LAURYN HILL


BIO: SO stellar have Lauryn Hill's accomplishments been during her brief tenure as a musical artist, one wonders what she can do to match all that's happened in her life so far. At the tender age of 24, Hill has already achieved a level of critical and commercial success most musicians would never even think to aspire to. Though Hill first garnered attention as the primary voice of the hip-hop group, the Fugees, it was the release of her 1998 solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, that triggered an avalanche of accolades. A groundbreaking effort that fused soul, rap, reggae, and hip-hop into a style all its own, the album has been hailed as a classic that ranks alongside the best of Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder. Fittingly, at the 1998 Grammy ceremonies Hill received five of the coveted statuettes, the most ever awarded a woman. (Carole King took home four in 1971 for her album, Tapestry.) Born in South Orange, N.J., just outside Newark, Hill was raised by an English teacher mother and a computer consultant father. As a small child, she often fell asleep to the sound of her parents' rhythm and blues records playing on the stereo. Hill loved to sing, and indeed at age 13 she impressed a crowd at Harlem's Apollo Theatre with an amateur night rendition of Smokey Robinson's "Who's Loving You?" For the most part, however, her early years centered on school, which offered an environment where she could put her burgeoning leadership skills to good use. A multi-talented, active student, Hill wrote poetry, started a gospel choir, played on the basketball team, ran track, and was a cheerleader and homecoming queen. Teaming up with childhood friends Wyclef Jean and Prakazrel ("Pras") Michel, she also formed a rap group - the Fugees (short for refugees) - while still in her mid teens. During her last two years of high school, Hill began focusing on acting, and eventually she garnered roles as an abused teenager in the soap opera, "As the World Turns," and as a headstrong high school diva in the Whoopi Goldberg film, Sister Act 2. Though many assumed Hill would head for Hollywood upon graduating, she foiled expectations by electing to enroll in Columbia University. She also continued to work with the Fugees, and despite the rigors of school, helped the group completed its first album during her freshman year. The album, titled Blunted on Reality, sold poorly, but a subsequent tour of underground clubs on the East Coast created a buzz about the group, largely on the strength of Hill's on-stage charisma. Released in 1996, the Fugees' second album, The Score, was a sensation. Whereas the debut had featured mostly rap material, The Score gave Hill a chance to really sing, with songs such as the cover of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" and Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" revealing her to be a vocalist of remarkable versatility and power. Hailed as one of the first hip-hop albums to incorporate a pan-African vision and spirituality often associated with reggae, The Score went on the sell 17 million copies, and helped introduce the hip-hop genre to the mainstream. Until that time Hill had assiduously kept up her studies at Columbia, where she was majoring in History, but with the success of The Score she quit school in order to devote more energy to her career. Near the end of the Fugees's 1997 tour, Hill discovered she was pregnant with her first child. Ignoring comments from career-minded advisers, who counseled that a newborn could derail her ascent toward stardom, Hill gave birth to the baby, who was fathered by Bob Marley's son, Rohan. For nearly a year after the birth of her son, whom she and Marley named Zion, Hill concentrated on motherhood while maintaining a low profile in the music world. She also involved herself more deeply in the activities of the Refugee Project, an organization she started in 1996 to assist underprivileged and at-risk youths by encouraging positive social development. In the meantime, with the other two members of the Fugees working furiously on solo projects, Hill began contemplating striking out on her own as a recording artist. In early 1998 she booked time at a studio in New York, and gathered up such unlikely instruments as a harpsichord, a trombone, and a timpani, with the idea of creating a new type of hip-hop with an organic sound. In an attempt to inspire herself further, she flew to Jamaica and began writing and recording tracks at the Bob Marley Museum Studio as well. Undaunted by the prospect of exploring terrain generally considered the province of males, Hill also decided to produce her own work. If that wasn't enough, in the midst of this swirl of activity she was pregnant with her second child by Marley, a daughter that the couple would name Selah Louise, born Nov. 12, 1998. Released in August of 1998, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (the title is derived from a book called The Miseducation of the Negro, by Carter G. Woodson, and from the 1974 film, The Education of Sonny Carson) was instantly hailed as landmark album that dismantled every cliché in hip-hop. Brash and humble at the same time, the largely autobiographical work addressed topics ranging from materialism to racism to sexism, without resorting to pontification or pedagogy. In its spiritual yearnings and its confessional structure, the album elicited comparisons to such touchstone works as Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On and Joni Mitchell's Blue. And perhaps most importantly, critics conjectured that the album would inspire other rappers and hip-hop artists to examine their craft in more profound ways. Praise for the album has generally been unequivocal, and Hill herself has avoided controversy, but in December 1998 four participants in the making of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill filed suit against the singer, claiming they deserve more writing and production credit (and, hence, more royalties). Rasheem Pugh, Vada Nobles, Tejumold Newton, and Johari Newton each assert that they co-wrote and co-produced most of the songs while working with Hill in her home studio. (A spokesperson for Hill has maintained the suit is without merit). The suit is still pending. Meanwhile Hill continues to charm audiences both near and abroad. In April she wrapped up a highly lauded U.S. tour in her home state of New Jersey, and is readying herself for an overseas tour that will keep her busy through the fall. Beyond that her future plans are boundless. There are rumors afoot that the Fugees will get together to record another disc, with a tentative due of spring or summer 2000. She's also planning to revive her acting career, with a possible role as Rita Marley, Bob Marley's wife, as well as a part in a film based on Pras' album Ghetto Supastar, produced by Madonna's Mad Guy Films. And sometime amidst the swirl of activity surrounding her, she and Rohan Marley intend to get married.

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