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I recently attended a conference that dissected the music business with some of the most influential writers in the game. The Digital Editor over at Ebony, Kierna Mayo, explained that in this world you must be able to distinguish fandom from journalism. That as music writers, we must be able to be consumers while still asking critical questions–that we have no qualms about grilling our favorite artists. So when I saw Lauryn Hill for the first time at Boston’s House of Blues this past Thursday, those words were circling around in my head as she finally stepped on stage. Hill is a queen–a musical genius, perhaps even a legend in the making. Holding her to almost ecclesiastical expectations proved dangerous in the end, though–she was absolutely horrible.
She performed the songs we all knew she would. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill spawned sidewalk anthems such as “Doo Wop (That Thing),” complex love notions like “Ex-Factor,” and tender melodic movers including “Everything is Everything.” As one third of the game-changing Fugees, she delivered classics such as “How Many Mics,” “Ready or Not,” “Fu-Gee-La,” and of course, “Killing Me Softly.” She even switched up the mood as she brought out her acoustic guitar to perform songs off her MTV Unplugged 2.0 record, including “Mr. Intentional” and “Adam Lives in Theory.” Vocally, she was on point. Aesthetically, her outfit was well put together and her natural hair was in all of its glory–she was stunning. So why did her concert suck so bad?
There were several reasons. The first being the palpable disconnect between her and the audience. Her entire set sounded nothing like the original recordings. Granted, musicians have creative license to perform tracks live any way they choose. But this worked against Hill. Her live band that brought more weight to the songs wasn’t the problem–D’angelo did that last year on tour and that shit worked. But Hill was in her own universe, and seemed like she was more of an amateur scat singer instead of a Grammy-award winning artist. Songs were literally unrecognizable. Second, Hill is continually profiting from two albums that were released from over a decade ago.
She can charge ridiculous prices for a lackluster performance because she made two really good records–but gave us nothing since. I defended her last year when she came to Royale in Boston because I had faith that she was on the verge of a comeback. Clearly, I was wrong. And lastly, Hill isn’t using her status and influence to her advantage. How refreshing was it to see a dark skinned black woman on the cover of Time? Remember the insight and potency of the lyrics of “Doo Wop?” We are in dire need of a black feminist perspective in 2014–a year where black women are treated like an afterthought in the perpetuation of domestic violence and white pop stars continue to see nothing wrong with cultural appropriation. Hopefully, Hill will soon come to her senses and recognize the errors of her ways.