On The Slow, Sad Decline Of Lauryn Hill

One of our greatest faults as humans, outside of the fact that we haven’t created a calorie-less double-bacon cheeseburger, is our penchant to laugh and criticize those we don’t know. I do it, you do it, we all do it, particularly towards celebrities, because it’s a faultless crime. When we make fun of that skeezy dirtbag Ashton Kutcher on our Tumblr, he’s not gonna find out. We say the things we WISH we could say in public — IRL, as it were.

Take today, for instance: we all made our Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes jokes because Scientology is creepy and a joke, and therefore, they’re creepy and a joke. But to take a step back, we’re laughing at someone’s marriage falling apart. I don’t feel bad, though, because I’m a terrible human being. About Lauryn Hill, however, I can’t make a joke about — it’s just too damn sad.

In case you hadn’t heard, because you were too busy recording an adorable tribute video to Adele’s unborn baby on YouTube, Lauryn Hill today plead guilty “to not paying federal taxes on more than $1.5 million earned over three years,” according to CBS News. She faces a one-year sentence for each year she didn’t pay, meaning Hill — who gave a memorable hot mess of a performance at Jazz Fest last year — could spend up to three years in jail. Making a mess of her personal life isn’t anything new for Hill.

It didn’t have to be that way, though. As a teen, Hill appeared on It’s Showtime at the Apollo and, after initially getting booed at by the crowd, she turned their jeers into cheers by finishing her song, “Who’s Lovin You.” The audience, who were total dicks for booing her, appreciated the resiliency this 13-year-old girl showed. That willpower and determination, not to mention obvious talent, caught the eyes and ears of Prakazrel Samuel Michel, a.k.a. Pras, and the two of them, as well as Pras’s cousin Wyclef Jean, began collaborating. Thus, the Fugees were born. And once the Fugees hit big — actually, they hit huge, to the tune of over 20 million copies of their two albums, Blunted on Reality and The Score, sold, as well as two Grammy Awards — that’s when the problems began.

First, there was the hostility between the members, which led to Hill going solo…and then her romantic relationship with Jean fell apart…and then she had a baby, something people said she shouldn’t have done for the sake of her career…and then her label told her to make a more conventional first album…and then a lawsuit was filed against her by New Ark, in which they claimed to have written two songs on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill…and then a false rumor was spread that Hill had said, “I would rather have my family starve than have white people buy my albums” on MTV…and then came the expectations that came with creating an album as amazing Miseducation, which won five Grammy’s, including Album of the Year.

You know the rest: she hasn’t released a new LP since, outside of the woefully misguided MTV Unplugged No. 2.0; rightfully criticized the Catholic Church and their molesty priests at a concert at the Vatican; didn’t make or even listen to music for years; consistently shows up late to her concerts…It goes on for awhile. Reading her Wikipedia is like reading a book called, 101 Reason Why You Should Never Want to Become Famous.

Earlier this month, Hill’s tax troubles came to light, and she published a long, fascinating entry on her Tumblr, detailing why she had essentially escaped the public’s attention for so long:

“For the past several years, I have remained what others would consider underground. I did this in order to build a community of people, like-minded in their desire for freedom and the right to pursue their goals and lives without being manipulated and controlled by a media protected military industrial complex with a completely different agenda…I entered into my craft full of optimism (which I still possess), but immediately saw the suppressive force with which the system attempts to maintain it’s control over a given paradigm. I’ve seen people promote addiction, use sabotage, black listing, media bullying and any other coercion technique they could, to prevent artists from knowing their true value, or exercising their full power. These devices of control, no matter how well intentioned (or not), can have a devastating outcome on the lives of people, especially creative types who must grow and exist within a certain environment and according to a certain pace, in order to live and create optimally.”

So many people get into the music business for the wrong reasons (to make money, score drugs, and have sex with attractive people), and live happy lives. Hill got into the music business for THE right reason (to make write and record amazing songs), and lives a sad, tragic life. I think that’s one of the reasons why I feel for Hill so much: yes, she’s a celebrity who didn’t pay her taxes, even though she’s made millions of dollars, but she never asked to become a celebrity. She wanted to make a profound, meaningful difference in the world, and it just so happened that her way of doing that was to write “To Zion.” But she got massively f*cked up along the way. Maybe Lauryn Hill getting away from the expectations that come with being LAURYN HILL is the best thing that could happen to her — outside of paying her taxes, that is.

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