Miss Lauryn Hill, Raury
Photo by Josh Hofer for the Carolina Theatre
Carolina Theatre, Durham
Monday, August 10, 2015
One could argue that hip-hop has not been loyal to Miss Lauryn Hill. After she crafted The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
, which became the manifesto of an entire hip-hop generation and collected five Grammys, we almost allowed her to dissolve into the depths of black-woman-artist-turned-caricature. We don’t really know where Lauryn went after her emotional three-chord performance at MTV Unplugged
. Only thing we truly know is that hip-hop wholeheartedly felt her absence.
She re-emerged in 2008, visibly shaken by various episodes of life. Six kids and trouble with the IRS had obviously taken its toll. In turn, Miss Hill hit fast forward on our favorite tunes, playing live shows that elevated the BPMs, putting her most beloved hits to panic mode. At first, we offered concerned inquisition, like, “Yo. What’s up with Lauryn?,” which quickly spiraled into ridicule, jokes, speculation and subjugation like the stones that toppled Whitney Houston, at whom we pointed and giggled as she sweated defensively through that infamous Diane Sawyer interview
. Bottom line: We hungered for the softness in the eyes of '90s Lauryn, when we crushed hard on her swagger and, in solidarity with the decade’s heightened Black Consciousness, kept our defiant locs thorny as myrrh. Monday night, we got a little of it back.
Before Miss Hill took the stage, 19-year old Raury ignited the Carolina Theatre with a rowdy set, riddled with the angst of a young black man. Brandishing the flair of Andre 3000, the buoyancy of Bad Brains, a P-funked personnel and the social relevance of a Black Amethyst Rock Star, his lyrics reeked of a necessary now. Songs like “Fly”
exemplified a hopeful, rocked-out rebellion, inspiring the near-capacity audience to hoist lighters into the air. The song resonated on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death: “I’m afraid I’ll die ... because I’m black and young and my hair is nappy.” The song was a timely protest, as police shootings maim and kill black bodies like it's hunting season.
In preparation for Miss Hill, the Carolina's crew accentuated the stage with a throne befitting the queen of “conscious” hip-hop. The star emerged looking razor-sharp in a wide-brimmed khaki hat and matching safari jacket, shawled by a 12-piece band. She took her post, cradling an acoustic guitar. She began finger-picking songs from Lauryn Hill Unplugged (MTV Live)
that, although long-winded, felt mature and re-worked by the band’s underpinnings. She even delved into Sade’s catalog for a cover of “Love is Stronger Than Pride,”
which embraced the song’s reflective sentiment of love and loss. The few songs that featured Miss Hill on guitar were a bit laborious, collectively lasting nearly an hour and recycling the few chords she could muster before climaxing to a repetitive vamp. Miss Hill strummed while feverishly conducting the band.
After an extended version of “Mystery of Iniquity,” the throne was removed. Miss Hill launched into a high-energy remake of songs from her quintessential (and only) solo studio album. Fans of Hill’s 16-year old classics would need a moment to identify their favorite tracks, as she maintained the formula she’s embraced since re-emerging by delivering feverish remakes at an agitated tempo. If not for the lyrics we inhaled as college-aged backpackers, songs like “Ex-Factor”
would’ve been unrecognizable. Puzzling pace aside, Miss Hill’s vocal performance was provocative and sure.
Those hopeful for new music left dissatisfied, although Hill’s version of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” was both fresh and refreshing. It’s safe to conclude that fans of Miss Lauryn Hill have much to treasure, much to question and much to anticipate. The fact that she’s touring with such intensity begets optimism. However, one has to wonder how long Hill can recruit faithful crowds seeking nostalgia from material she so intentionally veils.