Downward Spiral

Posted: September 13, 2011 in Hip-Hop, Live Music, R&B, Rap
Tags: , , ,
Rock the Bells came to Toronto last week and featured Nas (along with Pete Rock, DJ Premier and AZ) playing his debut album Illmatic (1994) as well as Ms. Lauryn Hill (as she now likes to be called) playing her debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998) from front to back. When Lauryn released her first solo album, no one could turn it off. It was a perfect blend of hip-hop, rap and soul,  earned great reviews both commercially and critically and won five Grammys. Things were only looking up for Lauryn, or so we all thought. After gaining so much success, both with The Fugees and on her own, Ms. Hill pretty well disappeared musically (some speculate she chose to seclude herself to focus on her family). So when I heard she was back on tour, I just had to go see her.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Waiting for her to come on stage was becoming trying, as it was over an hour before she decided to show up. She came running on to the stage and was sweating profusely, as though she literally ran all the way from her last gig. She apologized for her tardiness and went straight to the music. Except that no one could even recognize the music. She was ripping through the songs as if she was on fast forward, like she was just trying to get them out so she could go home. After butchering a couple of tracks, including my personal favourite “Ex-Factor”, the audience seemed confused, not knowing whether to appreciate her attempts to sing different versions of her songs, or to fault her for it. I have no problem with an artist playing around with their original tracks, but destroying them is a whole other issue. She then proceeded to run off stage without any warning for ten minutes and when she finally came back out I was hoping there would be some drastic wardrobe change, but no: all she did was add a hat and a towel to dry her face with every five seconds during every song (why was she sweating so much!?)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       To make matters worse, Lauryn kept turning toward her band and motioning with her hands for them to slow down, or go faster; she even paused partway through a song to inform the DJ he was doing something wrong. She was mumbling things that the crowd was having difficulty deciphering and during one track, she was so obviously out of sync with her back up singers, it almost seemed like it was a rehearsal.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The crowd was mute and everyone kept looking around to see if they were the only ones experiencing this unraveling, because it was that unbelievable. The stadium started clearing out early, with many unsatisfied and forlorn faces. People who just witnessed their role model disintegrate before their eyes. One fan even commented that Lauryn Hill just ruined her childhood and she was going to pretend this night never happened and go home and listen to the album so that it’s not totally lost on her. This same fan also commented that Ms. Hill “pulled a Whitney [Houston]”. And I couldn’t agree more. Lauryn was jittery, confused and all over the place, almost like she was on something. It felt like that scene in “The Bodyguard” when Whitney is at the Oscars and knows her stalker can attack her at any minute while she’s on stage. Like Lauryn was privy to some insider information about something that was about to go down at the venue and was so distracted and distraught by it that she couldn’t get it together and focus. Only difference is this wasn’t a movie.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I was hoping she’d sing some songs from her Fugees days or duet with Nas on “If I Ruled the World” to make up for this debacle, but I couldn’t even bear it long enough to stick around. So I left: and I never leave concerts early. It’s always painful to watch someone who was once on top of the world start to fall apart. It’s even more painful seeing it live. The only good thing that came of that night was Nas. He was in top form, and looking fantastic for being thirty eight years old. On top of Illmatic he even threw in some  “Made You Look.” Apparently Ms. Hill did sing some Fugees tracks and did duet with Nas, but according to the reviews, mangled them too. Whatever Ms. Hill’s reasons are for her behaviour, be it outside influences or something within herself, she lost a lot of fans that night, and broke a lot of spirits. The only thing I could think afterwards was how could you Ms. Lauryn Hill, how could you?

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