Lauryn Hill Responds To Her Critics In A MAJOR Way. This Is A Re-Education.
Just over two weeks ago, Grammy Award-winning musician/artist Robert Glasper opened up about Lauryn Hill in an interview with Houston, Texas’ 97.9 The BOX. The revealing 40-minute conversation found Glasper recalling his time with L-Boogie in 2008 as a touring musician. Those memories were not positive, as the pianist says that the band’s compensation was cut, Ms. Hill was remarkably demanding and treated her musicians very poorly. Then, Glasper (who has worked with Yasiin Bey, Kendrick Lamar, Carly Simon, and others) pointed out that Lauryn snubbed collaborating writers on her magnum opus, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. While that album released a decade before the pair’s short-lived working relationship, Glasper charged, “She took the credit for making the classic album…those songs were written by other people, and they did not get their credit. She likes to take credit so she can become this super person…the one thing [Lauryn Hill] did that was great, [she] didn’t do.”
Last week, Lauryn Hill and her fans celebrated the 20th anniversary of that album. Before the month ends, L-Boogie breaks her silence in an essay titled “Addressing Robert Glasper and other common misconceptions about me (in no particular order).” The piece is published on her page at Medium. Before moving to a point-by-point response, Lauryn writes, “I apologize for the delay in getting this posted, I was late in hearing about it. I understand this is long, but my last interview was over a decade ago…”
In her lengthy reply to Glasper and clarification to the public, Lauryn Hill addresses why her shows are often extensively delayed, keeping ticket-holders outside venues for hours. The former Fugees member explains her position on race and entertainment industry racism, writing, “Just to clear up an old urban legend that somehow people still believe, I do not hate white people.” Pointing to her Unplugged material as a document that shows her rawness in a specific time, she decries Glasper’s jab, “Miseducation was my only solo studio album, but it certainly wasn’t the only good thing I did.”
Perhaps most notably, Ms. Hill puts her foot down on the creation and ownership surrounding her 1998 masterpiece. “Miseducation was the first time I worked with musicians outside of the Fugees who’s [rapport] 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.”
Much of the 3,300-word essay asserts how Lauryn Hill treats her collaborators. “I definitely don’t like to fire anyone. It did take me meeting a lot of people over a number of years to find the right musicians, but my current band has been with me for a long time, the newest members probably 2-3 years, some as long as 7-8 years now. I was looking for a similar natural chemistry with new musicians that I’d had with the Fugees and Miseducation bands. I’d literally grown up with some of those musicians. That isn’t easy to find.” Acknowledging that her former staff “disbanded” in 2008, she revisits the time she encountered Robert Glasper. “[I have] no idea why any musician would have had knowledge of what I was being paid, not sure what he’s saying is accurate,” she says, responding to Robert claiming Ms. Hill received $500,000 per show, while musicians’ compensation was cut in half. “[I] 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,” she writes, pointing to James Brown’s famed docking of his band for blunders and errors. Later, she denies requesting that players at audition not make eye-contact with her. She does assert why all parties were required to address her in a way that puts the respect on her name. “‘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.”
Of the revolving bands and past exodus of players, Lauryn writes, “I’m definitely looking for something specific in musicians, and I absolutely do hire the best musicians I can find. Not every band had that particular ‘something’ I was looking for. That doesn’t make them bad musicians, just different than what I needed in that particular moment.” Elsewhere, she pens, “When you’re a popular artist or public figure, people can sometimes forget that you’re hiring them to perform a service, and that you’re not the one there to entertain THEM. I didn’t scream or yell. Maybe I didn’t provide the experience that a musician may have wanted or expected during that time, but I was straight-forward, direct, and about the business at hand.”
Hill adds that, especially in the late 2000s, her ensemble was a reflection of her stance on the industry. “If a musician was looking for a cushy job filled with the same trappings I was purposely weaning myself from, we wouldn’t have been on the same page anyway. Make no mistake, addiction is a common snare laid to dismantle the integrity of artists. My environment, at that time, operated more like a rehabilitation clinic than an after-party.”
Alluding to that time in her life, Lauryn Hill also justifies her mood and expectations. “During the time in question, I also believe I was playing a lot of new music with controversial content. FOR ME, rehearsal was about readying myself for the battle I knew I was entering into for simply not allowing a system to pimp me. If I was on edge, I had good reason to be.” With that demeanor, Ms. Hill believes she may have been misunderstood. “Perhaps my seriousness and militancy in the face of tremendous resistance was misinterpreted as meanness, or that I was unloving or uncaring, when my true intent was to protect.”
Late in the essay, Ms. Hill explains the turnover in her ensemble. “A fair weather band is a complete impracticality, a liability even. I’m expected, through my art, to pour out the depths of my soul. Some days that’s easier than others. If the crew of people supporting me aren’t built for that walk, they shouldn’t be there.” She says rehearsals are paramount to her creativity. “I take rehearsal seriously, I take performance seriously, I take my art seriously. My particular preparation process suits me. To each his or her own. My goal is to feel confident and free on stage.” She adds, “My standards are too high, and my process too idiosyncratic, not to work with people who really want to be there. When I don’t have that, I keep searching until I find them.”
After bluntly stating that she does not hate white folks, Lauryn opens up about her views on race. “[I] 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 P.T.S.D. 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. It’s an ugly, distorting and complicated history at best. We’ve been shaped by it for better or worse. I just choose not to pretend that it’s not there in order to maintain public approval and gain economic advantage. My true white friends and colleagues and I discuss these schemes and machinations, and the distrust that people of color would naturally have toward such a system and towards those who agree with it. We don’t run from those conversations, we run into them, which is why I can call them friends and colleagues.” To her fans, she provides further evidence and understanding of this position and period. “There’s an entire album about that, it’s documented and called Lauryn Hill MTV Unplugged. For some, the Unplugged album provided useful insight during dark times, gave important context on some real but hidden issues, and helped people going through personal struggles, because I’d exposed myself in such a raw and vulnerable state.”
Returning to writing and credit, Lauryn positions herself as an employer and a master in her field of music. “You may be able to make suggestions, but you can’t write FOR me. I am the architect of my creative expression. No decisions are made without me. I hire master builders and masterful artisans and technicians who play beautifully, lend their technical expertise, and who translate the language that I provide into beautifully realized music.” She then questions Glasper’s integrity to agree to work with her at all, given his accusations. “I’m confused as to why such a principled musician, who thought I ‘stole’ from his friends, would show up to work for me anyway. ???? If that was hypocrisy or opportunism instead of genuine interest, it would further explain why an artist would feel the need to put his or her guard up.”
Lauryn Hill pulls no punches in checking her critic. “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,” she says to Robert Glasper. Ms. Hill then lays out some of her specific accomplishments, with the Fugees, her solo career, and as a mother of six. She also tells the staff at H-Town’s 97.9 The BOX to feel free to stop playing her music, if they agree with Glasper’s charge that she has not done enough.
Ms. Hill also addresses her fans and her rehearsals at once. “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,” she writes. “I remix my songs live because I haven’t released an album in several years. There’s a ton of backstory as to why, but there’s no way I could continue to play the same songs over and over as long as I’ve been performing them without some variation and exploration. I’m not a robot. If I’d had additional music out, perhaps I would have kept them as they were. I didn’t, so I revise and rearrange them according to what I’m feeling in that moment. This way, my performances are heartfelt and authentic, not me just going through the motions. I can’t imagine why that would be a foreign concept to anyone who appreciates Jazz.” She then also scoffs at another industry rumor. “The myth that I’m not allowed to play the original versions of my songs is…a myth (anyone who’s seen my current show knows this).” As for those previously or currently upset with the star songstress, Ms. Hill pens, “I don’t owe anyone self-repression. Some fans will grow with me, some won’t and that’s OK.”
Near her close, Lauryn returns to the notion of credit surrounding her 20-year-old solo debut. “The album inspired many people, from all walks of life, because of its radical (intense) will to live and to express Love. I appreciate everyone who was a part of it, in any and every capacity. It wouldn’t have existed the way that it did without the involvement, skill, hard work, and talents of the artists/musicians and technicians who were a part of it, but it still required my vision, my passion, my faith, my will, my soul, my heart, and my story.”
“Addressing Robert Glasper and other common misconceptions about me (in no particular order)” is available to read in full at Lauryn Hill’s Medium page.
#BonusBeat: This Genius video captures the significance of The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill: