Open Letter to Ms. Lauryn Hill
My mom once owned this medium sized wicker basket. It resembled a snake charmers basket, but little did I know that this basket was like Pandora’s Box for me. Once I opened it, I was exposed and enlightened. The basket contained CDs; we were just entering the middle of the compact disc era; cassettes were going out of style and 8 tracks were rarely mentioned. Without asking, I exposed myself to Hip Hop and Neo-Soul: Erykah Badu, Musiq Soulchild, Jilly from Philly, The Fugees and a solo album from you, Ms. Hill. I played those CDs until my mom let me have them. The “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” quickly became my favorite. I began to fall in love with your talent. Your artistic prowess was legendary and unforgettable. Your wisdom rode your flow into the ears and hearts of multiple generations; you acted, you sang, you educated. Your music and poetic expression were something I was familiar with because of my mom’s talent. Sister Act II became one of my favorite movies. My heart still melts when Rita’s mom, a woman afraid of the thought of dreaming, walks in the auditorium in support of her daughter’s dreams as she begins to sing acapella for “Joyful, Joyful.” Your rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” was captivating and compelling. People fell in love with your aura, myself included. As I discovered more and more about you, I had yet to discover my own gift hidden deep within notebooks that only served the purpose of controlling my feelings.
Over the years, the lyrics of the Miseducation became more than lyrics. As I experienced life, love and loss, the lyrics became a story I was familiar with. The songs became more than beats; they became a rhythmic reflection of how I viewed life. By your words, Ms. Hill, I was inspired and influenced. The Miseducation educated me and I was plugged into the acoustic sounds of Unplugged. The cries and praises critics frowned upon in Unplugged were real. I appreciated an artist sharing their humanity with the world. Your songs soothed my soul and I wanted to do the same for the world.
Fast forward to my junior year in college. I was still your biggest fan and supporter. I watched the media drag your name through the muddiest of waters. I saw the “fans” that once loved you, give up and agree with critics that believed you lost it. Let me touch base on that. As humans, if we tell the truth, we all lose our minds once in a while. If you’re any kind of realist, seeing the world for what it is, is quite enough to sicken the sane. However, they said you lost “it.” As if your gift just got up and walked away from you. Now I wasn’t there for any live shows in the past to analyze your performance, but I do know you do not just lose a gift ordained by God. One great woman I know named L- Boogie said, “God made this word you can’t get wit’ this.” Like a queen upon her throne, there was still efficacy in your words and transparency in your stride. For that I stood for you in every debate.
I battled in my mind with the depictions of you in the media and who I known you to be which led me to follow your case that led to your incarceration in 2013. I couldn’t keep up with all the negative commentary. It was similar to my situation in high school. I was written off by many and supported by few. I wanted to be one of your supporters as well so instead of indulging in another one of my Lauryn Hill debates with friends, I penned a letter to you. I know the power of words and the way they can hug the soul. It was a joyous moment to see your recognition of every individual that wrote you. I knew then, not only did you read my letter, but it also helped you get through a hard time as your music has done for me. Life always seems to come in full circle.
Your personal life was as Kermit would say, “is none of my business”. What was my business was the gift you gave me: your flow with the Fugees, The Miseducation, and Unplugged; your story and wisdom packaged in a plastic disk. At first, I would write poetry and keep it to myself. Then I thought, my story could help others…so I began to perform.
In December 2013, my fiancé bought me a ticket to your concert in Washington D.C. at the 930 club. The feeling of euphoria warmed me as I stood outside for two hours with a friend in the chilling December weather. When we finally got inside, we waited for you to grace the stage. We sang acapella renditions of your songs to get crowd going and then DJ Rampage amped the crowd with his blends from old school Hip-Hop to Go Go music. When you finally hit the stage, I was in awe of the experience of your live performance. First I watched as a fan, I took hundreds of pictures and sang along to your updated versions of my favorite songs. Then I watched as an artist, I took in your creative process. The way you sought perfection and kept pushing for that until everyone on stage produced the vision you had in your head. That was beautiful. At some point in the concert I turned to my friend Denija and said, “We are going to meet her”.
After your interactive performance of "Doo-Wop", the show ended and the crowd slowly moved out. We stayed. We spoke to everyone until we got a hold of DJ Rampage who handed me a set list. I told him I wrote you during the time you were down and he agreed to see if he could get me access to you. When my friend and I was brought to the back to talk to you, I didn’t know what I was going to do or say aside of thanking you. I was grateful for you sparing the time to talk to us. I saw it as an opportunity to show you my gift and when I was given the chance, I took it. I was floored by your excitement as I performed “Speak to my Soul.” I fumbled over my words as I realized I was living some kind of dream.
It is not every day your inspiration tells you that your words inspired them. What you do not know is I was going through a rough patch in my life. I was at the beginning of a battle with myself about my dreams. I wanted to give up on them and seek other options after failing time and time again. I always worried about being wasted talent. I was uplifted knowing my words moved such a powerful woman and I knew then “my destiny’s manifest.”I remember our conversation and the words you spoke that night to my friend and I. I had wished I gave my contact info directly to you when you asked. However, a year later we would meet again, in the same chill of the winter, after you tirelessly worked the stage for 2 hours at the Philly Electric Factory.
Again, I was just expecting a hello but you humbly stopped and talked to each of us in the 30 degree weather. You took pictures, you listened to my friend sing, you dished out advice and out of the millions of people and faces you have seen in the past year, you remembered me and “Speak to my Soul.” You inquired about my life and what I’ve been up to as if you had all the time in the world. You accepted my Speak to my Soul shirts and took pictures with them. You made time for the people that supported you most. During these moments I felt as if I won every Lauryn Hill debate. You didn’t just talk to talk; you meant what you said and you lived your words. You have rebranded yourself, as we all do after a rough patch in our lives. You, like I, have risen like the Phoenix over adversity, over naysayers, over doubt and contentment. Like myself, you have begun to write a new chapter after people wrote you off. Ms. Hill, you have inspired me by giving me the opportunity to inspire you. You are one down to earth queen and I look forward to learning more from you as we continue to get to know each other. Thank you, for speaking to my soul.
Your fan and friend.