This is my letter to Lauryn Hill; at once an ode to her brilliance and a denunciation aimed at her detractors. Let me not be pious or in any way act the preacher, I am including myself in the category of her detractors; for I too once gossiped about her—my chatter nothing more than a knife covered up in a blanket of concern. It’s only in hindsight and after life’s crucible crumbled my once tranquil existence that I realize the pernicious nature of jabbering about someone with half information. Nothing educates us in life like the tears induced by betrayal, heartbreak, and misfortune.
I can say this with absolute certainty; be careful about judging from a distance—in time the very same things we once adjudicated from afar will be the adversity that lands at our doorsteps. But we judge anyway, as if we can ascertain the totality of someone’s life through innuendos and deductions. The truth, almost all of the time though, is far from what we are led to believe. No one has time though to verify the facts, instead we rush to judgement and pass down verdicts with a certainty befitting of King Solomon’s wisdom. There is a deep schadenfreude we revel in as we talk about people incessantly; it’s so easy to feign angst about someone’s dance with affliction as we take to the stage to chronicle their downfall.
This sense of seeming merriment we attain as we prattle about someone’s struggles is magnified by magnitudes when it comes to the very same people we once adored. We build up stars and turn them into idols only to turn around and relish in tearing them back down. We are either worshiping the famous or we are demolishing them, I am no different than anyone else in this respect. But then a funny thing happens on the way to jabber town, the same way we gabbed about others will be the way the gab gnaws at us. Misfortune and hardship are twin equalizers, the words we use to once defame others will be inverted to roast us with the inferno of indifference and malice.
So this ode of sorts is really an apology to Lauryn Hill and perhaps an appeal to those who are reading this to stop judging for none of us know the burdens people go through. What is the point of gossiping about Lauryn and talking about her in past tense and likewise doing the same to those around us? Aren’t we all beset by adversity and sorrow during the seasons of our lives? See, in a way, I understand Lauryn’s struggle for her flaw was feeling too much and expressing her tribulations so openly. From the very outset, the greatness I appreciated about Ms. Hill was always about the way she articulated her pains and her aspirations in such a raw and poignant way. Equal to the vocal gift that God gave Lauryn was the talent she had to morph the love, sorrow, hopelessness, and faith we all struggle to comprehend into words and songs we could sway with.
That was the brilliance of her first album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, which for me ranks as one of the top 10 albums ever. I am a man who is attracted by message—the beauty of words—as much as I am drawn by melodies. Lauryn did the seemingly impossible, with one album she delivered the height of message with the melody of an angel’s harp. From the very first time I heard “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, I was drawn and hooked! I realized instantly that I was being treated to a virtuoso poet and a prodigious talent. Lauryn Hill became my generation’s hybrid of Aretha Franklin and Etta James—able to at once croon about love and loss only to pivot and deliver a message about despondency and faith. In one album, Lauryn was able to talk about culture, history, politics, faith, and above all love. If what I write is familiar, it’s because my mind was nourished by the sinew of poets, singers, intellectuals and iconoclasts before me. Lauryn would probably say the very same things—we are the sum of the parts we learn from giants before us.
For almost a decade, during different moments of my life, the Miseducation of Lauryn became my soother and my shaman. A once ex induced such an ennui in my soul that I drove from DC to New York listening to ” Ex Factor’ on repeat for five hours, a trail of tears coaxed by Lauryn’s melodic voice. During moments where I hesitated telling the same ex that I still had emotions for her, it was the song “Tell Him” that coached me to fight through my dithering—though in hindsight I am realizing now that “Tell Him” is actually talking about a higher love that is beyond our comprehension. When I rebelled against modernity and the ways we are devolving into Babylon’s abyss, it was “Doo Wop” that gave voice to my consternation. Lauryn Hill, for the longest time, was literally my Serendipity, a sister of all trades who mastered many in the process.
A talent like that, a mind able to comprehend human emotion and synthesize our struggles so poetically, is a soul with a heart that is gracious and open. I don’t speak of this through personal knowledge, it’s just I realize through my own struggles and my own wounds that those who are the most creative are the ones who have felt the most pangs. It is pain that gives birth to creation and copious scars are the muses who midwife art. Moreover, though this theory is by no means scientifically tested, it seems that this world is kind of split between those who love to give and those who live to take. Of course, this theory of mine is not binary, it’s more of a spectrum; but it seems that most either default to the giving virtue or reside in the taking proclivity.
Lauryn’s songs and her message speaks of someone who is giving to a fault, an idealist who fought for the higher values of love, kindness, unity and forbearance. But this very gift of hers, her open heart and her beautiful soul, is the reason why she attracted so much antipathy and animus. It’s precisely because Lauryn was so in tune with her emotion and in touch with the love within her that she expressed her conflict through her songs. Alas, this beautiful talent of hers though would prove double edged; eventually her blessing became a burden when she released her next album Lauryn Hill Unplugged. I appreciated that album for its genius. She followed up commercial success by going back to the very womb that gave birth to her ascendancy.
Ah but the finicky public, the same way we once lifted her to the skies, we decided to decimate her when the second album did not live up to the same commercial bonanza. Coupled with her relationship troubles, all the sudden we set out to raze her where only a few years prior we were praising her—as if none of us never went through love’s distress or felt the arrows of love’s perfidy. Aided and abetted by a media that loves to obliterate others as they throw rocks counting profits, Lauryn Hill was all the sudden rendered unhinged and unbalanced. The narrative cast like indigo in a pool of water, fans became critics as we derided her without knowing anything about her or what she was going through. And this narrative, once it is set, is harder to escape than Jupiter’s gravity. Life is all about perspective, once we assess someone in one light, all we will do is see them through that warped prism.
But what was there to judge about Lauryn exactly? What was it, that she felt too much, that she admitted to being depressed? Is honesty now a sin that we must attack those who profess their malaise as it we are a Marine battalion invading Iwo Jima? Far from impelling those who admit to their demons, we should actually be embracing them for they are only aiming light at the very shadows that envelop our souls. The courageous ones are the ones who admit to being depressed, the cowards are the ones who sling stones and attack those who concede that they too bleed. To this day, there are those who try to speak of Lauryn in past tense even as she has accomplished more in one year than most of us can realize in ten lifetimes.
For those who are reading this and are going through your own rough patch in life and feel the nuzzle of depression’s kiss, this article is for you too. For I too, not too long ago, resided in the midst of despondency and abject anguish. But these moments are ephemeral, in the same place where sorrow added to your burden, a new day will soon arrive and blessings will multiply seven fold and give you abundance. Nothing in life is forever, we go through seasons of barrenness in order to reap fruitfulness. Do not let the nattering of lesser souls rob you—in time the same way they slander you they will be applauding you as if they were there all along.
And to Lauryn Hill, one day if you ever read this, I apologize for once having been part of the carnival blowhards. I should have known better for I understand too well how a mind that questions is bracketed by throes of rue and distress. The blues are the roots and the melodies are the bloom, can’t have one without the other. Thank you for once articulating my blues and my melodies through your songs. In a world full of crows you are the sparrow; on a regular basis I still listen to your music as you keep mending my broken places with your sublime and majestic voice. #LaurynSparrow
If you share this article on social media, use #LaurynSparrow and especially if you are on Twitter tweet this out and mention @mslaurynhill in your tweets along with this link. As always, keep your eyes on the sparrow and your mind on the blessings of today and the promise of tomorrow.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.