When I first got the download for "Neurotic Society," I decided to wait until I got home to rock it. I knew she was going to bring it. I knew she was going to bring back how "it should be done." With this single, she was going to knock it out the park and everyone was going to take heed. I finally got home, cooked, and put the babies to bed. I wanted to give "Neurotic Society," the full attention it deserved. I am a patient fan and sometimes you have to give a song or an artist a few listens to really digest it. I will admit that the first listen didn't do anything for me. The track seemed rough and unfinished. It sounded like she did it over a cassette or a 4 track. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Some dope hip hop joints were done on a 4 track, but this is Lauryn Hill right? So I gave it a few more listens. I became more disappointed each time.
It was wack.
It wasn't wack like "throw it in the trash" sort of wack. No, it just wasn't quality stuff. I expected more from Hill. Then I had to stop dead in my tracks. I realized years before she released this track that the Lauryn Hill we knew is no more. She is older. She has children. She has traveled. She has been through so much. Pretty much like any adult. She was 23 when she released "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" after touring the world with her band mates "The Fugees" for their multi platinum album "The Score." She was on top of the world. She is now 38 with only one other album under her belt. She even stopped doing movies. She still does shows but has other things to worry about. It's a different time. So much has transpired since 1998. None of us are the same person we were in 1998, I would hope.
Too many of us fans project too many of our expectations, hopes, and desires unto artists who captured our hearts. It might sound fanatical to some of us but it's completely understandable. While I can't figure out why someone would dig Lil' Wayne, I understand how an artist can release material at a pivotal moment in someone's life and help that person move on to the next stage. I completely get that. I can name quite a few artists who released material at a given point in my life and how that art helped me push through. Let me get personal.
Around 1998, I was in dire emotional straits. I was young. I was 23 and still trying to find my place in the world like any person in their early twenties. The mother of my son didn't want me anymore. I decided to rekindle the romance I really wanted in the first place. This was early 1998. It was a long distance relationship with a woman I met while in the Navy. I really wanted this. Everything fell into place. Then one evening she expressed that she didn't want me either and married someone else. It was a tough blow. So when "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" was released, like many of her fans, I felt like she spoke to me. When this album is bought up during any discussion, I hear that from so many people. So it makes perfect sense that many of us will cling to his particular album. The skits, the production, the lyrics, and even the cover spoke to so many of us. It was perfect. That year in 1998 was the year of Lauryn Hill. She was everywhere.
The dope part about that time was the Hill didn't compromise a damn thing. She wore her locks proudly. She rocked everything from pun pun shorts to West African garb. Hill was on almost every magazine cover. My favorite was the Rap Pages cover when she was made to look like the goddess Shiva (shout out to Sheena Lester). She represented us. On top of that, she wasn't made up. She had talent. She can rhyme and sing.
Then like a modern remake of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," it was all over. Hill was stuck in all kinds of scandals and lawsuits. Another album seemed light years away. Still, we stuck by her and rooted for her. We hoped and prayed for her. We wanted her to triumph. When she decided to take a hiatus in 2000, I recall being sorely disappointed and a bit angry. It was kind of like someone on my team who always helped us win decided not to play anymore. With her hiatus, when all of our hopes and desires.
This is where we should be careful as consumers and yes, fans. While Hill complained that what she initially gave us was all part of the machine, we all felt nothing but authenticity. We felt raw emotion. We felt those lyrics. Hill is right, the record industry is the devil. We have seen it devour so many of our heroes and spit out rotting shells. Yet we felt that she was above and beyond that. She was different. The industry couldn't break her.
While we can all speculate about what happened, many of us agree that the 2001 MTV Unplugged album was way out of left field. Initially, I hated it. It was nothing like I expected. I gave up on Hill and felt like a spurned lover. I pouted. I wanted my money back. I heard that from many people as well. Years later, I listened to that album and found that while it didn't have the stellar production of her first solo effort, it was rather dope. She sang her self out. The lyrics were heavy. The emotion was all there, if not more direct. I realized that Lauryn Hill is an artist and a human being. She is entitled to do things her way. If she wants to pick up a kazoo and tap dance, it's on her. That's her right. Who am I to say otherwise. If I don't like it, I just don't buy it.
As fans, we feel that since we put so much of an emotional investment in an artist, that artist must comply to our whims. I get that Hill literally rocked our worlds with "The Miseducation..." Let's be real, very few albums can compete. Yes, we feel that Hill spoke to a part of us and because of that, she is a part of us but that does not make her property.
Let's be honest now. I say this as a fan of her work and it hurts to admit it. Hill's career is over. Read that again. I mean she can make a living going on tour. Heck, I will easily pay $85.00 (in my case close to $250.00 since I have to take the wife and pay for a babysitter) to see her perform despite her tardiness. Will she release another album that folks will talk about and debate at a dinner table or blunt session? That is a resounding 'no.'
That's the part that hurts the most. That 1998 will never be again. I think that's the jagged pill we have to swallow. That is the truth we have to face. And look, this happens all the time. A new artist comes out, bangs out some classic albums and then disappears into the dustbins of history. That's real life, ladies and gentlemen. We need to over that, real quick, or we are just setting ourselves up for more disappointment.