Lauryn Noel Hill (born May 25, 1975) is an African-American recording artist, musician, producer and actress. Early in her career, she established her reputation in the hip-hop world as the lone female member of Fugees. In 1998 she launched her solo career with the release of the commercially successful and critically acclaimed album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The recording earned Hill five Grammy Awards.
Following the success of her debut album, Hill largely dropped out of public view, in part due to her displeasure with fame and the music industry. After a four-year hiatus, she released MTV Unplugged No. 2.0, a live recording of "deeply personal songs." The live recording was performed with an acoustic guitar played by Hill. Hill also participated in a short-lived Fugees reunion during the mid-2000s. Hill is the mother of five children with Rohan Marley, the fourth son of reggae musician Bob Marley.
Lauryn Hill was born in South Orange, New Jersey, the second of two children born to high school English teacher Valerie Hill and computer programmer Mal Hill. As a child, Hill listened to her parents' Motown 1960s soul records. Music was a central part of the Hill home. Mal Hill sang at weddings, Valerie played the piano, and Lauryn's older brother Melaney played the saxophone, guitar, drums, harmonica, violin, and piano. In 1988, Hill appeared as an Amateur Night contestant on It's Showtime at the Apollo. She sang her own version of Smokey Robinson's song "Who's Lovin' You?".
Hill was childhood friends with actor Zach Braff and both graduated from Columbia High School in 1993, where Hill was an active student, cheerleader, and performer. Braff has spoken of Hill attending his Bar Mitzvah in 1988. Hill enrolled at Columbia University in 1993 and attended for about a year before dropping out to pursue her entertainment career.
Hill and Wyclef Jean dated through the majority of the Fugees time together, a relationship that friends have called "complicated". In the summer of 1996, she met Rohan Marley, son of the late reggae icon Bob Marley, and openly had a relationship with him. Jean knew about this relationship. Hill soon became pregnant by Marley, who himself was already married. She kept the information about the identity of the baby's father a secret to almost everyone; Jean assumed the baby was his when he first visited her in the hospital.
Though she refers to Marley as her husband, the two appear to have never been legally married. Marley never divorced his first wife, Geraldine Khawly, whom he married in 1993 while a sophomore at University of Miami, Florida. With Khawly he has two children, Eden and Nicolas. Marley's personal MySpace account lists his relationship status as "single", but says he and Hill are "spiritually together".
Hill and Rohan have had five children together: Zion David Hill-Marley, Selah Louise Marley, Joshua Marley, and John Marley. The couple's fifth child is a girl who was born in early 2008; and Marley told People magazine that although the baby is seven months old, she is still without a name. Since 1998, Hill has lived in both the Caribbean and an upscale hotel in Miami, but in August 2008, it was reported that Hill was living with her mother and children in her hometown of South Orange, New Jersey.
Hill began her acting career at a young age, appearing on the soap opera As The World Turns as Kira Johnson. In 1993, she co-starred in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit as Rita Louise Watson, in which she performed the songs "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" (a duet with Tanya Blount) and "Joyful, Joyful". It was in this role that she first came to national prominence, with Roger Ebert calling her "the girl with the big joyful voice". Her other acting work includes the play Club XII with MC Lyte, and the motion pictures King of the Hill, Hav Plenty, and Restaurant. After her rise to musical stardom, she reportedly turned down roles in Charlie's Angels, The Bourne Identity, The Mexican, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.
She appeared on the soundtrack to Conspiracy Theory in 1996 with "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", and on Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in 2002 with the track "Selah".
Main article: The Fugees
The Refugee Camp ("Fugees") formed after Prakazrel "Pras" Michel approached Hill in high school about joining a music group he was creating. Soon after, she met Michel's cousin and fellow Ha?tian immigrant, Wyclef Jean. At some point, Hill was nicknamed "L Boogie", as she began to convert her poetic writing into rap verses. Hill's singing gained worldwide acclaim with the Fugees' remake of "Killing Me Softly with His Song", accompanied by a sample from Rotary Connection's "Memory Band".
The Fugees' first album, Blunted on Reality, peaked at #49 on the U.S. Hot 100. The album sold over two million copies worldwide. Blunted on Reality was followed by The Score, a multi-platinum, Grammy-winning album that established two of the three Fugees as international rap stars. Singles from The Score include "Ready or Not", "Fu-Gee-La", "No Woman, No Cry", and "Killing Me Softly" (written by Lori Lieberman and made famous by Roberta Flack).
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
In 1996, Hill began production on an album that would eventually become The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The title was partially inspired by The Education of Sonny Carson, a film and autobiographical novel about a troubled African American youth. The album featured contributions from D'Angelo, Carlos Santana, Mary J. Blige and a then-unknown John Legend. Songs for the album were largely written in an attic studio in South Orange, New Jersey and recorded at Chung King Studios in Jamaica. Wyclef Jean initially didn't support Hill recording a solo album, but eventually offered his production help; Hill turned him down.
Lauryn Hill was once an artist on Ruffhouse Records.
Several songs on the album concerned her frustrations with The Fugees; "I Used to Love Him" dealt with the break-down of the relationship between Hill and Wyclef Jean. "To Zion" spoke about her decision to have her first baby, even though many at the time encouraged her to abort the pregnancy as to not interfere with her blossoming career.
The Miseducation contained several interludes of a teacher speaking to what is implied to be a classroom of children; in fact, the "teacher" was played by Ras Baraka (a poet, educator and politician) speaking to a group of kids in the living room of Hill's New Jersey home. The singer requested that Baraka speak to the children about the concept of love, and he improvised the lecture.
Though The Miseducation was largely a collaborative work between Hill and a group of musicians known as New Ark (Vada Nobles, Rasheem Pugh, Tejumold and Johari Newton), there was "label pressure to do the Prince thing," wherein all tracks would be credited as "written and produced by" the artist with little outside help. While recording the album, when Hill was asked about providing contracts or documentation to the musicians, she replied, "We all love each other. This ain't about documents. This is blessed." Hill, her management, and her record label were sued in 1998 by New Ark, claiming that they either co-wrote or co-produced 13 of 14 tracks on the album. The suit was settled out of court in February 2001 for a reported $5 million.
In 1998, Hill released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which was both critically and commercially successful. It sold over 423,000 copies in its first week and topped the Billboard 200 albums chart for four weeks and the Billboard R&B Album chart for six weeks; it would go on to sell more than 18 million copies over the next decade. The first single off the album was "Lost Ones" (US #27), released in Spring 1998. The second was "Doo Wop (That Thing)", which reached #1 in the Billboard charts. Other singles released in support of the album were "Ex-Factor" (US #21), "Everything Is Everything" (US #35), and "To Zion".
At the 1999 Grammy Awards, Hill was nominated 10 times, becoming the first woman ever to be nominated 10 times in one year: Hill won five Grammys including Album of the Year (beating Madonna's critically acclaimed Ray of Light), Best R&B Album, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best New Artist. Hill set a new record in the industry, becoming the first woman to win five Grammys in one night. Between 1998 and 1999, Hill earned $25 million from record sales and touring.
Hill became a national media icon, as magazines ranging from Time to Esquire to Teen People vied to put her on the cover.
In the late 1990s, Hill was noted by some as a humanitarian. In 1996 she received an Essence Award for work which has included the 1996 founding of the Refugee Project, an outreach organization that supports a two-week overnight camp for at-risk youth, and for supporting well-building projects in Kenya and Uganda, as well as for staging a rap concert in Harlem to promote voter registration. In 1999 Hill received three awards at the 30th Annual NAACP Image Awards. In 1999 Ebony named her one of "100+ Most Influential Black Americans". She was named with Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and others among the "10 For Tomorrow," in the EBONY 2000: Special Millennium Issue.
Self-imposed exile and MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 (2000?2003)
After the release of her debut album, she explored other methods of expressing herself, including creating an extensive amount of music, poetry, and clothing designs. She started writing a screenplay about the life of Bob Marley, in which she planned to act as his wife Rita. She also began producing a romantic comedy about soul food with a working title of Sauce, and accepted a starring role in the film adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel Beloved; she later dropped out of both projects due to pregnancy.
Hill became dissatisfied with the music industry; she felt she was being unfairly controlled by her record label, and disliked being unable "to go to the grocery store without makeup." She fired her management team and began attending Bible study classes five days a week; she also stopped doing interviews, watching television and listening to music. She started associating with a "spiritual adviser" named Brother Anthony. Some familiar with Hill believe Anthony more resembled a cult leader than a spiritual advisor, and thought his guidance probably inspired much of Hill's more controversial public behavior.
In 2000, she dropped out of the public eye. She described this period of her life to Essence: "People need to understand that the Lauryn Hill they were exposed to in the beginning was all that was allowed in that arena at that time? I had to step away when I realized that for the sake of the machine, I was being way too compromised. I felt uncomfortable about having to smile in someone?s face when I really didn?t like them or even know them well enough to like them."
She also spoke about her emotional crisis, saying, "For two or three years I was away from all social interaction. It was a very introspective time because I had to confront my fears and master every demonic thought about inferiority, about insecurity or the fear of being black, young and gifted in this western culture." She went on to say that she had to fight to retain her identity, and was forced "to deal with folks who weren't happy about that."
On July 21, 2001, Hill unveiled her new material to a small crowd, for a taping of an MTV Unplugged special. An album of concert, titled MTV Unplugged No. 2.0, focused on the lyrics and the message rather than the musical arrangements. "Fantasy is what people want, but reality is what they need", she said during the concert. "I?ve just retired from the fantasy part." Most of the songs featured only an acoustic guitar and her voice, somewhat raspy from rehearsal on the day before the recording. Hill used the set as an opportunity to give information on why she had been absent from the public for a period of time and what she had found while away.
Unlike the near-unanimous praise of The Miseducation, 2.0 sharply divided critics. AllMusic gave the album 4 out of 5 stars, saying that the recording "is the unfinished, unflinching presentation of ideas and of a person. It may not be a proper follow-up to her first album, but it is fascinating." Rolling Stone called the album "a public breakdown". Slant Magazine's Sal Cinquemani wrote, "Hill's guitarwork is multi-textured and fine-tuned but her vocals lack confidence and seem to toe the edge of her range throughout the album. And though the stripped-down nature of the show is fitting, many of the songs sound as if they are still in their infancy." Despite the mixed reviews, 2.0 debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 and went platinum four weeks after its release.
Despite Hill's departure from the media and celebrity, she continued to have some success in the music world. Her song "Mystery of Iniquity" was nominated for a Grammy without promotion or radio airplay and used as an interpolation by hip-hop mega-producer Kanye West for his single "All Falls Down" (eventually recorded by Syleena Johnson).
On December 13, 2003, Hill made headlines by denouncing "corruption, exploitation, and abuses" in reference to the molestation of boys by Catholic priests in the United States and the cover-up of offenses by Catholic Church officials. The statements were made during a performance at a Christmas benefit concert at the Vatican. Reading from a prepared statement, Hill told the crowd of 7,500:
I am sorry if I am about to offend some of you. I did not accept my invitation to celebrate with you the birth of Christ. Instead I ask you why you are not in mourning for him in this place? I want to ask you, what have you got to say about the lives you have broken? What about the families who were expecting God and instead were cheated by the Devil? Who feels sorry for them, the men, women and children damaged psychologically, emotionally and mentally by the sexual perversions and abuse carried out by the people they believed in? Holy God is a witness to the corruption of your leadership, of the exploitation and abuses which are the minimum that can be said for the clergy. There is no acceptable excuse to defend the church."
Hill called on the church leaders to "repent" and encouraged the crowd to "not seek blessings from man but from God." She then performed the songs "Damnable Heresies" and "Social Drugs".
High-ranking church officials in attendance included Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Monsignor Rino Fisichella and Edmund Cardinal Szoka. Pope John Paul II was not present. The segment was cut from the television broadcast. Both the Vatican and Columbia Records refused to issue official statements regarding Hill's actions. Monsignor Fisichella told reporters that Hill had acted "in poor taste and very bad mannered. It showed a complete lack of respect for her invitation and for the place where she had been invited to perform". The Catholic League called Hill "pathologically miserable" and claimed her career is "in decline".
Hill responded to the controversy on December 16: "What I said was the truth. Is telling the truth bad manners? What I asked was the church to repent for what has happened." The following day, several reporters suggested that Hill's comments at the Vatican may have been influenced by her "advisor" Brother Anthony.
Short-lived return of the Fugees (2004?2006)
The Fugees performed on September 18, 2004 at Dave Chappelle's Block Party in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. They headlined a bill that included a star-studded cast of hip-hop celebrities. The concert featured Hill's nearly a cappella rendition of "Killing Me Softly". The event was recorded by director Michel Gondry and was released on March 3, 2006 to mostly positive reviews.
In 2005, she told an interviewer that "The Fugees was a conspiracy to control, to manipulate and to encourage dependence. I took a lot of abuse that many people would not have taken in these circumstances."
The Fugees also appeared at BET's 2005 Music Awards on June 28, 2005, where they opened the show with a 12-minute set.
One track, "Take It Easy", was leaked online and therefore was released as an internet single on September 27, 2005. It peaked at #40 on the Billboard R&B Chart. The song was mostly panned by critics, as The Village Voice wrote, "Turns out that a Fugees reunion wasn't really what anyone was waiting for; we just wanted Lauryn to start rapping again."
The Fugees embarked on a European tour from November 30, 2005 through December 20, 2005. The group played in Austria, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, France, England, Ireland and Switzerland.
On February 6, 2006, the Fugees did a special "Reunion Concert" in Hollywood, that was offered as a live webcast on the Verizon Wireless website. The Fugees were featured in numerous Verizon Wireless VCast advertisements in magazines and on TV around that same time. A new song titled "Foxy" was made available on VCast and a third new song was leaked, unofficially titled "Wannabe", which uses the same hook as the Michael Jackson song "I Wanna Be Where You Are".
Old tensions between Hill and the other members of the group soon resurfaced, and the reunion fizzled before an album could be recorded. Jean and Michel both blamed Hill for the split. Hill reportedly demanded to be addressed by everyone, including her bandmates, as "Ms. Hill"; she also considered changing her moniker to "Empress". Her chronic tardiness ? sometimes stalling up to 45 minutes after the two had taken the stage to join them ? has been cited as another contributing factor to the break up.
Michel told the press in August 2007, "Before I work with Lauryn Hill again, you will have a better chance of seeing Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush in Starbucks having a latte, discussing foreign policies? At this point I really think it will take an act of God to change her, because she is that far out there."
Hill has been slowly working on a new album and in November 2004 shot a music video. The album had a slated street date of November 2005, and neither it nor the music video have been released. It was also reported that as of 2003, Columbia Records had spent more than $2.5 million funding Hill's new album, mostly spent on installing a recording studio in the singer's Miami apartment and flying different musicians around the country.
In 2004, Hill began selling a pay-per-view music video of the song "Social Drugs" through her website. Those who purchase the $15 video would only be able to view it three times before it expired. In addition to the video, Hill began selling autographed posters and Polaroids through her website, with some items listed at upwards of $500.
Performing in New York's Central Park in 2005
In 2005, she told USA Today, "If I make music now, it will only be to provide information to my own children. If other people benefit from it, then so be it." When asked how she now felt about the songs on 2.0, she stated "a lot of the songs were transitional. The music was about how I was feeling at the time, even though I was documenting my distress as well as my bursts of joy."
She has toured several times in recent years, though most of her concerts have received mixed reviews. Hill is often late to concerts (sometimes by over two hours) and reconfigures her well-known hits in to "unrecognizable scat chants" while "sporting frizzy orange hair and exaggerated makeup". On some occasions, fans have booed her and left early; some fans have also demanded their money back after concerts.
On October 6, 2005, Lauryn Hill emceed and performed two songs at the Take Back TV concert launching Al Gore's CurrentTV.
In June 2007, Sony records said though Hill has "consistently recorded over the past decade" and has what amounts to "a library of unreleased material in the vault", she had recently re-entered the studio "with the goal of making a new LP." Later that same year, Think Differently music quietly released a 22 track compilation titled Ms. Hill which featured cuts from The Miseducation, various soundtracks contributions and other "unreleased" songs. It features guest appearances from D'Angelo, Rah Digga and John Fort?. It is unclear if the album is sanctioned by the artist ? many of the songs are obviously in unfinished format and clock in at under one minute ? but it is currently listed on AllMusic and Amazon.
Reports in mid-2008 claimed that Columbia Records currently believe Lauryn Hill to be "on hiatus." Rohan Marley disputed these claims, telling an interviewer that Hill has enough material for several albums: "She writes music in the bathroom, on toilet paper, on the wall. She writes it in the mirror if the mirror smokes up. She writes constantly. This woman does not sleep". One of the few public appearances Hill made in 2008 was at a Martha Stewart book-signing in New Jersey, perplexing some in the press.
On November 4, 2008, Hill was scheduled to perform at the Avo Session Basel music festival in Basel, Switzerland. Her concert was cancelled "for personal reasons" .
In April 2009, it was reported that Hill would engage in a 10 day tour of European summer festivals during mid-July of that year. On June 10, Hill's management informed the promoters of the Stockholm Jazz Festival, which she was scheduled to headline, that she would not be performing due to unspecified "health reasons." Shortly afterwards, the rest of the tour was cancelled as well.
Legacy and influences
Lauryn Hill has been cited as an influence by many, especially those in the neo-soul movement of the 2000s. Musicians who have acknowledged Hill's importance include Prince, John Legend, Alicia Keys, D'Angelo, Mary J. Blige, and Lustevie. In 2005, Talib Kweli released a song about the singer, titled "Ms. Hill", on Right About Now.
Michelle Obama, wife of U.S. President Barack Obama, told the BBC that she frequently listens to Hill's music on her iPod, while 2008 Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain's daughter Meghan has claimed that her father listens to Hill: "I borrowed his car once in D.C., and I was like, looking through CDs, and I was like, 'Oh, Lauryn Hill.'" Actors Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington are also reportedly fans of the singer. D'Angelo, who appeared on "Nothing Even Matters," referred in an interview to at least one church reportedly having used the song in a service.