Lauryn Hill is one of the few artists who can still ignite passionate responses in fans. The woman who gave us two modern hip-hop classics in the Fugees’ second album, “The Score,” and her 1998 hit “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” has, in the more than 15 years since she backed away from the spotlight, become a lightening rod for criticism. The complaints are all over the place: She hasn’t released an album since 2002, is late to shows, dresses funny, has too many kids, doesn’t pay taxes and is homophobic (more on this later).
The complaints aren’t new, but they resurfaced recently in a piece on Medium by white, male writer Stefan Schumacher called “It’s Finally Time to Stop Caring About Lauryn Hill.” In it, Schumacher writes about what he calls “Hill’s erratic behavior, paranoid, and overt religious fixation” and levels the pretty weighty claim that Hill’s dealing with “something more akin to mental illness.” Schumacher writes:
It occurred to me that, as great as Miseducation and The Fugees’ The Score are, they’re part of a distant past. Lauryn Hill was a great artist. She’s not anymore and it’s time we stop holding her in that regard, waiting for her to pay off on a promise that’s long since expired.
Talib Kweli doesn’t agree. In a response on Medium, the rapper makes the case the artists are not products and Lauryn Hill’s personal life is none of her fans’ business:
When you pay for a Lauryn Hill concert you are not paying for her to do what you want, you are paying for her to do what she wants. She is not an iPod nor is she a trained monkey. She doesn’t have to do her hits and she doesn’t have to do the songs the way you want to hear them. She doesn’t owe you that. The world does not revolve around you, and you ain’t gotta like it. Get over yourself. If you have a negative experience at her concert, go home, put on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and the next time she does come through your town, don’t go to her concert. Problem solved. Just because you had a negative experience at a Lauryn Hill show doesn’t mean her contribution to the world is invalid or deserves to be disrespected.
But even for those who agree wholeheartedly with Kweli’s points, not all of Hill’s critics are totally off base. For instance, take the anti-gay lyrics in one of her most recent songs from last summer, “Neurotic Society,” in which she compares “social transvestism,” “drag queens” and “girl men” to “pimps,” “pushers,” and “serial criminals.” In a written defense of the song, Hill wrote on her Tumblr: “Everyone has a right to their own beliefs,” she wrote. “Although I do not necessarily agree with what everyone says or does, I do believe in everyone’s right to protest.”
Those are words that more or less prove Kweli’s point: Hill is a person, not a product, and fans don’t have to agree with her — or listen.