Lauryn Hill Says She Was Called 'Crazy' For Calling Out Systemic Racism Over A Decade Ago: Now, It's 'Part Of The Mainstream Chorus'
The legendary musician opened up about the struggles she faced making her timeless album.
January 05, 2021 at 8:18 pm
Lauryn Hill opened up about her struggles against systemic racism and the problems she faced both before and after the release of her iconic album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, in an interview with Rolling Stone.
Rolling Stone is putting together lengthy podcasts for the albums featured on its 500 Greatest Albums list. The latest episode spotlights Hill and the Miseducation album.
"All of my albums have probably addressed systemic racism to some degree before this was something this generation openly talked about. I was called crazy. Now…over a decade later, we hear this as part of the mainstream chorus," Hill said.
"OK, so chalk some of it up to leadership and how that works — I was clearly ahead, but you also have to acknowledge the blatant denial that went down with that. The public abuse and ostracizing while suppressing and copying what I had done, (I protested) with still no real acknowledgment that all of that even happened, is a lot,” she added.
Hill spoke candidly about the initial backlash she got from her label when she decided to leave The Fugees and produce her own music. One of her representatives said on the podcast that although Wyclef Jean, another member of The Fugees, decided to make his own album and got little pushback, things were very different for Hill.
"When I decided that I wanted to try a solo project, I was met with incredible resistance and discouragement from a number of places that should have been supportive," she said.
She explained she never wanted to leave the group but things between her and Jean were untenable. The two had a very tumultuous relationship before she moved on to dating Rohan Marley.
"It was less about proving myself and more about creating something I wanted to see and hear exist in the world," she said.
She initially left the group and began writing music for major artists like Mary J. Blige and Aretha Franklin, but eventually, there was immense pressure on her to start producing her own music. Hill was writing her song, "X-Factor" for someone else when she realized she needed to make her own music.
"I always wanted to be a motivator of positive change. It's in all of my lyrics, that desire to see my community get out of its own way, identify and confront internal and external obstacles, and experience the heights of love and self-love that provoke transformation," Hill said in a statement to Rolling Stone that was read on the podcast. "I sang from that place and chose to share the joy and the ecstasy of it as well as the disappointments, entanglements, and life lessons I had learned from that point."
Many of the songs reference things she went through at the time, including battles with her label, the birth of her son, Zion, and her relationships.
Surprisingly, people who worked on the album said the label was absolutely livid about the now-iconic cover of the album, demanding to see a more sexually-explicit photo of Hill akin to what other R&B artists were doing at the time.
On the podcast, she explained her retreat from public life as an effort to regain control of her life and her children's lives.
Looking back, she said she wishes she could have done a better job of shielding herself and her children from the dangers of fame.
"Artist suppression is definitely a thing. Where there should have been overwhelming support, there wasn't any. The warp speed I had to move at in order to defy the norm put me and my family under a hyper-accelerated, hyper-tense, and unfortunately, under-appreciated pace," Hill said.
"I sacrificed the quality of my life to help people experience something that should have been unreachable before then. When I saw people struggle to appreciate what that took, I had to pull back and make sure that I and my family were safe and good. I'm still doing that," she added.
The album, which was released in 1998, went on to break a record for first-week sales by a female artist and produced three top 40 hits, including "Doo Wop (That Thing)," which reached number one on the Billboard charts.
Hill was nominated for 10 Grammys for the album, a record at the time for a woman, and won five awards. It has now sold more than 20 million records worldwide and was put into the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry in 2018.
While she still continues to tour and work on music, she said it is still a process to work on the trauma and "emotional stunting" that came with how fame affected her family.
"In many ways, we're living now and making up for the years when we couldn't be as free as we should have been able to," she said.
When it comes to the album itself, she said there were things that she wishes she could change about it but looking back, "the love in the album, the passion, it’s intention" was what stood out to her most.
“I think my intention was simply to make something that made my foremothers and forefathers in music and social and political struggle know that someone received what they’d sacrificed to give us and to let my peers know that we could walk in that truth, proudly and confidently," Hill said. "At that time, I felt like it was a duty or responsibility to do so. … I challenged the norm and introduced a new standard. I believe the Miseducation did that and I believe I still do this — defy convention when the convention is questionable."
When asked about the fact that Miseducation is effectively the only album she produced on her own, she said surprisingly her label was not helpful and didn't even ask to help her make another.
The massive success of Miseducation brought with it complications and a tug-of-war between people in her life who simply wanted things from her to help themselves.
“The wild thing is no one from my label has ever called me and asked how can we help you make another album, EVER…EVER. Did I say ever? Ever! … With the Miseducation, there was no precedent. I was, for the most part, free to explore, experiment and express," Hill said.
"After the Miseducation, there were scores of tentacled obstructionists, politics, repressing agendas, unrealistic expectations, and saboteurs everywhere," she added. "People had included me in their own narratives of their successes as it pertained to my album, and if this contradicted my experience, I was considered an enemy."