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Lauryn Hill

The diva of the next millennium

By Jasmine Richards and Huanne Thomas

Lauryn Hill graced Boston with her presence last Wednesday and Thursday in the lavish Wang Center. Her performance cannot be summed up with the trite phrases that often describe beautiful black female artists like “soulful diva” or “superb songstress.” Neither can this 23 year-old triple platinum artist be compared to any of the R&B legends before her. The variety, energy, and sincerity that she brings to the stage is like no other performer.

Her performance touched on many facets of her own life. The audience was jolted to life from complete and silent darkness by an uplifting rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” (Marley is her father-in-law to be). A stained glass pattern reminiscent of a Sunday church service slowly appeared, and Lauryn delivered a spirit filled gospel, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” which some may have recognized from the soundtrack of Sister Act II.

The lights came up and Lauryn rushed the stage with her head full of dreads, her stellar bright smile, and her awesome energy which created a blur of excitement when mixed with her rainbow-colored folk skirt. She began by telling the hip-hop world to “C’mon baby light my fire,” a line from Superstar, found on her latest album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. How appropriate that she began her performance with an appeal to other superstars: “Tell me your philosophy, on exactly what an artist should be / Should it be someone with prosperity and no concept of reality? / Now who you know without any flaws / that lives above the spiritual laws? / Does anything they feel just because / there is always someone there who applauds?”

Lauryn has earned the right as a performer and as a person to make such a challenge to her peers. She began her musical career with The Fugees, and soap opera fans may also recall that this multi-talented artist once had a recurring role on As the World Turns. In 1996, The Score sold over 17 million copies, making The Fugees the best selling rap group of all time. For years to follow her fans would patiently await the debut of her first solo album, but none could have anticipated such an unrivaled success. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill won five of the ten Grammys it was nominated for this year: Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album, Best R&B Vocal Performance. In addition to these, Lauryn received Album of the Year from USA Today, Time Magazine, the New York Times, and The Soul Train Music Awards.

Her fans span all ethnicities and socio-economic groups, evident from the sea of assorted faces attending the concert. And she had a little bit of everything for everyone. Many of the otherwise familiar songs she performed from her recent album were spiced up by spunky rap bridges and reggae interludes. Midway through her performance, Lauryn treated her audience to a battle of Old Skool versus New Skool. The crowd cheered wildly as a band joined Lauryn to perform “I Want You Back,” by Jackson 5. Although there were some who didn’t seem to appreciate her, their lack of enthusiasm was more than made up for by the vast majority of people who were on their feet all night.

Lauryn Hill is real. Among her many accolades, Lauryn has also been awarded the NAACP President’s Award for the Refugee Camp Project, a non-profit organization for under-privileged youth which provides them with mentors, community enrichment, and safe recreation. When her show was over and her fans all agreed that they wanted more, Lauryn returned to the stage to perform two more numbers, one of which, “Killing Me Softly,” is a modern remake of a familiar ‘70s hit by Roberta Flack. And then, when the fans started fighting security to get closer to her, she ordered the guards to let her fans rush the stage, where she greeted many of them with a handshake and a warm smile.

To many, Lauryn epitomizes what a celebrity of the next millennium should be. She is culturally aware and active, and above all else her success has shown us that an artist can discuss ideas and feelings which are real and thought provoking, while still winning global attention.