The vicious 1990s media attack on Lauryn Hill
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The vicious 1990s media attack on Lauryn Hill

The late 1990s saw an explosion of African-American talent in both hip-hop and R’n’B. From the raw and avant-garde creativity of acts such as Timbaland and Missy Elliot to the cocoa-butter smooth vocals of neo-soul artists such as Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, the levels of artistry were unfathomable. However, one artist seemed to shine just a little brighter than the rest, and that was Lauryn Hill.

Born and raised in New Jersey, the world was first introduced to Hill through The Fugges. Short for ‘The Refugees,’ The Fugees first arose in the mid-90s and almost instantaneously gripped social consciousness with their music. 

Far from just a hip-hop ensemble, The Fugees were unbelievably versatile and was a rap, reggae, and neo-soul trio that became one of the most impactful alternative-rap groups ever. Comprised of Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel, the collective’s music was unparalleled and frankly phenomenal. Formed in Maplewood, New Jersey, where Hill and Pras went to high school. Pras suggested that his cousin, Wyclef Jean become part of the group. Together, the three produced outstanding hip-hop informed by Caribbean music and soul. The Fugees rose to fame quickly with their genre-fusing music, and their second album, The Score, still remains one of the highest-selling hip-hop projects of all time.

Although Lauryn Hill was initially known as a member of The Fugees, she had a mystique that made her music incredibly compelling when partnered with her social and spiritual awareness. The Jersey lyricist is still a go-to artist if people want style, flow and that quintessential soul. Lauryn Hill’s debut solo album, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, is lauded as a musical masterpiece. However, few know that following the release of her debut album, the US media launched a defaming barrage on Hill.

As evidenced by footage of Hill, Crazy Sam and Jeru The Damaja talking race, the ‘Ex Factor’ singer was far from stupid concerning politics and was not oblivious to the unnecessary hurdles her community had to deal with compared to others. However, her wisdom was to her detriment as politics can get personal quickly and sometimes even toxic.

As mentioned, concerning Afrocentrism and ideas surrounding The Five-Percent Nation, Hill wasn’t alone as acts such as Erykah Badu, India Arie and The Native Tongues were also introducing these philosophies to the masses. However, Hill seemed to suffer. Following the success of her 1998 project, a rumour began to surface that, in 1996, she had made an extremely anti-white comment.

The singer was rumoured to have said that she’d rather her children starve than have white people buy her albums. Speaking to MTV in 1998, Hill explained, “A couple of years ago, some kid had heard that I’d said that I didn’t want white people to buy my records, and that really, really hurt me a great deal because I like to think my music is really universal. I’ve been everywhere, and I have fans everywhere, but because of some rumour that, you know—some radio personality chose to say on his radio show, he had a bunch of people believing something that they’d never seen or never heard themselves but just heard a rumour.”

The media ran wild with the quote, and at the turn of the millennium, various controversies arose to change public perception about one of the most beloved stars of her generation. Following the success of Hill’s debut, the music collective New Ark, with whom Hill had worked, began telling the media that Hill was not responsible for her album. One member told the New York Post in 1998, “She is not a musician. She is not a producer! New Ark will make another album, and everyone will see that we are the ones responsible for this album. I dare say if you put Lauryn Hill in a studio alone, she couldn’t do it again. Album number two for her is not going to sound like this.”

Hill suffered greatly from the media frenzies that she had to experience. Although no one will ever truly know why individuals came out of the woodwork following her success, the media’s vicious nature may have contributed to Hill’s decision to step back from music. Below you can hear Hill address the media rumours of racism on ‘The Howard Stern Show’ and ‘MTV Masters.’