an eclectic mix of artists and who now have a bit more freedom to make music they love, without necessarily catering to a target demographic.
Kobina: Couldn't have put it better myself, Negrita...
The Voice: Jazmine Sullivan
Kobina: I've been waiting for Jazmine's album since Missy & Giles P started hyping her a few years back and I'm so glad it's coming out and she's already proving commercially viable. That first line she sings on Need U Bad is so reminiscent of Lauryn that the phonelines lit up the first time I played it on my radio show like 'is this the Second Coming?' That said, Jazmine sounds about as much like Lauryn as Bilal does D'Angelo i.e. not so much... both great voices and both distinct.
negrita: i just feel terrible for poor Jazmine who cannot release a first single without being pronounced 'the next Lauryn'. that's a hell of a lot of pressure. that being said, one cannot help but notice the rich texture and power of a voice so similar to that of a young Lauryn Hill. like Ms. Hill, she is an old soul with a beautiful world-weary voice that betrays wisdom and/or experience far beyond her years.
The Rhymes: Jean Grae
negrita: there is absolutely no reason in the world as to why Jean Grae is not bigger right now. in a world so devoid of proper female emcees who do not just spit about sex, money, money, and sex (*side-eye at Trina*) or who are not too busy acting/endorsing to come back to the music world (*shakes tambourine at Eve*), Jean Grae is a breath of fresh air. her lyrics are tight, her freestyles are crazy, and it's just effortless.
Kobina: I cannot think of a better female MC than Jean Grae since Lauryn. Hell, I reckon she could even give L-Boogie a run for her money. She's that tight... humourous with it too. I hope the rumours of her early retirement prove to be just that: rumours. Jeanius was genius.
Cover Girl: Beyonce Knowles
Kobina: Not sure if there's been another beauty as dark-skinned as Lauryn to have so many seminal magazine covers under her belt. Nevertheless, B' is the only black female artist to come even close.
negrita: with her million and one (*not exact figure) fashion magazine covers and spreads, her jazillion (*again, not exact) endorsement deals, and her generally ridiculously constant presence on entertainment blogs/television/magazines, Beyoncé is the consumate 'It Girl'/stye icon (although, ok, i beg to differ there for a myriad of reasons including, but not limited to, the ENTIRE 'House of Déreon' line debacle). she represents the Lauryn that set trends just by waking up in the morning.
... and so, Ms. Hill, these are the makings of you. this composite only proves that it takes a breadth of artists - incredibly talented in their own right - to come close to the inspired brilliance that is Lauryn Hill.
Kobina: Those of you who miss her music as much as we do might want to check out a mixtape a friend of mine put up or the excellent Re-education of Lauryn Hill.
negrita: Re-education... gives me hope that Ms. Hill will return with a serious vengeance. apart from touring, which she's been doing for the past couple of years, she keeps re-emerging, albeit quietly. and as serendipity would have it, while writing this entry, a new Lauryn Hill track was leaked. you can hear her latest offering here.