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The Femcee Letters: An Open Letter to Lauryn HillPosted by Burmy on 11/12/10 | Filed under Top Stories, Features, The Femcee Letters, Lauryn Hill
If this were a live-audience TV special, I'd have trouble starting this because of how loud the applause would be. Although you mainly handled the singing duties, when every other femcee emerges on the scene, you are the barometer that they are all measured up to. Though you only released one solo album, it is considered a true classic by virtually every hip-hop fan, with a potential followup (dare I say it) more anticipated than even "Detox" at this point (Dre's last album dropped a year after your classic). Twelve years after its release, the question on everybody's mind is still "how does she do it?". Though it remains one of the industry's great mysteries, allow me to make an educated guess by doing in-depth research.
Born in South Orange, New Jersey to a high school English teacher and a computer programmer, music was part of your life from the very beginning, growing up listening to your parents' old Motown records. In addition, your dad sang at weddings, your mom played the piano, and your big brother played the saxophone, guitar, drums, and harmonica as well. At 13, you made your debut on Amateur Night at "It's Showtime at the Apollo." Your cover of Smokey Robinson's classic "Who's Lovin' You?" was met with overwhelming boos at first, until you kept going and later got your deserved applause. Graduating in the Class of '93 at Columbia High School, you had already built up a resume as an active student, cheerleader, and performer, where you finished 2nd in the annual talent show (to make you feel better, has anybody outside your circle ever heard of the rock band Southern Cross to this day? Didn't think so.) Spending one year at Columbia University (the only femcee in this series thus far to graduate from an Ivy League school), you dropped out soon afterwards to pursue your entertainment career.
It was right before your graduation that the wheels were set in motion for the rest of your career. High school friend Prakazrel Michel (better known as "Pras) approached you about joining a group he was
starting up, where his cousin Wyclef Jean was also a part. Immediately your group set it off, calling itself the Refugee Camp (or "Fugees" for short). The group's debut, "Blunted on Reality" was released early in 1994. Despite its heavy musical quality and surrounding rave reviews, not much mainstream success followed up. However, remaining undaunted, you three got together again to record what many consider to be hip-hop's greatest group album ever, "The Score". First up was "Fu-Gee-La," which was basically street poetry in its purest form over Salaam Remi's sample of Ramsey Lewis' "If Loving You is Wrong, I Don't Want to be Right," complete with that chorus based on Teena Marie's "Ooo La La La". "Killing Me Softly" was my personal anthem for '96, with your haunting vocals etching a place in my 9-year-old heart. Apparently, several others felt that way, so much that while it was still in the Top 20 you pulled it from retailers a) because you wanted listeners to remember it fondly and not get sick of it, and b) to focus on the follow-up "Ready or Not"
At the same time, you were streching your solo wings on Nas' classic "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)," where you gave your co-sign to help hip-hop put a new legend into the mainstream status. Two years later, the fruits of your solo work finally came forward in the form of "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." Though I could go on all weekend talking about the tracks we all love, I will be rather brief in my description (what can we say about this that hasn't already been said by so many others, including our own staff)?
To begin with, you made life the focus of your music, especially on the Mary J. Blige-assisted "I Used To Love Him," allegedly about your failing relationship with Wyclef (you two had once dated until he married another woman in '94) and the rest of the Fugees group (originally they had opposed you making this album). "Doo Wop (That Thing)" is seen as a classic to many women, warning them against getting involved with the "gangsta" type ("How can you win when you ain't right within?" remains an all-time favorite quote of mine here). Yet my overall favorite is your dedication to your first-born son, "To Zion," where you relect on others pressuring you to abort because of your rising career, but you chose life for him and now he brings you so much joy in return! (Who says hip-hop can't be pro-life?).
Sure enough, the artistic quality of your work paid off, with "Miseducation" going diamond and picking up five Grammys (the first woman ever to do so in one night). Nonetheless, all that fame ended up putting pressure on you. Feeling you had to sell out to remain strong in this industry, you chose to go into self-imposed seclusion for the next several years. Had the industry claimed its mext victim? Would we ever hear your music again? The readers will have to check back to Part 2 next week to see!
For more information, the Official Home of the Femcees can be found on Twitter here and on MySpace here. Facebook page coming soon!