A revitalized Lauryn Hill dispelled uncertainties about her enigmatic career on Sunday evening (Dec. 15), easing a D.C. audience anxious to witness the emancipated hip-hop heroine.
A thick aura of awe filled the intimate 9:30 Club, as Hill arrived on stage in a fur coat, orange sweater, black-and-white checkered bell bottoms and heels. Beginning with her reggae-infused rendition of “Killing Me Softly,” Hill’s harmony quickly became the focal point of the night.
After taking her heels off, Hill urged fans to sing along to the songs they knew, as she drew early from her magnum opus, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Evoking a crippling nostalgia from the latter half of the nineties, Hill effortlessly recited “Everything is Everything” and “Lost Ones,” 15 years after her acclaimed debut ceremoniously hit stores.
“We don't want to dumb ourselves down,” she shouted, prior to gently creeping into the next song. As she instigated screams from the upper level, Hill teased the opening lines to the second single off the album, “Ex Factor.” “It could all be so simple…” she sang. “But you'd rather make it hard.”
The simultaneous head nods combined with the off-key crowd participation signified approval. Delving into her Fugees catalogue, Hill put her versatility on display by rapping her portion to "Zealots," then crooning the "Fu-Gee-La" anthem. Her energy was infectious.
"DC are you ready?" she asked repetitively, interacting with the crowd already on edge. Without hesitation, Hill revived the trio's most popular track, "Ready or Not,” prompting what seemed like the entire venue—bartenders included—to participate in the party at hand. The climactic rendition was followed by a brief intermission, in which Hill left the stage.
She returned with a stool and her guitar, the same instruments she was armed with for her MTV Unplugged performance over a decade ago. While some whispered "Oh lord," the controversial tracks sounded far more appeasing backed by her band.
Chanting the lyrics to "Mr. Intentional," Hill seemed at peace just a month and a half after being released from a Dannbury, Conn., prison. Inserting extra emphasis on the word "out," she transitioned into the rhythmic “I Get Out" before addressing the crowd: "I got half a month left," she announced, revealing her house arrest anklet beneath her bell bottoms."We overcompensate for a system that doesn't consider everyone.”
“I got my freedom; I got my mind I got my heart; I got my soul" she hummed, holding back tears of joy." Hill performed “Guarding Gates” then her latest offering, "Consumerism" to the tune of “Rumble in the Jungle” featuring Busta Rhymes. Regardless of your feelings towards the subject matter in her composition, Hill hit all the right notes for hours.
After a jubilant "Could You Be Loved" performance, cries of "We love you, Lauryn" poured in. When “Doo Wop” dropped, the audience erupted. Hill jumped up and down—freely—as the crowd mirrored her movement.
That thing that Lauryn Hill so elegantly possessed was never lost—perhaps in remission due to circumstance—but she has always had that thing within her. Finally able to connect the faces to the letters she received while behind bars, a liberated Lauryn Hill shook hands with her fans at the end of the concert.
Hill will be confined to her own home while she serves the remaining year of her sentence. Before the new year arrives, she'll make four more stops on her Homecoming Tour, trekking to Boston and New Jersey prior to concluding in New York City. —Christopher Harris
Photo: Richie Downs for the 9:30 Club