After Lauryn Hill swept the Grammys with her hip-hop masterpiece — 1998’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” — it seemed like the young singer-rapper was poised to kill us with her songs for decades to come.
But the seminal artist, who influenced everyone from Drake to Adele, largely faded from music – barring the odd single and a few concerts – just four years later, after the release of her second solo album, MTV Unplugged: No. 2.0,” on May 7, 2002. Twenty years after the former Fugee dropped this live recording of new folk-soul songs, it remains the final LP in a career that seemed destined to end the prolific longevity of an Aretha Franklin or of a Stevie Wonder to reach .
Heralding her retirement from the pop scene, the eight-time Grammy winner confessed her deep disillusionment with the music business in the chatty interludes that make up a good part of the album.
“I just retired from the fantasy part,” Hill told the MTV Unplugged audience, citing the “public illusion” that kept me “hostage” during the miseducation phenomenon. “I’m glad I don’t have to work anymore.”
Far exceeding all expectations, “Miseducation” sold more than 10 million albums and won five Grammys. It’s been a crash course in superstardom — and all the pressures and hassles that come with it — while Hill also struggled with being a young mom with a growing family.
“I think we’re forgetting that Lauryn Hill was only 23 years old and she was… pregnant [second child] Selah when the album was released,” said Kathy Iandoli, author of God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop. “It’s not the easiest room to be in. and [after] She won the Grammys, now there’s just a lot of pressure to deliver again.”
Then, in late 1998, there was an exhaustive lawsuit by four musicians seeking co-writing and co-producing credits for “Miseducation.” Hill eventually settled with them out of court for an alleged $5 million in 2001.
Just months after the lawsuit was settled, Hill, without her trademark dreadlocks, recorded “MTV Unplugged.” While she described herself as “emotionally unstable” and “messed up” during the show, she also said she was “at peace.”
In fact, then-MTV Unplugged producer Alex Coletti — who called Hill directly about the show in July 2001 — was impressed by Hill’s sense of humor and engaging manner. “I didn’t know her to be that talkative during the time I worked with her [before]he said, “so I was just surprised she was in such a good mood.”
While strumming an acoustic guitar instead of hopping to hip-hop beats was a radical reinvention for Hill – then pregnant with third child Joshua – there were no signs it would be any sort of goodbye.
“I didn’t hear it as a swan song so much as vent about how she felt about everything around her in the moment,” Iandoli said.
And while “she was definitely on a new path,” Coletti said, “it didn’t look like anyone was retiring from the music business.”
But Hill’s disappointment with the music business grew after the Unplugged album turned off fans and critics alike. Just three years after her big Grammy night, rumors swirled that Hill had lost “that thing” that made her a superstar.
“She was written off [as having] lost contact,” Iandoli said. “It became more of a smear campaign … People said things like, ‘Lauryn Hill looked homeless on stage.’ You can only criticize and nudge someone for so long. She is human.”
It certainly didn’t help that Hill was gaining a reputation as an unreliable performer, notoriously late for concerts over the years. Meanwhile, Hill’s family continued to grow: she had two more children with longtime partner Rohan Marley (son of reggae legend Bob) before their split in 2011. That same year she had a sixth child, Micah, by another man. whose identity is not publicly known.
Two years later, Hill was jailed for three months for tax evasion.
And last year, Hill told the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums podcast that her label, Columbia Records, isn’t exactly pushing to get her back in the studio. “The wild thing is that no one from my label has ever called me and asked how we can help you make another album,” she said in a statement.
Still, there were glimmers that the Newark, New Jersey native, now 46, might be getting her groove back. Last September, she reunited with the Fugees for a Global Citizen concert on the Lower Manhattan rooftop at Pier 17, and she joined Nas on “Nobody” from his 2021 album King’s Disease II.
At the track, Hill gushed about her absence from the record industry and hailed her longtime liberation from the game as a personal victory: “All my time now has been focused on my freedom / Why would I join them when I know that I can beat them now?” “