The video image shot through like a piercing light out of an otherwise dark hole. There she was, a smiling Lauryn Hill confidently performing some of the genre-shaking songs that earned her the title as the voice of the hip-hop generation during the late ‘90s. No one knew what to expect during her 12-song set, which included the bubbly female empowerment anthem “Doo Wop (That Thing)" and the gorgeous Bob Marley cover “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” at this past June’s Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, California. For much of the last decade, fans of the celebrated vocalist/MC have been left to ask, What if?
Lauryn Hill. The same gifted talent who took female rap lyricism to seemingly genderless heights as a member of the groundbreaking trio The Fugees; the same ambitious voice who followed up her former group’s 1996 multi-platinum breakthrough The Score two years later with a seismic shift of a solo album entitled The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Her lush, soulful vocals were praised by the legendary likes of Aretha Franklin while her quick-witted rhymes were frequently co-signed by Nas. The Grammy winning Lauryn was the quintessential total package.
Then came the nasty lawsuits over songwriting credits for Miseducation; the astonishing public emotional breakdown on 2002’s MTV’s Unplugged 2.0. Hill increasingly made like Chappelle and exhibited reclusive behavior as she struggled to make sense of her place in the entertainment industry. A string of career-damaging live performances (During her now infamous 2007 Oakland Paramount Theater show the garishly dressed singer was booed by audience members as she mumbled through lyrics, cracked notes, and tripped and fell onstage) only magnified Hill’s public fall from grace. Which is why Lauryn’s most recent gigs have been a cause of optimism for fans waiting for the return of the larger-than-life icon. As always there’s talk of a new album as Lauryn is set to headline this years Rock The Bells Festival. VIBE recruited MTV’s resident hip-hop journalist Shaeem Reid; NPR’s production assistant Zoe Chace and TV and radio personality B. Scott (lovebscott.com) to offer their insight into how Lauryn Hill can make a triumphant return. —Keith Murphy
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