Fans may know, others may be surprised: it’s been 20 years already since Mrs. Lauryn Hill released her seminal debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Her work with the Fugees had already made her a star by then, but this record made her stand out as a truly historical voice in the history of music — black music, soul music, RnB music… and all of the above. And then… she stopped.
In those 20 years, Mrs. Hill toured a bit, especially in the beginning, then there were rumors of new albums, studio time, potential EPs… She did release some material, including a live performance in 2002 (the lukewarm MTV unplugged No. 2.0), featured in a couple of singles by other artists, but her latest such collaboration happened over a decade ago. Mostly, Mrs. Hill remained out of the spotlight for all this time, raising a remarkably extended family (6 children, enough to start a basketball team — with a substitute) and appearing to slowly retire from music.
Then came the news that the artist was having financial trouble: for some reason, having no new source of income for years eventually catches up with you, especially if you keep living as if your LP was still charting. This led to a new string of live shows, ostensibly to help Hill pay her back taxes. No new material, but live performances are still a gift, coming from arguably one of the best rappers and RnB singers of all time — and probably the best at doing both.
These tours, however, didn’t exactly go over smoothly: Mrs. Hill would show up late, cancel shows, often leaving her faithful fans fairly disappointed. Then came the 20th anniversary tour this year, celebrating the release of her debut — and sole — album. And more of the same: in the past two days alone, she managed to show up on stage 2+ hours late in Belgium and France, leading to significant online backlash. It happened to Madonna before — both being late and getting kicked for it — but neither as consistently nor as badly.
None of this puts into question her remarkable — past — achievements. Rather, it shows a disappointing development in the career of an intrinsically outstanding artist. Let us hope Mrs. Hill eventually finds a way to curve her artistic trajectory towards more fruitful ventures. We’re all waiting for that!