Artist Profile: Lauryn Hill

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Jelani Dupon, Writer

Lauryn Noelle Hill is an American singer and songwriter, who was born and raised in East Orange, New Jersey. Hill is often referred to as one of the greatest rappers, and the best female rapper of all time…by far. She started her career in the hip-hop group Fugees in the mid-1990s, in which they released three studio albums. Her discography is very limited, she left the music scene very early on in her career, how could someone with such little work have such high praise? How could someone who didn’t do many concerts, interviews, or even self-promotion have a fan base that has her back for life? What did Lauryn Hill do that really made her special?

Lauryn Hill got her big break as the main voice in the group Fugees, who were very popular in the 1990s. The group’s most popular album was released in 1996, titled The Score. This album had two major hits that propelled the group to superstar status. “Killing Me Softly With His Song” is a cover of Roberta Flack’s hit song, which shares the same name, and was recorded 23 years earlier in 1973. Since it’s on a hip-hop album, the sampled beat has a hard bass and clap track that plays in the background, but besides that, this song is a complete cover and copy of the original song. The other major song on this album, “Ready or Not” is about Lauryn and her crew letting every one of her enemies know that she’ll be coming for them, whether they’re ready or not. Hill appealed to the hip-hop community because she was different from other female rappers at the time, ones like Lil’ Kim. Lil’ Kim was the 90s version of Megan Thee Stallion, she used vulgar and inappropriate rhymes and verses about her body and sexual image, which is obviously appealing to audiences, however, it gets old to the listener over time. Lauryn Hill was able to come in and talk about things that only the men talked about, and that took many people off guard and gave her many supporters. After her run with the Fugees and their last album together, Hill took her momentum into her solo career.

Lauryn Hill technically released four studio albums in her solo, but they are all live performances of her first studio album, 1998s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which is why she is considered to only have one album. This album is considered a masterpiece, and the magnum opus of her solo career, with the hard-hitting, award-winning track “Doo Wop (That Thing)”. Although the name may not be recognizable, a lot of people have heard the song. This song has a catchy chorus and nice beat, but below all of that is a real story. Lauryn tells anyone that’s listening to be careful about who you date and to make sure you know someone’s intentions because some will only date for “That thing” as she calls it. The album is filled with easy-flowing songs, catchy songs, and even the cover of 1967 hit by Frankie Valli “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” The diversity on her album made it a favorite among many and is considered, almost undisputedly, the best female rap-album of all time. 

Many after the album expected an even better sophomore album to be released…but there wasn’t one. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the first and last album from her solo career, and although at the time it seemed foolish to all of her fans, over time that opinion morphed into even more praise. In the same way, Muhammad Ali wasn’t able to fight in his prime, their careers will always be a what-if. Who knows if Ali would have lost in his prime, or if he would have stacked wins into his untouchable legacy…and the same goes for Lauryn Hill. Nobody knows if her next album would have been greater than her first, or if it would have been terrible and flop horribly, that’s speculation. The absence of people like Ali, Lauryn, Tupac, and Biggie in their primes has built up their legacies, even more, there will always be a question stitched into their names that asks, how good could they have really been? The late Kurt Cobain was quoted as saying “It’s better to burn out than fade away.” And in the case of any of the legends listed, the quote, especially regarding Lauryn Hill, embodies them.