What Happened To Lauryn Hill? A Timeless Icon

To this day, Lauryn Hill remains one of the most mysterious figures in music. The Grammy-winning New Jersey icon went from the top of the sonic world to the shadows overnight, only releasing one solo studio album throughout her entire career. Of course, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill exists amongst the greatest fusions of hip-hop and soul to date. In addition, she was a key part of legendary hip-hop trio The Fugees throughout her early 20s. Even if Lauryn Hill’s career was frustratingly brief, her mainstay presence as a hot topic speaks volumes to her influence as an artist. If she announced a tour tomorrow, it would sell out immediately.

Lauryn Hill’s first exposure to the entertainment spotlight took place at the mere age of 13. Performing at the high-stakes Apollo Theatre, she was thrown into a world of pressure-filled expectations from a young age. At the time, the Apollo Theatre had been host to iconic acts. The Jackson 5, The Isely Brothers, Billie Holiday, and Prince had all performed at the iconic venue. Precocious and shy, she came to face-to-face with the harsh judgements of the music industry from a young age. The experience would later inform her ambiguity and lack of a fully-fledged career.

Lauryn Hill Experienced Intense Pressure As A Teen

Portrait of American Pop and Rhythm & Blues musician Lauryn Hill as she poses against a white background, New York, New York, 1998. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)

With her voice shaking with nerves on the Apollo Theatre stage, the beginning of her recital of “Who’s Lovin You” was met with testing boos from the audience. These detractors weren’t directly looking to demean her on-stage talent. Instead, they were testing Lauryn Hill to see if she would persist through the harsh pushback to her performance. Hill had already been exposed to more pressure and scrutiny than the majority of people face through their entire lives.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture where early success is persistently romanticized. Teenagers often garner an even greater spotlight than fully grown performers, with record labels looking to profit off of their youth. The result can often be damaging for vulnerable young creators, who aren’t yet mature enough to process the high-octane expectations surrounding the music industry. Lauryn Hill was undoubtably a victim of this stigma. Her voice was thrown into a toxic world of boos and cheers before she had even faced high school. After walking off of the stage of the Apollo Theatre, she cried after the traumatic experience.

Fame & Toxic Relationships Deeply Affected Her

By high school, she had teamed up with Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel to form The Fugees. Initially solely there as a vocalist, her talent as an MC was quickly noticed by the two. The Fugees separated themself from the prevailing gangster rap narrative of the late ’80s to early ’90s, with their sophomore album blowing up off of “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” The song became a career-defining moment for Hill, who stood out as the best singer and rapper throughout The Score. After the albums’ success, fans were clamoring for her to go solo. Even when she didn’t want to, she caved in with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, propelling her to a place of stardom that a Black woman had arguably never seen before in the music industry.

However, trouble was ahead for Lauryn Hill. The pressure became overwhelming and corrosive for her, who was struggling with the fame behind the scenes. How exactly did this struggle form? To this day, fans can only guess. Whether it was mental health issues, the toxic nature of her relationships, or simply a conscious decision to detach, Hill became to disappear from the spotlight by the early 2000s. In part, this may have had to do with her relationships with other men. While she was known to have had a relationship with Fugee member Wyclef Jean, she actually had five children with Damian Marley. The two never married, and the extent of their relationship remains murky to her day. Hill has been intensely private over the past few decades, leaving it a question mark as to whether these experiences affected her presence in music.

Soon after the release of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, she was the subject of plenty of criticism surrounding her relationship to men. Known for engaging in intimacy with already married men, many fans accused her of not living up to Christian ethos of much of her lyricism. In addition, her relationship to her newfound fame became toxic. Hill’s struggle to justify her music creation in the context of the capitalistic world we exist in. Consequently, this compromised her desire to create. By the early 2000s, she had begun traveling down a path of individuality and spirituality away from her fans. MTV Unplugged 2.0, a live acoustic set released in 2002, finally gave fans a spotlight into these issues.

She would become associated for her constant gaslighting of her fanbase. Hill faced tax evasion charges, bounced to and from wanting to reconnect with the Fugees members, and consistently showed up late to her performances. In many ways, her aloofness draws a connection to the modern-day behavior of Frank Ocean. To this day, fans question what exactly led to her disappearance from the world of music creation. Did that night at the Apollo Theatre permanently traumatize her and distance her from the world’s opinions? Did she simply lose the passion over time? Was it a conscious decision to disengage from the capitalistic nature of the music industry? In retrospect, Lauryn Hill’s disappearance was likely a combination of all of these struggles.

She Performed On June 3 At The Roots Picnic

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MADRID, SPAIN – JULY 11: Lauryn Hill performs on stage during day 1 of Madcool Festival on July 11, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Mariano Regidor/Redferns)

Recently, Lauryn Hill has been making slightly more frequent appearances under the public eye. Last weekend, she delivered a surprise reunion performance with Fugees at the Roots Picnic. The trio performed six iconic tracks from their discography. This was ntended to signify a celebration of the 25th anniversary of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. In light of Pras Michel’s recent conviction surrounding a multi-million-dollar financial conspiracy case, it could be the last we hear from the trio for the foreseeable future.

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