I was flipping through the cable channels and stumbled on Sister Act 2: Back to the Habit. It immediately took me down memory lane to my childhood years, when chick flicks were made of substance and you never got tired of watching them over and over again. I am talking about Deborah Kerr’s The King and I (1956), Julie Andrews’ Sounds of Music (1965), Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America (1988), Morgan Freeman’s Lean on Me (1989) and Julia Roberts/Richard Gere’s Pretty Woman (1990). Yes, Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act and its sequel (1992/1993) belong to this elite list.
While watching Lauryn Hill’s character, Rita Watson, rock the pleated mini skirt or the bodysuit on baggy jeans, with those infamous Soul to Soul braids, I remembered why she was a massive hit with young girls of colour. Finally, here was our role model, a black young female that we could easily relate to, one who could both act and sing. This was further validated when she emerged as part of The Fugees, rising to global fame with the hit song Killing Me Softly, from their 1996 album, The Score. I used to listen to that song on my Walkman, her alto vocals soaring through my earphones, my head swaying left to right as I sang at the top of my voice.
Following her introduction to fame, and her split from The Fugees, Lauryn Hill released her only solo studio album in 1998 titled The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Receiving huge critical acclaim, the album gave us an insight to the woman she had become. In the 1999 Grammy Awards, it earned her five awards and she became the first female ever to receive ten Grammy nominations in a single year. Yet, amidst this huge success, she was negatively criticised for not being a good role model because she was a young unwed mother of two at the time. This was quite ironic considering that one of her most popular, successful and memorable songs, from same debut album, was about morality, warning African-American men and women involved in social vices associated with money, sex and domestic violence. Doo Wop (That Thing) debuted at number one on the billboard charts and won Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song Grammy awards. Surely, compared to the likes of Miley Cyrus, Rhianna and Nikki Minaj of these times, she exemplifies the perfect role model.
What happened to Lauryn Hill? Where did she go? All I can say is that between her dislike of the pressures of fame, her self-exile from social interactions, her complicated emotional relationship with Rohan Marley (Bob Marley’s son), her controversial spiritual relationship with a ‘spiritual advisor’, and her tax evasion crime that saw her serve three months in prison, Lauryn Hill became forgotten and irrelevant. That is what fame in the world we live in does to celebrities; it sucks them in until they have nothing more to give and then spits them out dead or alive. If they are dead, they become legends. If they are alive, they are fallen stars.
For those of us that genuinely appreciate talent, we owe it to these fallen stars to support them in any way we can. Fortunately, they are alive and so still remain a gift to us, to inspire, to motivate, to dare us to dream. I am talking of the likes of Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, Patti LaBelle, Toni Braxton, Missy Elliott and yours truly, Lauryn Hill (to mention a few). Though not trendy stars now, their talents remain untarnished. Particularly for Ms Lauryn Hill, such support is needed now that she is back to the habit, that is, her habit of singing and performing on live shows. One of such live shows is happening here in Lagos, on May 1st, 2015. Alas, for the young generation, here is finally an opportunity to witness what true talent is. As for the young adults born in the ‘70s and ‘80s, go watch Lauryn Hill perform and have a swell time as you reminisce the yesteryears of your youth. Without a doubt, the 90’s were the best time ever, when we looked cool with our spotty waves, gelled hair, bandanas, baggy outfits, rucksacks, Timberland boots and ‘akpola’ platforms. Happy workers day!