The Life & Times of Lauryn Hill and Rise of Female MC's.
I’m proud to say I was able to see the early stages of hip-hop begin to manifest. With that being said, during the early years of this new cultural phenomenon, it was noticeable that hip hop was male dominated in every possible way, and of course on the business side of things. To be an aspiring female artist looking to thrive in hip hop was going to be very challenging. As a young man growing up in the suburbs of Maryland, the true “Land”, hip-hop culture took to our community extremely fast, with New York being located only 4 hours up the highway. The immediate influence in regard to this new sound and culture was undeniable. I mean, we were right down the street! The DC area was already known for Go-Go music and Baltimore was heavy into House music. The rise of hip hop in Maryland blended well with the music we already had, and provided us with a great balance of sound. We had a lot of musical options and in some small pockets you even got a dose of reggae, better known as Reggaeton. Music was alive and well in the Nation’s Capital and surrounding area!
When I think back on my early experience with female artist in hip hop I admit, I didn’t know what to think at first. I thought it was somewhat difficult to get into what they were saying without seeing gender. How could I relate to them? How could I truly get their message as a male? But anyway, UTFO came out with The Real Roxanne which brought heavy attention to females, and the female artist, rapper, MC etc. Sadly, it felt like she had to be used as a gimmick to make it instead of allowing her to show true artistry. I mean, that was the way it got packaged in my humble opinion. Shorty after, we see the rise of Roxanne Shante’ who was a member of The Juice Crew. Obviously the name would cause some conflict. Now this was the first battle rap between two female artists to prove who the real Roxanne was. Shante’ would emerge as the victor in the Roxanne Wars. During the Roxanne Wars Era, a lot of females started to rap and get more involved with Hip Hop. This was my introduction to female rap artist and things would never be the same.
Fast-forward to 1988 and the release of Lyte as a Rock by MC Lyte, her debut album. MC Lyte would be the next female artist that I’d gravitate to. MC Lyte was fresh with the fly hairdos, gold chains, and dope gear. I was like yeah……..she is bad!! Her song Lyte as a Rock was it, and then you had “Paper Thin” among other great songs. This is when I could see that female rap was here in a big way and maybe to stay. Honestly, I would have to say that MC Lyte was probably the first female artist that I really liked and I played her music like the male MC’s. Moving through time, if I can recall, 1996 was a big year for female artist. At that time MC Lyte was putting a record out after like a 5 year layoff, but now you had a new breed of female artist with the solo albums of Foxy Brown and Lil Kim. See, during the mid 90’s, Lil Kim and Foxy Brown was pushing a lot of sex and hard rhymes in their lyrics. Lauryn Hill had more of a B-Boy image (see: Bahamadia). Let’s back up for a quick minute. In 1994 The Fugees released their debut album Blunted On Reality. This album went under the radar but there was Lauryn Hill, who just seemed to have something special. You could hear it on Nappy Heads and Vocab, two of the singles off the album. Of course we didn’t know the extent to her talent yet. I also totally missed this album as I wasn’t a huge fan of Wyclef and Pras at the time. I had to go back and appreciate it later. Also, we didn’t know if the group would disappear because of other side projects. Besides, Lauryn had hit the scene the prior year with her acting and Hollywood ambition. I saw her in the movie Sister Act 2 where her voice was what R&B sounded like and maybe this was her true calling. She could sing but nobody was sure how serious she took hip hop at this point.
So, let’s get back to the year 1996. The Fugees released their second record titled The Score. Remember, I totally missed out on their first adventure and was still not hip to Wyclef and their sound, so I still left the record alone. This didn’t last for long as The Fugees dropped the single Killing Me Softly. I recall that single dropping right around summer; the weather was right in Maryland! The song started with L Boogie showing off her awesome and soulful voice. Each time this record got played on the radio, L Boogie voice killed me to where I was like I need to go get this record. I remember it was a Sunday so I headed down to CD EXPO on Route One (Maryland Terp Land) to get me a copy of this CD. Still not fully convinced off 2 songs, I bought a used copy. Buying a used copy felt safe. I got the CD and went straight to Killing Me Softly. It was a very nice day outside so I opened up the moon roof on the Max (Nissan Maxima) and proceeded to my cousin house making a stop to get a car wash in Langley Park, still playing Killing Me Softly on repeat. My Car was glazed and I had this Fugees CD blasting. For whatever reason I decided to take it off repeat and let the mother play, best thing I ever did!!! Songs like Zealots, No Women No Cry (Bob Marley Classic) How Many Mics, and what became my favorite song by The Fugees Ready or Not, had me sold on L Boogie and I started to respect Wyclef. I played this record all day! After picking up my cousin, we went to my good friend house to crack a few brews. As we sat sipping brews, I started telling him about this Fugees record. I was sold, and remember I got a second hand CD so I was really thrilled that I ran across a gem for half price. I became a serious L Boogie fan which made we want to keep up with her and the Fugees. My thoughts were like this young lady is ready for the world. It was refreshing to listen to her because she didn’t use gimmicks to sale records like sex. Her talent was amazing!
Two years had passed and there were talks of Fugees breaking up as a result of L Boogie and Wyclef having some personal issues. We also heard nothing in regard to a follow up CD. There were rumors that the two were involved romantically. Anyway, this would play a major role in L Boogie personal and professional development but we will come back to this. A few years had passed and it was time for her solo debut record The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The first single was Doo Wop (That Thing) and she was back stronger then ever!!! Lauryn had that glow and a beautiful look. (See Blog Picture) You didn’t look at her with the same lust as a Kim or Foxy because her sex appeal seemed more mature. The way her locs/hair, smile and skin, I tell you she looked awesome, but more importantly her music was through the ceiling, because we all know the ceiling is the roof, lol!!! (MJ at UNC) My favorite track was Everything is Everything. Her tracks were soulful and you could hear her love for music and passion for life in each song. Lauryn was expressing her life, soul and spirit throughout the album with tracks To Zion, When it hurt so Bad, I use to love him, and Forgive Them Father. I had never heard an artist who could sing and rap at such a high level. This was unreal. While listening to the record, there was some foreshadowing that things weren’t all great with L Boogie.
Through hurt and pain, L Boogie put together one of the best records of all time male or female. We later found out the album was in fact Lauryn talking about her being mistreated by Wyclef who was married at the time. Of course in doing this, she was mistreating herself as well. At some point she went on to start dating Rohen Marley, the son of the great Bob Marley. A lot of her music started to reflect the pain of these relationships in the same vein as Mary J. Blige. Maybe some people knew how L Boogie was doing personally but I didn’t see it then. I was just was a fan and thought maybe she was talking about other young ladies lives, not her own. We all know she went on to have 5 kids with Mr. Marley and had and affair with Wyclef that put an end to the Fugees. L Boogie went on to win 6 Grammy Awards and was nominated for like 14. L Boogie was one of the best MC’s, male or female but maybe her desire to be loved was the death of her career. Lauryn started having a string of bad tours and shows. She has been notorious for coming late and providing fans with short performances. She simply didn’t seem focused. Who can forget the MTV Unplugged performance? It was cringe worthy to say the least. Her personal struggles were on full display. You can’t fix boys and turn them into men or create something that just isn’t there. This is something that so many females go through on a daily basis which continues a cycle of pain. Her pain stopped what could have been a string of hit records matched by only Stevie Wonders 70’s Classic Period or the momentum that Prince had early in his career. Unfortunately, fans only got one record from Lauryn Hill. I don’t believe this album has been matched by another female artist since it was released.
Many artists that are super talented and perform at high levels with ease tend to have their share of personal battles inside. I guess that's why they’re so great because their passion, demons and struggles. Without passion you probably wouldn’t get great music as they sacrifice it all in terms of themselves. Even though L Boogie is alive it’s like a piece of her died inside and with this, the music died as well. Maybe she didn’t understand that Pain is not Love. The love she wanted so much conquered her talent and music. I always believed that people can steal a piece of your soul if you let them. Soul in this sense is like the vitamins that you have in your body. The wrong person can steal your vitamins and joy. Mr. Marley has 5 children with Lauryn Hill which means feelings are still there that will never die because they share multiple kids. He also went on to marry another woman, which I’m sure was devastating. I wish L Boogie would have found that Love & Basketball (The Movie) passion it seemed like she desired. If she would have been happy, it would have shown in her work ethic as an artist and she could have got back to the music. Yes, I’m sure raising her kids was a priority but other legends have kids as well. I feel like we were deprived of maybe the most diverse artist of this generation and possibly the greatest female artist of all time. This is not a movie and all movies don’t end the way we'd like them to.… Just like Caine in Menace To Society said “now its too late” no coming back when self- love is lost or when it’s been placed in the wrong hands to be trusted.
Over the years there were several Fugees Reunions that turned out to be disappointments. Pras stated in an interview that he would never work with Lauryn Hill again. He even cited that you would have a better chance of seeing George Bush and Osama Bin Laden at Starbucks together before that happens. Wow man, just wow. Wyclef, who does have some responsibility in the destruction of The Fugees, had some choice words about L Boogie after the final failed reunion. Clef stated that Lauryn Hill needed some serious mental health attention and that they tried to rush getting back together when it wasn’t time. Well Clef, you created some of the bad energy as well. These are a string of unfortunate events. I hate to see talented artist go through so much pain. I’m a huge fan of Lauryn Hill and wish her the best. I hope that she is in a better place psychologically (or emotionally etc...) at this point. I'm also sure that some of the critics have been wrong about her in the past like stories that many legends face. I would love to see a true comeback and some new music. L Boogie was the only hip hop artist who had unlimited potential. Kool Moe Dee even had her #9 in his book, The 50 Greatest MC's. Lauryn Hill is what Cynthia Cooper and Michael Jordan are to basketball in my opinion. She is the most talented Female MC of all time and a master in several genres of music. Even though L Boogie is alive, it feels like she’s in the same vein as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Tupac, Biggie, Richie Valens and Buddy Holly. What I mean is, we never saw a full career but the greatness was and is, undeniable. You can still hear her influence in many of your favorite MC's today. I hope Lauryn Hill has found the peace and love we all desire. If she did, that’s good enough for me even without new music.