Lauryn Hill was born and raised in New Jersey. She hit the big time, as a member of The Fugees and as a star of Sister Act 2, while still a teenager. Romantic tensions with Wyclef Jean caused the end of The Fugees, and at the age of 23, Hill released The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, which won five Grammies, received immense critical acclaim, and sold prolifically. She also wrote a hit for Aretha Franklin in 1997 – ‘A Rose is Still A Rose’ – and it appeared as if she could do no wrong.
But after such an assured start, Hill’s career faltered. She struggled to handle the pressures of fame, and she had already started a family with Bob Marley’s son Rohan. When she re-emerged as a recording artist, it was with an unplugged album of all-new material, with her own acoustic guitar the only accompaniment, and punctuated by long sermons about her life and beliefs.
Since then, Hill has yet to release a follow-up album; while she’s toured with The Fugees and as a solo artist, and released several singles, she’s also spent time in jail for tax evasion. She remains a talented, compelling figure.
Lauryn Hill Album Reviews
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Hill recorded her debut largely in Tuff Gong studio in Jamaica. While she’s credited as executive producer, she was later taken to court by the group New Ark, who successfully argued that their influence on the material was greater than the original album credits indicated. Regardless, it’s an assured debut from Hill, who switches effortlessly between singing and rapping, creating a landmark in neo-soul. Perhaps the greatest strength of The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill is its combination of autobiographical honesty and effortless commercial appeal.
Hill’s an interesting figure and her lyrics are often compelling – different subjects include her decision to keep her baby in the excellent ‘To Zion’, and relationships with her former Fugees band-mates in ‘Father Forgive Them’. ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ is the obvious single, with its smoothly harmonised hooks, while her remake of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ is punchy and memorable. D’Angelo duets on ‘Everything is Everything’, while Mary J. Blige appears on ‘I Used To Love Him’.
Like a lot of 1990s albums, Miseducation is a little long, but it has a core of terrific songs, and it effortlessly walks a difficult line between commercial appeal and personal authenticity.
MTV Unplugged No. 2.0
Instead of bringing in reworked versions of her hits with the Fugees and from her debut album, Lauryn Hill went on a more challenging journey with her Unplugged album. Unplugged is a 105-minute set with just Hill and her acoustic guitar, performing an all-new batch of songs. Many of the songs are long, repetitive and rambling, and significantly, a lot of the running time is given over to Hill’s monologues about her life and struggles with integrity and fame.
The acoustic format only partially plays to Hill’s strengths – she’s certainly not a technically gifted guitarist, mostly utilising simple strumming. But even in this stripped-down format, Hill is still compelling, and her lyrical themes of societal critique are fascinating. It’s difficult to pick individual songs out, as there’s little tonal variation, but her cover of Bob Marley’s ‘So Much Things To Say’ is a pleasant break from her bristly originals.
My rating’s perhaps a little lenient – it’s based on the version in my iTunes, where I only imported the songs and left off the spoken tracks. But despite its limitations, Unplugged is a fascinating statement from a talented artist with a frustratingly small discography.
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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