Female rappers like Doja Cat, Cardi B, and Nicki Minaj have achieved unprecedented popularity and success in recent years, as their music offers unique and different elements that male rappers and hip-hop artists sometimes cannot bring to their genre. However, most music enthusiasts could argue that the successful career of the female rappers we know today wouldn’t be possible if a woman by the name of Lauryn Hill didn’t capture the spotlight in the mostly men-focused hip-hop genre. Who is Lauryn Hill? And why is she highly regarded as one of the most influential hip-hop artists of all time? To know the answers, here is an artist profile for American singer-songwriter Lauryn Hill.
Lauryn Noelle Hill was born in Newark, New Jersey, on May 26, 1979. Her father, Mal Hill, worked as a computer and management consultant, while her mother, Valerie Hill, was an English teacher. Lauryn Hill also has an older brother named Malaney, who was born seven years before her.
While her family did not have music-focused jobs, Hill said that the family was actually musically oriented, as their home was full of records, and there would always be music playing every day. Furthermore, Hill stated that her father used to sing at weddings and local nightclubs, while her mother is proficient at playing the piano. Because of her upbringing, Hill also became in love with music at such a young age.
One of Hill’s first known performances was in middle school, where she performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a local basketball game. Because of her great rendition, the recording of her performance would occasionally be played for other basketball games. After becoming known in her town, Hill was encouraged to sing at the Amateur Night segment of the popular TV show “It’s Showtime at the Apollo. In the show, she sang “Who’s Lovin’ You,” a popular song that was originally sung by Smokey Robinson. Even though she was booed during the early parts of her performance, she persevered and kept singing until the audience eventually clapped for her.
Beginnings of a Lustrous Career
When Lauryn Hill was just a freshman in high school, she met Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, who invited her to join a musical group that he was creating. The two of them would be the founding members of Translator Crew, and they would later be joined by Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean. The group would often perform at local showcases and talent shows in their school and around the city. Hill was supposed to be just a singer in the group, but she slowly learned how to rap and eventually became the rapper for Translator Crew as well.
Around the same time, Hill also took acting lessons in Manhattan, New York. Those lessons would soon become fruitful, as Hill would later be cast for roles in various stage productions, TV shows, and movies, including Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, As the World Turns, and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.
The members of Translator Crew, Hill, Pras, and Jean, decided to change the name of their group to the Fugees, which is supposed to be derived from the word “refugee” that was once used as a derogatory term towards Americans of Haitian descent. One year after being signed to Columbia/Ruffhouse Records in 1993, they officially released their debut album titled “Blunted on Reality.” The album peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums charts and would serve as a taste of the band’s unique musical style that blended rap and hip-hop with reggae and soul.
The Fugees’ second album, The Score, was released on February 13, 1996. This album serves as the group’s most successful album, as it peaked at number one of the US Billboard 200 and won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album in 1997. After many years, The Score would also be included on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Before the Fugees achieved massive success, Lauryn Hill was still living with her parents when she was 21 years old. Hill contemplated majoring in History before her sophomore year at Columbia University, but she dropped out when she became busy with the Fugees right after the release of their second album.
In the same year of The Score’s release, Hill founded the Refugee Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the behavior of out-of-school and at-risk urban youth in the United States. Hill partnered with Camp Hill, who set up camps at the Catskill Mountains where young members of the organization would learn life lessons while also having fun participating in various activities. A benefit event for the organization was also held in 1997, which was sponsored by the members of the Board of Trustees that included Mariah Carey, Spike Lee, and Busta Rhymes.
Just one year after the release of The Score, the members of the Fugees moved on to focus on their solo projects. According to Wyclef Jean, the members’ relationship began to sour after both he and Lauryn Hill, who were rumored to have started dating in 1994, were cheating on each other. Jean married his supposed mistress Marie Claudinette in 1997, while in 1996, Lauryn Hill met and began a relationship with Rohan Marley, the son of Bob Marley and a former player for the University of Miami men’s football team. It was in 1997 when Hill gave birth to Marley and her first child, Zion David.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
After the Fugees breakup, Lauryn Hill was able to focus on her solo music, and in just one year, she was able to release her solo debut album titled “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” The title of the solo album was inspired by two books, namely “The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodson and “The Education of Sonny Carson,” an autobiographical novel. Wyclef Jean was not supportive at first of Lauryn Hill’s decision to produce a solo album, but he eventually offered help for Hill’s production needs. Unfortunately, Hill declined Jean’s offer.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was officially released on August 25, 1998, and it was met with wide critical acclaim by both her fans and her critics. Many music lovers consider the album to be the best one that came out in 1998. The most popular single from the album was “Doo Wop (That Thing),” a song that is supposed to encourage women empowerment and independence.
In November 1998, Hill gave birth to her second child, Selah Louise. A few months later, Hill attended the 1999 Grammy Awards, where she was nominated for ten awards, the most of any female artists nominated at the Grammys. In the same award show, Hill was also the first female artist to win five awards, which were Album of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album, Best New Artist, and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Because of her popularity which skyrocketed even further after her successful solo career, she has inspired many female rappers to write their own songs and work their hardest to achieve their goals.
Hiding from the Spotlight
Two years after the release of her solo debut album, Lauryn Hill disappeared from the public eye. According to reports, her fame and success in the industry overwhelmed her so much that she needs to hide from people outside in order to not worry about her looks. During her isolation and self-imposed exile, she attended Bible study classes and stopped watching the news, listening to music, and giving interviews to the media. It was rumored that her change of behavior was influenced by a spiritual advisor who goes by the name Brother Anthony, which is described by Hill’s close friends to have acted more like a cult leader rather than a spiritual advisor for Hill.
However, in July 2001, Lauryn Hill came back to resume her singing career by announcing that she will be recording a special episode for MTV Unplugged, where musicians will be given a chance to perform their popular songs through an acoustic setting. Hill’s performance on MTV Unplugged only involved her singing while also playing the guitar, which is a big departure from her usual music that layered with multiple instruments and backing vocals. In the same year, Hill gave birth to her third child, Joshua Omaru. A year later, Hill also gave birth to her fourth child named John Nesta.
When asked about her “husband” Marley, Hill stated that she and Marley have had long periods of separation for several years. It is important to note that Marley and Hill were never married, and it is rumored that Marley was still married to another woman, but Marley denied the claims.
After Hill’s controversial performance in Vatican City, where she criticized the exploitation and corruption of the Catholic Church (who were involved in different sexual and child abuse cases around the world), the Catholic League said that Hill’s career is in decline and her behavior to be “pathologically miserable.” After the league’s statement, many reporters believed that it was Hill’s spiritual advisor who was influencing the singer’s ideologies and opinions about the Catholic Church and other aspects of her life as well.
Lauryn Hill in the 2000s
In late 2005, the Fugees reunited and scheduled a European tour. Not even one year into the tour, the members of the group began feuding once again, with Hill and Jean being at the forefront of the feud. Without releasing another album, the Fugees split up again in 2006, with both Jean and Michel blaming Hill for the second breakup. According to rumors, Lauryn Hill behaved peculiarly during the tour, and Hill was even demanding the crew and her bandmates to call her “Ms. Hill.” It was also noted that Hill would attend the concerts late, thus angering her fellow band members.
After the Fugees tour, Lauryn Hill embarked on a solo tour, which was received with mixed reactions. Most of her fans abandoned her during the duration of the tour, and some of the fans stated that they began hating the singer when she would always arrive late at concerts. Hill would often arrive two hours late, and she would also wear extravagant outfits that seemed to be mocking not only herself but the audience as well.
By 2008, Lauryn Hill would disappear from the public eye again for a long period of time, and Columbia Records (her then-record label) believed that the singer was on hiatus. One of the few public appearances of Hill in 2008 was at a book signing in New Jersey, but what’s perplexing about the event was that the book was not written by Hill but by Martha Stewart. In the same year, Hill’s fifth child, whose name is Sarah, was born.
In 2009, Hill announced that she would be back to performing in a 10-day tour in Europe. However, she only performed two concerts in the tour, as she passed out during the second show and never came back. Fans and other audience members were outraged by the outcome, and the singer even refused to give refunds. The whole tour was canceled following the incident.
Lauryn Hill in the 2010s
Lauryn Hill would continue to perform, albeit sporadically, throughout the 2010s. Her first official performance in the US after many years occurred in June 2010, at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, California. One month later, an unreleased song titled “Repercussions” was leaked and debuted at number 94 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart. The song was Hill’s first official song that charted on Billboard since 1999.
By 2011, Hill was able to perform at Coachella Valley Music Festival, the New Orleans Jazz Fest, and many other concerts and shows. It was in July 2011 when Hill gave birth to her sixth child, Micah, although the father of the child is currently unknown, as Hill denied that Marley was the father.
In June 2012, Hill was arrested for three counts of tax fraud that she got by failing or refusing to file taxes. Hill appeared in the District Court for the District of New Jersey on June 29, 2012, where she pleaded guilty to the charges and promised to pay the taxes she failed to file. However, by April 22, 2013, Hill was only able to pay $50,000 of the $554,000 she owed. Lauryn Hill was sentenced on May 6, 2013, to three months in prison for failing to file taxes and three months house arrest that served as part of supervised probation. Fortunately, Hill was able to pay the taxes she owed to the government after her sentencing, which became possible through the royalties she receives from her popular songs.
After she was released from prison and completed her house arrest, she returned to performing at different shows throughout the United States. In addition, she also served as the narrator for the Swedish documentary “Concerning Violence” and as a contributing musician for the American biographical documentary film “What Happened, Miss Simone?”
However, Hill’s habit of arriving late at shows resurfaced when she performed late at the “Diaspora Calling!” festival in April 2016. As per Hill’s statements, she said that the reasons she performed late were that her driver had gotten lost on the road while heading to the concert venue and that she had to “align her energy with the time” in order to perform at her best.
It has been many years after the release of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and many diehard fans believe that the singer may not release a second album despite her claims over the years that she has enough material to record and produce one. Nonetheless, despite the many controversies surrounding her personal life and career, Lauryn Hill has already cemented her legacy as one of the most influential female artists in the world.