Let's Talk About Lauryn Hill's Essay Where She Addresses Everything and Nothing at the Same Damn Time

Illustration for article titled Let's Talk About Lauryn Hill's Essay Where She Addresses Everything and Nothing at the Same Damn Time
Photo: Theo Wargo (Getty Images for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

Ms. Lauryn Hill decided to share some thoughts on all of the talk surrounding her late shows and many of the very pointed and incendiary comments and opinions shared by Robert Glasper earlier this month.


Like most folks, I’m a fan of ’90s Lauryn, or Ms. Hill as she prefers to be called (more on this later). But she lost me almost two decades ago for various reasons, though I will always appreciate what she brought to the table while always thinking about the big question of what I think she could have brought to the table.

Let’s break down some of this tome. I will skip a lot and only focus on the things that stand out to me because this joint is a legit 3,000 words and while I read the whole thing (and you probably did too), there’s no need for me to address everything she addressed by literally restating it all. This would end up being 5,000 words and ain’t nobody got time for that.

The Miseducation was the first time I worked with musicians outside of the Fugees who’s report and working relationship was clear. In an effort to create the same level of comfort, I may not have established the necessary boundaries and may have been more inviting than I should have been. In hindsight, I would have handled it differently for the removal of any confusion. And I have handled it differently since, I’m clear and I make clear before someone walks in the door what I am and am not looking for. I may have been inclusive, but these are my songs.

Misspelling “rapport” aside (which I only bring up because I saw others do it; I know what she meant so the communication was effective), I think she’s speaking to something very important here. She tried to create an environment like she’d been in prior and it ended up proving chaotic at times, according to various reports. Being the boss is different than being a worker in a situation. I’d chalk this up to a life lesson we could all heed. This foreshadows the “call me Ms. Hill” thing so many folks had an issue with. For the record, I do not have a problem with it.

-I have come across the occasional musician who thinks they already know what I want, feelings and egos can be easily bruised when you tell them they actually don’t. I am never trying to intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings btw, but when people insist that they know you and don’t, you may have to be equally as firm to demonstrate otherwise.


All artists are sensitive about their shit, her included. But she’s absolutely right about one thing (something we’ll get to later), if it’s her vision and her work, then its her law.

-I am paying for a service, and looking for something SPECIFIC, which isn’t up to someone else’s interpretation or opinion. I have my own idea of what works for me. That shouldn’t offend.


I agree with this 100 percent.

I’d like to point out to people who don’t write shit how important it is to write shit down. You get to clearly articulate your thoughts through editing, even lazy editing is better than just saying shit without thinking it through. Reading much of this, it’s almost easy to forget that this is the woman who said she didn’t pay her taxes because she had to withdraw from society because of threats to her family, and didn’t show up to shows on time because she was trying to align her energy with her time, never mind folks paid their money for the time on a ticket that she agreed to. Obviously the IRS didn’t agree with those threats—she served time in prison—and her concerts have become the matter of heavy, scrutiny. Point is, I appreciate her dropping lucid and articulated thoughts, though some of it is very clear, lucid, articulate hogwash.

In 2008, I had only a young man helping me and my Mother, after disbanding my former support staff. No idea why any musician would have had knowledge of what I was being paid, not sure what he’s saying is accurate. Don’t have the details or recollection of cutting the band’s pay in half. If fees had been negotiated and confirmed without my knowledge, I may have asked for them to be adjusted. But I would never just cut a musician’s pay arbitrarily unless I had a legitimate reason. There are artists who do cut pay though, James Brown was notorious for docking musicians if they did something he didn’t like, I’m sure there are others.


She’s right. A lot of artists docked folks’ pay. James Brown is one. Ray Charles was another. However, they knew what they were doing. This paragraph is troubling to me. Robert Glasper claimed that artists’ money was cut. She’s saying maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t. If it did, I had my reasons, but I don’t actually remember that happening. This is where the hogwash starts. This is where she could have just owned it. Yes, she cut folks’ pay when warranted. It’s not uncommon. This mixed with some of the chaos she is saying she’s responsible for definitely could create some hard feelings.

-No matter how incredible the musicians who play with me are, MY name is on the marquee. The expectation to make it all come together is on me. The risk and the financial losses are on me. Hence, MY VIBE, though not the only consideration, is the priority. Few people actually know what this road is like, but many want to judge and comment, having never done it. Try doing what I’ve done yourself. If nothing else, you will gain some insight into and respect for my process.


This is very real talk and probably the most ironic paragraph in the whole screed. Yes, her name is on the marquee and, as she said, she’s paying for the whole thing. I think that gives her carte blanche to run the ship how she wants. Now, Glasper claimed she was using stolen material (basically) and she rightly points out (in a separate paragraph) if he thought that then it’s a bit hypocritical to come work with her. But he showed up and it is her ship. Her name is on the marquee. Her brand. More on that later.

And just to clear up an old urban legend that somehow people still believe, I do not hate white people. I do, however, despise a system of entitlement and oppression set up to exploit people who are different. I do loathe the promotion and preservation of said system at the expense of other people, and the racist and entitled attitudes it gives rise to. The lengthy history of unfairness and brutality towards people of color, especially Black people, has not been fully acknowledged or corrected. The expectation is for us to live with abuse, distortion, and deliberate policies, meant to outright control and contain us — like we’re not aware of our basic right to freedom. I resist and reject THESE ideas completely. Like many Black people, I work to reconcile my own generational PTSD. I do my best to Love, pursue freedom in body, Spirit and mind… and to confront. To repress everything in the name of ‘getting along’ is to deny our right to healing.


No lies detected. She says a lot more, too.

-Who are you to say I didn’t do enough? Most people are probably just hearing your name for the first time because you dropped MINE in an interview, controversially. Taking nothing away from your talent, but this is a fact.


Unnecessary shots fired, but he fired (kinda) first. She’s probably right, though. I’m sure a significant number of people who know her name haven’t heard a single thing from Robert Glasper, or at least didn’t know they were listening to his music. But he sent for her, so she came for him. I think we have to allow this.

-What about the image of Black women in hip hop? When exposure and sexualization of the Black female body was the standard, SOMEONE stood up and represented a different image entirely, giving a generation of young women options and alternatives of self-representation. #AMNESIA


Not to be all “well, actually...” but Miseducation is pretty heavy on respectability politics and pretentiousness. No need for me to say it, Shamira addressed that pretty thoroughly already a few years ago. But it was a different image of self-representation, I agree. It was just still largely couched in patriarchy.

-And yes, Ms. Hill was absolutely a requirement. I was young, Black and female. Not everyone can work for and give the appropriate respect to a person in that package and in charge. It was important, especially then, for that to be revealed early.

-I adore Stevie, and honor Herbie and Quincy, who are our forebears, but they’re not women. Men often can say ‘I want it done like this’ and not be challenged. The same rules don’t always apply for women who may be met with resistance. When this happens you replace that player with someone who respects you and the office you hold.


For that reason, I don’t take issue with her wanting to be called “Ms. Hill.” She needed to demand respect. Assuming this was in response to that early lack of boundary setting, I think this is fair and reasonable. Again though, writing things out makes them sound more reasonable. Every time somebody mentioned this in interviews, it always sounded like it was coming from a narcissistic place. Her writing implies a very reasoned approach. Three sides to every story, I suppose.

At the same time, I think she’s absolutely right about nobody questioning a man’s method in pursuit of genius. If Stevie required folks to call him Mr. Wonder, would anybody bat an eye? Nope. Women always have a harder hill to climb (no pun intended) for the same goals and that’s unfair and needs to be addressed. Maybe she’s not the vessel considering other shit, but she’s not wrong.

-Me being late to shows isn’t because I don’t respect my fans or their time, but the contrary, It can be argued that I care too much, and insist on things being right. I like to switch my show up regularly, change arrangements, add new songs, etc. This often leads to long sound checks, which leads to doors opening late, which leads to the show getting a late start. This element of perfectionism is about wanting the audience to experience the very best and most authentic musical experience they can from what I do.


This is getting too long too, so we’ll focus here and end here. It’s entirely fucked up to be continuously, HOURS late to shows that get cut short for personal reasons and shit like “chakras” and then claim it’s because you care about the fans too much. Are fans who are disappointed because of a showtime that she agreed to getting money back for an 11-minute show? Or a shitty show? Or any reason? They’re not. People pay money to see artists and while it would be nice if every show was worth the price of admission, we all know that won’t always be the case. However, when folks are constantly telling other folks that paying money to see her is a waste of time, then something’s wrong.

This get’s back to the fact that her name is on the marquee. She fucked up her brand. Nobody else did. Robert Glasper gave an inside look at the musician and artist side, but for the vast majority of us, our concern and interest is Lauryn and Lauryn alone. We don’t care who is on keys or bass. So when the whole show goes to shit, we look at her crazy. So for her to be so aware that her name is on the marquee, it’s entirely ironic for her to think that this faux-perfectionism she’s claiming is warranted.


And real talk: By this point, because of the limited amount of material (facts), she should be able to figure this out pretty simply. She doesn’t have 10 albums to get through. She really has one that folks want to hear and the Unplugged album that many of us could live without. That’s the brand she’s created.

And how the fuck is the audience going to experience the best and most authentic musical experience if she never shows up and cuts shows early? How, Sway? She wants folks to understand her point of view, but it’s wrapped in a very selfish narrative of, “I’m giving it my all so you can get the most,” except the fans are required to just accept the bullshit. Lauryn’s name is on the marquee, and at this point, her name is pretty much mud.


I won’t delve into anymore of this because it’s a lot of stuff that makes sense in a world sense, but in context of her world, seems a bit myopic. The rest is just equivocating. I do think we need to give artists some leeway, in general (unless they’re harmful to society), but that can only last so long.

The reason we even care about Lauryn is because of work she did before the turn of the millennium, two decades ago. She doesn’t take much accountability for tarnishing her own brand, it’s really everybody else. I can’t say I expected it (or need it). I get why she decided to address some things, but none of this is going to make anybody side with her or feel as if they get her more. If anything, it’s something to talk about on a Tuesday while folks are still wrestling with whether or not they’ll get burned by buying tickets to one of her shows.



There’s no more miseducation regarding Lauryn Hill. At this point, we should have all learned our lesson.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.



I read through that, and once you get through that mystical artsy fartsy spin, there’s two key points. One is that she’s the one in charge, and particularly as a woman in a patriarchal society, she should have the leeway to demand the people working with her work to her specifications. That’s very valid and reasonable. I don’t see too many people taking issue with that.

The other is that because she’s an artist, and she’s serious about her shit, you should just accept whatever she feels like giving you that day. NOAP. You can’t be a leader in charge of an artistic work, or anything else, expect complete control and following directions of your employees, then provide whatever product you want when people paid specifically for something. That’s not how power works. People aren’t just paying for shows because they like you, but because they like your music.

In terms of the stealing music stuff, well, the collaborators for Miseducation got a record deal in compensation for not getting credited for writing and arranging large chunks of that album.  Nuff said.