By Darlene Nawuridam
Lauryn Noelle Hill is a singer, songwriter, actress, and activist. She was born on May 26, 1975, in Newark, New Jersey. She was born to an English teacher, Valerie Hill, and a computer and management consultant, Mal Hill. She also has an older brother Malaney Hill. Hill was born in a Baptist family who moved to New York before settling in South Orange, New Jersey.
Lauryn was born in a musically acclaimed family. Her mother, she said, played the piano, and her father sang in local nightclubs and weddings. Growing up, Lauryn Hill listened to Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. She also mentioned that as a kid, she remembered playing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” before she fell asleep.
Lauryn Hill, in middle school, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a basketball game, and the recording of her singing was played many times at different games after. She then appeared as an Amateur Night contestant on “Its Showtime at the Apollo,” where she sang her version of “Who’s Lovin’ You” by Smokey Robinson, in which she got a harsh reaction from the audience.
For high school, Lauryn Hill attended Columbia High School. She took violin lessons, went to dancing class, and founded the school’s gospel choir.
1991 - 1993
As a freshman in high school, Prakazrel Michel approached Lauryn Hill about creating a music group through mutual friends. They started the group under the name Translator Crew. The name was chosen because they wanted to rhyme in different languages. A while later, Wyclef Jean joins the group. The group began performing in high school talent shows and local showcases. Lauryn hill started her music career initially as a singer but later learned to rap. She preferred to listen to male rappers and modeled herself after Ice Cube, developing her flow.
While also making music, Hill began taking acting classes in Manhattan. She started her acting career in 1991, appearing in Club XII, MC Lyte’s Off-Broadway hip-hop rendering of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Even though the play was not a success, an agent noticed her. She landed a recurring role as a troubled teenager in the soap opera “As the World Turns.” Subsequently, she co-starred alongside Whoopie Goldberg in “Sister Act 2.” In it, there was a scene in which Hill was rapping on a basketball court, the director, Bill Duke, credited Lauryn Hill saying the rap was improvised. She also appears with a minor role in Steven Soderbergh’s 1993 motion picture “King of the Hill.” She graduated from High School in 1993.
Improvised rap scene Lauryn Hill performs on Sister Act 2.
1994 - 1996
The “Translator Crew” is renamed the “Fugees,” a word derived from the word “refugee,” a derogatory term for Haitian Americans. Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean begin also begin a romantic relationship around this time. In 1993, the Fugees signed a contract with Columbia Records. Their genre was a mixture of reggae, rock, and soul, which was exemplified through their debut album, “Blunted on Reality,” which was released in 1994. The album was not a success, but Hill’s rapping in “Some Seek Stardom” was the album’s highlight. Because of her full raspy alto voice, she was placed at the forefront of the band.
At 21, even though she was now famous, Lauryn Hill was still living with her parents. She had been enrolled at Columbia University but left after a year when The Score an album by the Fugees, sales were getting into the millions.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
I Used to Love Him – Lauryn Hill
From late 1997 through June 1998, in Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica, Lauryn Hill recorded her solo record “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” The title was inspired by the book “The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodson and The Education of Sonny Carson, a film and autobiographical novel. The album featured Mary J. Blige, Carlos Santana, D’Angelo, and the then-unknown John Legend.
The album voiced her frustrations with the Fugees. “I Used to Love Him” was the breakdown of Lauryn Hill’s relationship with bandmate Wyclef Jean. Songs such as “To Zion” spoke about her decision to have a child, even though she was advised to abort the baby so as not to stunt her career growth.
The album, released on August 25, 1998, was the main topic most critics talked about in their pieces. It was the most acclaimed album in 1998. The album was a mix of hip-hop, doo-wop, R&B, and reggae. NPR in 2017 rated the album as the second-best album of all time created by a woman.
The album sold over 423,000 copies in the first week and topped the Billboard 200 and the Billboard R&B Albums chart. Subsequently, the album sold over 10 million copies in the United States and 20 million copies worldwide.
To Zion – Lauryn Hill
So Much Things to Say – a song from Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged 2.0 album.
In 2000, Lauryn Hill dropped out of the public eye. She disliked not leaving her house without being recognized; the pressures of fame were getting too much for her to handle. So, she fired her management team and started to attend Bible study classes. She also stopped doing interviews and making music and started associating herself with a spiritual advisor named Brother Anthony.
She spoke about her emotional crisis, saying that “For two or three years, I was away from social interaction. It was a very introspective time because I had to confront my fear of being black, young, and gifted in this western culture.” She continued that she had to fight to keep her identity and was forced to “deal with the folks who weren’t happy about that.”
In July 2001, she performed her new material for an MTV Unplugged special in front of a small crowd. The concert titled MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 was then released in May 2002 and featured just Hill singing and playing the acoustic guitar. Unlike her first project, unplugged 2.0 was not received with open arms. Critics said the recording was “the unfinished, unflinching presentation of ideas and a person.” They did not see it as a great follow-up to her first album.
In December 2003, Hill, during a performance in Vatican City, spoke of the “corruption, exploitation, and abuses” about the molestations of altar boys by Catholic priests in the United States. High religious officials attended that event, and The Cat6holic League called Lauryn Hill “pathologically miserable.” Several reporters following the event suggested that her comments may have been influenced by her spiritual advisor Brother Anthony.
For the first time since 1997, in September 2004, the Fugees performed at Dave Chapelle’s Block Party. The Fugees also appeared at the BET Awards in 2005 and embarked on a European tour later that year. However, there was still some tension in the group from the past, and the reunion ended before an album could be recorded. Hill’s bandmates blamed Lauryn Hill for the split. They recalled her being tardy and insisting that they all called her “Ms. Hill.”
Hill began touring on her own and would often arrive late to concerts, in exaggerated clothing and performing unfamiliar versions of her songs. There were occasions were fans booed her and left early.
In 2007, Sony Records said Hill had been recording for a while, and they had accumulated enough unreleased music to make a new album. Later that year, an album titled “Ms. Hill,” which featured cuts from “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and other unreleased songs was released. Also, in June 2007, Hill released a new song, “Lose Myself,” on the soundtrack of the film “Surf’s Up.”
In April 2009, Hill was announced to go on a 10-day tour of European summer festivals. She performed two shows for the tour, passed out on stage during her second performance, and left the stage. She refused to provide a refund, and in June, Hill’s management team informed the promoters of the festivals that she would not be able to perform due to “health reasons.”
Lose Myself – Lauryn Hill
“Guarding the Gates”, from the Queen & Slim Soundtrack by Lauryn Hill.
2010 - Present
Lauryn Hill returned to performing live in January of 2010. An unreleased song called “Repercussions” was leaked on the internet in late July 2010, debuting at 94 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, making it her first Billboard chart appearance since 1999.
In August 2010, Hill performed “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in its entirety for the first time at the Rock the Bells hip hop festival.
She continued touring and, in Spring 2011, performed at the Coachella Music Festival, New Orleans Jazz Fest, and the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
In February 2012, Lauryn Hill performed her new song, “Fearless Vampire Killer,” during a sold-out show in D.C. Later that same year, Hill toured with rapper Nas. She also released another song that year, “Black Rage,” and described it as “about the derivative effects of racial inequity and abuse.”
Lauryn Hill was charged with three counts of tax fraud in June of 2021. She pleaded guilty to all the charges on June 29, 2012. However, on May 6, 2013, Hill was sentenced to serve three months in prison for failing to file taxes and three months of house arrest afterward. She was released on October 4, 2013, and began her home confinement.
In May 2013, Hill released her first official single in a while, “Neurotic Society.” The song received criticism stating that the lyrics appeared to tie societal decay to some LGBT movements. However, Lauryn Hill noted that the song was not targeted at a specific group.
Lauryn Hill, in 2015 contributed to the soundtrack of “What Happened, Miss Simone?” a documentary about the life of Nina Simone. She hosted and headlined the Diaspora Calling Festival at the King’s Theatre in Brooklyn.
In 2019, Hill recorded a studio version of her song “Guarding the Gates” for the movie “Queen & Slim.”
In November of 2021, the Fugees have scheduled a reunion tour.
Awards and Achievements.
In the 1999 Grammy Awards, Lauryn Hill was the first woman to be nominated in 10 categories in a single year. In addition to her debut album, she was nominated for her version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” for the film “Conspiracy Theory” and her writing and production of “A Rose is Still a Rose.” During the ceremony, Lauryn Hill broke another record for being the first woman to win five times in one night. She won the Album of the Year, Best R&B Album, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best New Artist.
In 1999 Lauryn Hill received four awards at the 30th Annual NAACP Image Awards (including the presidential award). She also received the Essence Award in June of the same year. She shared a Grammy Award for Album of the Year awarded for Santana’s Supernatural, where she had written, produced, and rapped on the track “Do You Like the Way.” Additionally, she has earned four Guinness World Records.
Her song “Mystery of Iniquity” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Rap Solo Performance.
Lauryn Hill’s Grammy Acceptance Speech.
She founded the Refugee Project in 1996, a non-profit outreach organization that sought to transform the attitudes and behavior of at-risk urban youth. Part of the organization was Camp Hill, which gave the urban youth the opportunity to stay in the Catskill Mountains. However, she shut down the organization in 2002 because she felt she was not as passionate about it as she first started it. She said, “Everything we do should be a result of our gratitude for what God has done for us. It should be passionate.”
Additionally, Lauryn Hill raised money for Haitian refugees, supported well-building projects in Kenya and Uganda, and promoted voter registration. She staged a rap concert in Harlem, NY.
Kanye West sampled Lauryn Hill’s song “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” in his song “Believe What I Say.”
Hill's Impact on Music
Lauryn Hill is considered one of the greatest female rappers of all time. Other artists have often mentioned her as one of the most influential artists—Beyoncé, Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, Doja Cat, Lil’ Kim, Nas, and Nicki Minaj, to name a few.
Ariana Grande’s producer mentioned Hill and “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” album as an inspiration and influence during the creation of “Sweetener,” Grande’s fourth studio album. Beyoncé also credited Hill as an inspiration during the making of her fourth album, “4.”
Additional albums inspired by Lauryn Hill include “The College Dropout” by Kanye West. Some artists have titled their projects after Hill’s album, including Lil’ Kim in the “Mis-education of Lil’ Kim.” Hill was also featured on John Legend’s album “Get Lifted.”
Lauryn Hill’s influence, whether in style or sampling, is present in our world today. Hill’s single “Ex-Factor,” for example, was sampled on Drake’s “Nice for What” and Cardi B’s “Be Careful.” Kanye West has sampled Lauryn Hill multiple times. Samples of her live album MTV Unplugged was featured in West’s single “All Falls Down,” and he later on sampled Hill’s single “Doo-Wop (That Thing) on “Believe What I Say” from his album Donda. Lauryn Hill has influenced great artists shows how talented and original she is in the music industry.
So High by John Legend ft Lauryn Hill & Cloud 9
Chace, Zoe. “The Many Voices of Lauryn Hill.” NPR, NPR, 28 June 2010, https://www.npr.org/2010/06/28/128149135/the-many-voices-of-lauryn-hill.
Checkoway, Laura. “Inside ‘the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 28 Oct. 2020, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/inside-the-miseducation-of-lauryn-hill-252219/?print=true.
Ewey, Melissa. “Lauryn Hill.” Ebony, vol. 54, no. 1, 1998
“Lauryn Hill.” Academy of Achievement, 3 Feb. 2021, https://achievement.org/achiever/lauryn-hill/#biography.
Muro, Matt. “On the Cover, and Not Just for Looks.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Sept. 1999, https://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/12/nyregion/jersey-footlights-on-the-cover-and-not-just-for-looks.html.
Touré “The Mystery of Lauryn Hill.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 4 Apr. 2021, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/the-mystery-of-lauryn-hill-249020/.