What I Think About When I Read People Writing About Ms. Hill

I don’t know if it’s lazy to do blog posts without taking you through the blow-by-blow, but, whatever, I blog for me:)  This article about Ms. Lauryn Hill got all internetted, and then this response from Talib Kwali did too.

I mostly come down on Kwali’s side.  Human beings are artists and vice versa, expression is key, and there are the ‘realities’ of both fans and performers being in a market.  She can do whatever she wants and owes no-one nothin’.  These two pieces are interesting when read together: two perspectives on a performer and a central album that can fill out the picture of fans, audience, insider knowledge, an artist’s perspective, a Black cultural ownership, a consumer.  Both, or all, of these approaches will always be present.  And fuck yeah to Talib speaking for the ones that he does.

I guess I could add: its not just a given that if you express honestly, you will have an audience of millions, or even that it is straightforward to make an album and receive money in a fair exchange.  Luck, statistics, timing, visibility, cultural identification, industry gatekeepers … I don’t even know all of the factors that mean that some people get heard and find an audience and some don’t … but there are many, many, many (ooh, unexpected Fugees reference).  Those times and places that are supportive and seem to create a pool of artists surely help (another reason while I am glad to be moving from a hard-times steel town).  And, you know, ‘cos I always worry what this says about me: this isn’t jealousy, it is.  Sometimes I think about how many amazing musicians, dancers, comedians, writers etc. there are in the world without visibility.  Without even buying into the fame dream and all of it’s problems, that’s just gotta be some kinda statistical thing.

There is also the fact that she is an educated intellectual goddess.  A prophetic Black woman who takes no shit, with precision.  Clearly a monster composer and listener.  A female musician.  Let me say that again.  Female.  Musician.

(An Australian music journalist called her music ‘pop’, but then again that is a thing of his, to ultimately get over sub-genre distinctions and say everything is pretty much pop: a tiny grain of truth there about the range of rhythms and tonalities being similar, but wrong, wrong, wrong in this case in particular.  As seen in these articles, and in my own life, this woman, her work, and that album aren’t pop or only pop: this is serious human impact):

—Some kinda bus trip with my brother between families as teenagers, that time to be suspended and reflect watching the foreground and background and yet the social world of the bus where I feel dismay at humanity and the gross fried meal stop: we talked (probably initiated by my brother) to an African American guy who was also doing the passenger thing.  My brother has this way of picking out the other people who seem ‘awake’.  This guy had a discman and had been listening to The Miseducation.  His eyes and his face when he was telling us about it, the power of this music, the echo from this cultural volcano in far America that he gave us a snippetty whisper of: I don’t forget his feeling as he shared this gold.—

What more can both artists and listeners want, but impact?  And what follows from impact: musing, reflection, inspiration.  And (does it need to be said?) being missed is good.  Always leave them wanting more, err on the side that will leave ’em hanging. Just like there is a whole not-so-spoken judgement here about being a mother (of goddamn six!) and doing that private sphere work of loving and raising and teaching as if it is invisible, gone, a career sin to have babies, where you been Lauryn?  Why the pressure to be out and exposed?  Both inside and out are good, the one-one-one riches of relating in a home and in a spotlight both have their place (I write, while breastfeeding …)


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