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Lauryn Hill - MTV Unplugged 2.0

In 1998, Lauryn Hill transformed popular music with the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, a multi-platinum record that set new standards for r&b and rap, making her the standard bearer for a generation.  But instead of enjoying the fruits of her success, Hill has spent the last four years battling depression, business problems, and the crushing pressures created in the wake of her ascent to superstardom.

Now, in the tradition of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, Richard Pryor’s Live on the Sunset Strip and Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear, Hill has decided to bare her soul in public, making Unplugged one of the boldest statements from a major artist in recent memory.

Bearing no resemblance to her past material, Unplugged consists solely of new songs, many of which sound like they were created on the spot. While the album at times sounds like a glorified demo tape with its mistakes and cracked vocals, it leaves no doubt that Hill has become a much different artist than the Grammy-winning superstar we’ve come to love.

With only her guitar to provide accompaniment, Hill works through 13 numbers that you will either love or hate. Her primary themes are now spirituality and introspection, although “I Find It Hard to Say,” inspired by the Amadou Diallo shooting, indicates she has retained her commitment to social justice.

For the remaining 100-plus minutes of the concert, she is concerned with uplifting her audience’s consciousness and exorcizing her personal demons. Flashes of her old talent manage to break through her need for catharsis on the album’s most memorable songs, “Freedom Time,” “I Gotta Find Peace of Mind” and her touching cover of  “So Many Things To Say.”  

As fascinating as these glimpses into the inner workings of Hill’s mind are, including references to her mental instability, there are moments when self-righteousness threatens to overpower the beauty of the music.  In addition to the preachy lyrics of “Mr. Intentional” and “The Mystery of Iniquity,” Hill spends nearly 30 minutes speaking to the audience, lecturing on the struggles she has been through and her newfound persona.  We appreciate the honesty, but she seems to have forgotten that in spite of her problems, there are few people who would not trade positions with her.  Contrary to her statements, she is not “just like everyone else.”

Both Hill and her record label are taking a serious risk in putting this album out.  The hip-hop community isn’t known for welcoming artistic shifts from its favorite performers (see: Q-Tip and Goodie Mob), so initial reaction to the album will be very revealing.  That Hill is eager to destroy an image she worked so hard to cultivate could raise doubts about her sincerity that may haunt her for the rest of her career.  Likewise, Sony, like all the major labels, is suffering from a downward turn in sales, and can’t afford a flop from one of its most bankable stars.  Marketing concerns could easily explain why this album was delayed several times.

But as Hill would tell you herself, it’s not all about her.  In the big picture of contemporary music, Unplugged, along with recent albums by N.E.R.D. and Cee-Lo, demonstrates the continued expansion of hip-hop into uncharted territory. Hill’s final destination may be a mystery, but her talent guarantees the journey will be worth taking.

Copyright 2002  All rights reserved.


Released 2002 on Sony

(Click on cover to buy)

Selected Tracks:

The Mystery of Iniquity
Freedom Time
I Remember
Just Want You Around

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