Hill’s debut solo album, 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, was an even bigger sensation, showing her talents in full bloom. It was an instant “Neo Soul” classic punctuated by tight rhymes, Reggae rhythms and Pop magnetism, but it was done with such an organic grace that it transcended genre. Hill’s songwriting connected deeply with listeners and the album was unanimously praised by the press. Miseducation — which won “Album of the Year” at the 1999 Grammys, as well as five other statues that year — confirmed Hill’s status as an icon and has held up as a timeless classic, as evidenced by its regular inclusion on best-of-all-time lists and the broad range of artists who continue to cite Hill has one of their biggest influences.
While set up to have a fruitful career, Hill has been less than prolific since the turn of the century. The kind of huge success Miseducation experienced had its drawbacks — Hill grew tired of playing the music biz game, and the pressure to follow up such a successful album would be cripplingly daunting to anyone. Her 2002 MTV Unplugged album — which included several monologues about her personal and artistic struggles — sold well, but was panned by many due to lofty expectations that Hill would produce a Miseducation 2.
There were teases of a full-on return over the years — Fugees did reunite for a few limited appearances in the mid-’00s — but after serving a short stint in prison for tax evasion, Hill gradually began to become a more regular presence on the road, with most concerts being very well-received (though her tardiness is often cited; she’s clearly doing things on her terms now). Performing as “Ms. Lauryn Hill” in recent years, her hour-long performance on the Austin City Limits TV show in 2016 (see a clip below) is one of the long-running program’s classic episodes, with the growth, experience, pain and love in her life over the past two decades adding an even greater depth to her astonishing voice.
Another great recent Hill moment is her six stellar tracks on the Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone album in 2015, which makes it hard to not think of Hill in the same company as Simone; both had sidetracking career struggles and each seems to have an almost spiritual outlook on their otherworldly gifts. But while Simone never fully bounced back after her trials and tribulations, Hill still has a lot of life in front of her and is still revered enough to pack concert venues on a regular basis.
She’ll already be remembered as a legend; though a focused new album or two (Hill has only put out songs sporadically since 2002) would be more than welcomed, whatever she does from here on out is just delicious icing on the cake of her sturdy legacy.
UPDATE: Still recommending this show highly, but if you're going you might want to plan on it being a late night.
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