School Daze: The Re-Education of Lauryn Hill Fans

It’s like having a Ph.D teaching kindergarten
That’s how Lauryn Hill described her widening disconnect from the media, gossips, disenchanted fans and others that generally runteldat about her behavior, performances and lack of musical output over the past decade. She made the statement while addressing a capacity crowd at Philadelphia’s Theatre of Living Arts early Wednesday morning. A crowd that braved frigid temperatures, blistering winds and uneven reports of excessively late starts, shortened sets and a musical direction that has reportedly lacked direction.

Two DJ’s kept an anxious crowd rocking until the lights went out around 12:15am and the scheduled 11:00pm show started with a thunderous ovation as the beloved Lauryn Hill took the stage performing a cover of Bob Marley’s “Well Be Forever Loving Jah”. Once folks started to settle after the adrenaline rush of her appearance, she informed the crowd that she was going to be performing material from her classic solo debut, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, but immediately added the disclaimer that while the intent and content of the songs were the same, the arrangements have been changed. With that said, she launched into a frenzied version of “Lost Ones” that found her spitting rapid fire lyrics and left folks around me wondering what exactly happening.

Folks had made the trek that night expecting to hear familiar renditions of the songs they’d fallen in love with in another time, but instead received versions that had “evolved” to quote Ms. Hill. Wait, let me back up for a second, it seemed many of those in attendance had come to see for themselves if the rumors were true, they had come to get a first-hand look of the artist formerly known as L-Boogie. Like most others in the building that night, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a great performance or a lecture, I didn’t know if I would be witness to the descent of one of Black America’s national treasures or see the genius that is Lauryn Hill.

The truth is, for two hours, you got to see all of those things; she went on a few tangents in an attempt to explain her self-imposed exile, she seemed preoccupied with the volume levels of the microphones and her band’s instruments, she morphed into a conductor, calling out solos and improvisations by instinct and the changes in the musicality of her songs aren’t exactly contemporary. But one thing is for sure, it is all part of her genius and her love for the music which translates into her wanting to perfect the audience relationship with her live performance. The songs have be re-arranged for you to feel each key, bass lick or drum kick, along with those lyrics you loved in your dorm room, your car or after a breakup.

I’m not sure if the crowd truly enjoyed “Lost Ones” or “When it Hurts So Bad”, but by the time she finished her second version of “Ex-Factor”, it was clear that she knew what she was doing. Yes, she performed her anthem of a scorned lover twice, the first a mid-tempo version specializing in melodic structure and harmony. The second and my favorite of the two, was jazzier and more reminiscent of the original, but she dispelled another rumor by sounding just as beautiful and soulful as ever. There had been whispers that she had lost the passion in her voice and her range was limited, but she seemed inspired on this night, rekindling the magic of 1999.

Any artist that hasn’t performed consistently over a period as long as Ms. Hill is sure to have issues with stamina and she was not immune to that issue, taking breaks between songs, filling the space with light conversations, sips of water, an ever-present cloth to wipe perspiration and configuring the next tune with her bandmates. However, if she was tired, it didn’t show when she went into material from The Fugees’ breakthrough album “The Score”. She started with “How Many Mics”, effortlessly reciting both Pras and Wyclef’s lyrics, doing the hooks, while stalking the stage like a true B-Girl, before going into other hits from the album including “Zealots” (including an additional version of her verse that was spectacular), “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”, a version of “Fu-Gee-La” that tore the roof off TLA, “Ready or Not” and of course, “Killing Me Softly”.

Two hours later, it was apparent that we all came there for “That Thing”, the thing about Lauryn Hill that’s kept her so beloved even through her sabbatical and quizzical appearances. It’s her genius that borders on eccentricity or insanity (depends on who’s talking), it’s the music that defined a period of our lives that we all hold sacred, it’s her greatness that was defined over a four-year period that has only been seen in glimpses in the past decade. There’s a void that Lauryn Hill left and many people cannot forgive her, but others are holding on to the hope that she’ll return to fill that hollowness, but she told the crowd “I’m coming back for you”. They cheered, were amazed, rekindled their love affair with Ms. Hill, but many were skeptical and hoping her words were true. However, on that stage, on that night, she laid the foundation and set class in session for the re-education of Lauryn Hill fans.

They were strict on cameras, making you return them to your car or throw out the batteries, a special thank you to the young lady that e-mailed her photos.

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