Last week, I attended the Hollywood Bowl performance of Ms. Lauryn Hill’s tour, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the release of her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I can’t remember if it was when she launched into the rap verse of “Final Hour” (I treat this , like my thesis....), or if it was when the first chords of “Everything Is Everything” hit, but at some point, I found myself wiping my face. I had involuntarily begun to cry.
The first album I ever purchased was The Fugees’ The Score. I was 10 years old and it was a Wednesday. Well, actually — I didn’t purchase it: I begged my father to drive me to Radio Shack after school to buy it for me. I remember it was a Wednesday because he asked me, “Baby, can’t you wait until the weekend?”
But knowing my father’s extracurricular habits, I knew he wouldn’t have been available then, as he wasn’t available for most weekends. Of course, I didn’t say that. I only said, “No. It has to be today.”
I had just heard “Ready or Not".
Maybe it was the conviction I spoke with as a 10 year old, or that I had never really asked for anything — but whatever the case, he turned to me and sighed, “Well, ...put your shoes on.”
That said, in 1998 when “the girl went solo,” dropping what has arguably become one of the most influential albums of this generation, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, I was built in fan. I didn’t know what to expect, since the “two boys” weren’t there. Who would take the other versus? Where would the ad libs come from? Who would scream out “ONE TIME ” ? My young self had no way to anticipate what I got: an unshakeable manifesto that included odes to difficult childhoods, female empowerment, integrity, young motherhood and being accountable while in love
By that point, my home life had deteriorated into a domestic war zone. The only down time was marked as the quiet prior to the inevitable upcoming storm. I listened to that album while getting ready for school, in my walkman while riding the bus, and when I got home. I listened to it after I had to call the cops to my house, and then while I was being hurriedly dropped off at my grandmother's home without an explanation needed or given. I listened to it because it made me feel better; it made me feel seen. More importantly, it honestly made me believe that one day my circumstances would change.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was eventually nominated for 10 Grammys, and was the first hip-hop album to ever win the award for Album of the Year. But Hill’s creative achievement didn’t come without controversy. That same year, a group of musicians claimed to be songwriters and producers behind 13 of the tracks, suing Hill and her label. This ultimately resulted in a settlement outside of court, and some years later, these musicians clarified that it was more of a collaborative effort and ultimately her vision.
But this story is nothing new.
So when I heard Robert Glasper’s interview on the radio rehashing old tea, I was confused, but not surprised. The convo took a hard left when he started recounting a personal,10-year-old encounter, in which he claimed she was difficult to work with (also not a new judgment against Hill), and that she was only a real person when she sang “Joyful Joyful ” which she originally sang in the now-iconic finale of the movie Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Glasper also made some shady allegations regarding Hill’s abilities as a musician, including questioning whether or not Hill could even tune her own guitar.
"You haven't done enough to be the way you are — you just have not. The one thing you did that was great, you didn't do," Glasper said, addressing Hill directly during the interview.
It was shocking. I didn’t know there was a quantifiable amount of work one could do that would allow you to be a reputed b***h without backlash. And how much is enough?
Indeed, Glasper seems to have an interesting notion of who has “done enough.” For instance, in a 2016 interview with Essence, Glasper gushed, “And then R. Kelly, you don't even talk about him and how big or what kind of influence R. Kelly had.”
Glasper believes that Robert Kelly, a man whose alleged sexual abuse has been well documented, is worthy of public acknowledgement for his musical contributions and influence. But based on Glasper’s recent interview, he thinks that Hill, a woman who has won 2 Grammys, and gone platinum 7 times outside of the disputed “Miseducation”, has overstated musical contributions and non-existent influence because she wasn’t *nice to him on a job 10 years ago and is attached to a difficult persona?
Ironically, Glasper’s crossover into mainstream success largely stems from his attachment to other collaborative hip-hop and R&B projects. While a prolific jazz musician in his own right, Glasper’s pass into hip-hop equates to black male artist’s basically wanting a live version of a J Dilla instrumental. That is, with the exception of his work on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly , an album with themes that are in no uncertain terms a direct disciple and rendering of Hill’s later album, MTV Unplugged No. 2.0.
But while Lamar’s work was met with critical acclaim, even earning a Pulitzer Prize, Hill was critically dismantled, ridiculed and essentially run out of the music industry after the release of Unplugged, an album that was arguably before its time. If you consider yourself a hip-hop fan and think you haven’t been influenced by Hill’s Unplugged album, you’re wrong; Kanye West even sampled the hook of “Mystery of Iniquity” for his hit “All Falls Down." But, people like to forget that Unplugged exists.
Glasper's claims that Hill’s career amounts to a hill of beans while reveling in the benefit of a genre that her pen and vocals — if not production — made “worthy” of industry recognition, comes across as though he is playing a tone-deaf game of inception with himself. It’s amusing, but it leaves you exhausted.
Of note, he also seems to be obsessed with her on his Twitter. Retweeting articles about her and updates of her tour changes. Doesn't he have better stuff to do?
Fam. Famo. Famalam. pic.twitter.com/txxYd0wR5N— April (@ReignOfApril) September 13, 2018
This is amazing and accurate. https://t.co/xwuBZA2sIr— Robert Glasper (@robertglasper) August 29, 2018I, like many other black women who have shared in transformative experiences related to Ms. Lauryn Hill’s work, are more than just fans of her artistry; we are obliged it, regardless of the backdoor industry rumors.
Allegations of unethical business dealings involving working artists will always be a conversation worth having. But for Glasper to use his platform to discourage a young generation from understanding why L.Boogie gets “mad frustrated when she rhymes", why you shouldn't "be a hard rock", or be assured that "everything is everything"; is disingenuous. To publicly frame her career as unworthy of exploration for potential new listeners is not only messy; it’s irresponsible. And I can’t help but wonder what there is to gain from maligning her creative achievements — what’s that worth?
Ms. Lauryn Hill’s work saved me. It gave me life, as it did and will continue to do for many others, if given the opportunity.