Ms. Lauryn Hill’s career has been defined by the choices she made. There were pressures to have an abortion after her pregnancy, and Ms. Lauryn Hill’s choice to keep the child would begin a series of events that would alter the trajectory of popular music forever. Unknown to the public, Ms. Hill and the Fugees, particularly Wyclef Jean, had been romantically involved throughout the creation of The Score. But, she made one of the best albums of the nineties, then had a breakdown on MTV’s Unplugged.
From her rise to stardom to her fall from grace, what happened to this female artist who inspired so many people?
Ms. Hill’s Family Was Musically Talented
Lauryn Noelle Hill was born on May 26, 1975. She spent most of her childhood outside of Newark, New Jersey. Her mother, Valerie Hill, played the piano and her father, Mal Hill, sang, and would find himself performing at weddings and nightclubs. Music became a commodity inside the Hill household.
While growing up, the New Jersey native listened to Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, and would fall asleep to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On on repeat.
As A Teenager, Ms. Hill Started Singing Thanks To Her Music-Arranged Family
In middle school, Hill performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a basketball game. The popularity of her singing the anthem led to a recording of her rendition. In 1988, Hill appeared as a contestant on It’s Show Time At The Apollo. She sang her own version of “Who’s Lovin’ You” by Smokey Robinson.
Although she garnered a harsh reaction, Ms. Hill persevered and won the crowd over, though she later cried off-stage.
In A Good Way, She Was All Over The Map In High School
Along with being a member of the track team and being a cheerleader, Lauryn Hill took violin lessons. One of her classmates at Columbia High School was the future star of Scrubs, Zach Braff. Outside of that, Ms. Hill even founded the school’s gospel choir, all while being placed in advanced classes.
It was the work ethic from her family that established her and helped her find her footing in high school.
Her Acting Career Began To Develop After An Agent Saw Her Perform
Ms. Hill began her acting career in 1991. She was in an off-Broadway hip-hop rendition of Shakespeare’s 12th Night. Although the play was not a success, an agent noticed her talent. Eventually, she landed a recurring role on the soap opera, As The World Turns, playing troubled runaway Kira Johnson.
In one episode, Ms. Hill was able to showcase her vocal talent, performing “You Brought Me Love” in a wedding scene.
Eventually, She Landed What Would Be The Biggest Role Of Her Acting Career
Ms. Hill co-starred alongside Whoopie Goldberg for Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit. She played Rita Watson, a rebellious inner-city Catholic school teenager. But, her character had a golden voice in the movie’s climatic moment. Rita leads a choir to win a national competition for her school.
Although the sequel was not as successful as the original Sister Act, the film gross over $57 million on a $38 million budget.
Soon After, She Met Prakazrel “Pras” Michel
While a freshman at Columbia High School, Ms. Hill and “Pras” met through mutual friends. Pras was the one who approached her about a music group he was creating. Eventually, the pair began under the name Tranzlator Crew. The name was chosen because they wanted to rhyme in different languages. There was another female vocalist, but she would be replaced.
Eventually, Pras’s cousin, Wyclef Jean, would soon join the group.
She First Met Wyclef Jean While He Was Decked Out In A Batsuit
Ms. Hill first met Wyclef a month after meeting Pras. Interestingly enough, the multi-instrumentalist walked into the studio with unexpected attire. Wyclef was wearing an entire Batman suit, but this was when the superhero films were all the rage in theaters. Nevertheless, the trio was in this together to make music. Hill was initially a singer but then learned to rap too.
To perfect her craft, she modeled herself after listening to Ice Cube.
The Fugges Original Name Was The Tranzlator Crew
Long before the name Fugees became relevant, the trio started out as the Tranzlator Crew. They wanted the ability to rhyme in other languages while performing locally and creating demos. Ms. Hill was originally recruited for her singing talent, but she was encouraged by Pras and Wyclef to give a try at rapping. Eventually, Wyclef handed over Queen Latifah CDs to Ms. Hill.
Wyclef instructed her to listen to her lines, specifically her freestyles.
In 1993, The Trio Signed Their First Record Deal And Changed Their Name To Fugees
The trio signed with Ruffhouse, which is distributed through Columbia Records. Fugees was purposely taken from an abbreviation for refugee. This alludes to Pras and Wyclef’s Haitian heritage. According to Wyclef, the name was universal to the American experience. “Everyone in the United States is a refugee, to some degree.”
Refugee Camp, while a name sometimes credited to the trio, also refers to some artists affiliated with them, and particularly Wyclef.
Blunted On Reality Almost Got The Trio Canned From The Record Company
Their first album was a complete flop. It was recorded in 1992 but released in 1994. Even with the guidance of the Kool and the Gang producer Ronald Bell, the album sold no more than 12,000 copies. The album didn’t contain as many lyrics with political messages compared to what was coming on The Score.
The songs “Boof Baf,” “Nappy Heads,” and “Vocab” gained little mainstream attention, despite earning praise for its artistic quality.
The Fugees Lifeline Was Extended Due To Producer Sloan Remy
The producer played around with the single “Nappy Heads.” Through his remixes, Remy had a reputation for making Jamaican dance and Reggae music pleasurable for American audiences. Remy described the original version as sounding like a bad uptempo extract. Eventually, he laid the groundwork for the future sound of the trio.
Jason Jackson, a former intern at Columbia Records, was responsible for putting Remy and the Fugees together, crediting the “Nappy Heads” remix as the trio’s second chance.
Thanks To Remy’s Efforts, Fugees Got A $135,000 Advancement To Make A Sophmore Album
In early 1995, the group used the money to set up a studio in Wyclef’s uncle’s basement. The studio would eventually be known as the “Boogie Basement.” With more experience and a new artistic vision, the group went to work on what would be their final album, The Score.
Blunted on Reality failed to showcase each member’s talents, but their follow-up album did so triumphantly. Each member credited the partnership with helping them return to who they were creatively.
The New Stripped Down Production Style And Laidback Tempo Of The Score Allowed Ms. Hill’s Voice To Radiate
Ms. Hill’s soulful voice played a crucial role on the album’s three commercial singles “Fu-Gee-La,” “Killing Me Softly,” and “Ready Or Not.” Ms. Hill’s MC skills were no longer a work in progress either. Wyclef recalled, “I’ll never stop being impressed at how much Lauryn came into her own on The Score. She was the caterpillar who became the butterfly.”
In the years between, she wrote and practiced to make herself better.
Meanwhile, Behind The Scenes, Ms. Hill And Wyclef Became Romantically Involved
Despite Wyclef being married since 1994, the affair existed throughout the creation of The Score. According to Wyclef, it fueled much of the album’s greatness.
“I was a big brother figure to Lauryn until it turned romantic. The soundtrack of our relationship is the commercially acclaimed album. That album came out the way it did because of our passion. We’ve become a real couple even though I was with someone else at the time.”
Their Relationship Fueled The Greatness Of The Fugees, And Became A Factor For Their Demise
By all accounts, Wyclef and Ms. Hill’s relationship was like a romantic language. You can hear that in the music they made together. Love and rage were the themes of the relationship, with Wyclef saying, “We were deeply in love or fighting. There was no middle ground. It was like a passionate roller coaster ride every single day.”
They had fought on planes, and the police called on them after an argument in their hotel in Germany.
After The Score Made It Big In 1996, Ms. Hill Met Rohan Marley
Ms. Hill became intimate with Bob Marley’s son. But, at 21 years old, the now-famous musician became pregnant with Marley’s child. There are various accounts in regards to this love triangle between Wyclef, Lauryn, and Rohan. Wyclef claims he was led to believe that the child was his, while Ms. Hill herself didn’t say much in those specifics.
One thing became clear — the personal relationship between Wyclef and Lauryn deteriorated to a point where it affected their creative relationship. Thus, the Fugees split.
In 1997, During Her Pregnancy, Ms. Hill Had Begun Work On A Solo Project
Recording sessions took place from 1997 to June 1998 at Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston, Jamaica. It took a lot of courage for the singer to go down a road with producers who weren’t well-known at the time. Che Guvera and others were like soldiers in her army. Lauryn would push them to the 10th level to get something the way she hears it.
That was a clear message that she wanted her album to succeed.
The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
Ms. Hill’s first solo effort helped establish the artist as a headline talent. The combination of soul, hip-hop, and reggae would be enough for her to take home five Grammy Awards. Ms. Hill’s ability to show a musical lightness that tackled deep personal issues was on full display.
The break-up of the Fugees was put forth with “It’s funny how money changes a situation,” on the opening track, “Lost Ones.”
Critics Praised The Singer’s Representation Of A Woman’s View On Life And Love, But It Came With A Lawsuit
New Ark felt that Hill and her record label did not properly credit the group on the album. Eventually, a lawsuit was placed against Hill in 1998, claiming that Hill “used their songs and production skills, but failed to properly credit them for the work.” The case illustrated the difficult boundaries between songwriting and all other aspects that went into contemporary arranging, sampling, and recording.
The lawsuit would be settled out of court in February 2001.
Following The Success Of Miseducation, Ms. Hill Began Writing A Screenplay
Ms. Hill began a script about the life of Bob Marley where she planned to play his wife, Rifa. Also, the mother of now two children began producing a romantic comedy about soul food with a working title of Sauce. Eventually, the Grammy-award winner accepted a starring role for Toni Morrison’s book Beloved.
She later dropped out of that and turned down a role for Charlie’s Angels due to being pregnant with her third child.
During 2000, Ms. Hill Dropped Out Of The Public Eye
The pressures of fame started to overwhelm the former actress. Ms. Hill had a dislike for not being able to go out of her house to do errands without worrying about her physical appearance. She would go on to fire her management team and began attending Bible Study classes five days a week.
Eventually, Ms. Hill stopped doing interviews altogether and started associating with Brother Anthony, who was a spiritual advisor.
She Became Inseparable With Brother Anthony
Within three months, Ms. Hill was going to Bible study with Brother Anthony. A friend of the musician says Brother Anthony taught Hill that “she should be whoever she wants to be because she doesn’t owe her fans anything. God didn’t create us to be beholden unto people and entertain them. God holds us to be the people that we want to be.”
The two became inseparable, and Hill began starting some of her sentences with “Brother Anthony says…”
In 2001, Ms. Hill Appeared On MTV Unplugged And Had A Bit Of A Breakdown
While pregnant with her third child, Ms. Hill appeared on the MTV special in July 2001. The day before, Hill ripped up her throat but refused to reschedule. She accompanied herself on guitar, the lone instrument on the album, but many talked about how the former Fugees member could be heard breaking down in tears. She could be heard saying: “I’m crazy and deranged. I’m emotionally unstable.”
Unplugged sold just over 470,000 records.
While Ms. Hill Sometimes Had Spoken Of Marley As Her Husband, They Never Married
Ms. Hill was informed that Marley had been previously married at a young age. The two had been living in a high-end Miami hotel, but around 2003 she moved out into her own place in the city. The New Jersey native later said that she and Marley “have had long periods of separation over the years.”
Since they first met after The Score’s release, the pair has six kids in total.
For The First Time Since 1997, The Fugees Performed In 2004
Dave Chapelle’s Block Party would mark the return of The Fugees. The concert was nothing more than Hill’s a cappella version of “Killing Me Softly.” The Fugees then appeared at the 2005 BET Awards, opening with a 12-minute set. In late 2005, the trio embarked on a European tour. However, old tensions between Ms. Hill and the other members soon resurfaced.
Both Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel blamed Hill for the split.
In Mid-2008, Columbia Records Believed Ms. Hill Was On A Hiatus
Rohan Marley disputed these claims, telling an interviewer that his partner has enough material for several albums. One of the few appearances the musician made was at a Martha Stewart book-signing in New Jersey. In April 2009, it was reported that Hill would engage in a 10-day tour of European summer festivals during mid-July of that year.
Performing two shows for the tour, she passed out on stage during the second performance.
Ms. Hill Performed At The Raggamuffin Music Festival In 2010
In January 2010, Ms. Hill had performed across New Zealand and Australia. Most of the songs recorded over the past six years were included in the compilation album Khulami Phase. The album also features a range of other material found on the Ms. Hill compilation. But, an unreleased song “Repercussions” was leaked on the internet in July of that year.
That song marked Ms. Hill’s first Billboard chart appearance since 1999.
In 2013, Ms. Hill Made Headlines For Not Paying Taxes
The now mother of six was sentenced to three months in prison. Ms. Hill did not pay her federal taxes and owed approximately $1.8 million. The actress-turned-musician pleaded guilty to the tax-evasion charges. Sympathy was already in short supply from the many fans who were denied refunds in 2009 when she cut a show short.
Even worse for her fans, she had to cancel her comeback tour for unspecified health reasons.
Ms. Hill Began Serving Her Sentence On July 8, 2013
The Grammy winner was released from prison almost three months after serving her sentence. Ms. Hill was released for good behavior and began her probationary period. Judge Arleo allowed her to postpone part of her confinement to tour in late 2013 under strict conditions.
Almost a year later, Ms. Hill is heard as the narrator of Concerning Violence, which was an award-winning Swedish documentary on the African liberation struggles of the sixties and seventies.
In April 2016, Ms. Hill Headlined The Diaspora Calling! Festival
The festival was held at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn. The festivals’ purpose was to showcase the efforts of musicians and artists in the African diaspora. The next month, Ms. Hill was over two hours late at her show at the Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta.
The less-than-40-minute show ended abruptly due to the venue closing at 11:00 p.m. and Ms. Hill claimed her driver got lost on the way to the show.