Why We’re Not Ready To Completely Give Up On Lauryn Hill

We throw away our stars far too often. Let's not dismiss the massive talent of Ms. Hill.

-By Michael Arceneaux

For some time now, I made a conscious effort to view Lauryn Hill through a Throwback Thursday and Flashback Friday sort of lens. I prefer to think of the L-Boogie of yore as opposed to the Ms. Lauryn Hill of today, best known for her ultra-tardy concert starts and unsolicited remixes of past musical glories. There’s also Ms. Lauryn Hill the tax evader, and the Ms. Lauryn Hill who drops songs like “Neurotic Society,” a track that makes references to “girl men,” “drag queens” and ”social transvestism.”

The Lauryn Hill I grew up admiring and the Ms. Lauryn Hill that frustrates me now are probably one in the same, but many folks are still wrestling with whether or not to hold out hope for a comeback. To her credit, Hill remains a highly sought-after touring act despite her antics — sharing billing with contemporary hitmakers like Miguel. Moreover, though there is a noticeable change in her singing voice (she had struggled to hit notes in various spots in recent years), one look at her cover of Sade’s “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” proves that she’s still got it. The same goes for the acoustic cover of “Doo Wop (That Thing)” that Hill posted on Facebook for Nigerian fans after she was forced to cancel a performance due to travel issues.

Even so, when I was asked if I thought folks should root for a comeback for Ms. Hill, who turned 40 this week, my immediate response was to let go and let God direct you to Spotify for the oldies. Upon more reflection and awareness about my own excitement for Janet Jackson’s new album and tour, I’ve had a change of heart. So often I hear Wendy Williams say that when it comes to acts like Janet and Mariah, they should just stick to the hits and stop trying to record new material. It’s the same principle with Ms. Hill— the idea that you’ve already made your mark, so just stick to that.

However, I don’t like the idea of telling anyone at 40 to just stop where they are and put their creativity in park. We throw away our stars far too often, especially if they’re a woman.

I may not be in any rush to pay more than $100 and wait 1,000 hours for Ms. Hill to show up on stage to sing a Funkadelic-sounding cover of “Lost Ones,” but I am open to a new album. That is, if it’s more along the lines of songs like John Legend’s “So High (Cloud 9 remix),” her cover of The Carpenters’ “Close To You” with Ron Isley, or her own “Lose Myself” from the Surf’s Up Movie Soundtrack. Hell, she could even take the Unplugged album vocals and add some tracks to it a la Kanye West and Method Man.

Yes, Ms. Hill has already made her impact with her run in The Fugees and her own solo work. But at the age of 40, she could easy have so many more creative peaks. That is, if she truly wants to. It remains to be seen if she does, but it took D’Angelo more than a decade to release his third album. In that case, I was a fan who had given up on waiting. He proved me wrong. I won’t hold my breath, but Ms. Hill may show the rest of us.

Whatever the case — happy 40th, Ms. Hill. I don’t get what happened to you, but am forever grateful for what you provided before whatever changed you.