Ms. Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 album had every potential to become a timeless, beloved fixture within R&B and hip-hop culture like its legendary predecessor, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
The material on Unplugged was a solid, first class testament to Hill’s evolution as an artist. Had this work been released as a studio album with the proper production backing and vocal support, it would have easily been the sophomore Lauryn Hill classic that we were all yearning for.
But instead, each selection was released in its purest form, dripping with the pain from her experiences; her raw voice accompanied only by the strings of her acoustic guitar. Each lyric, pouring directly from her soul was served at times, “imperfectly,” yet organically. And at the time of its release, her fans unfortunately weren’t ready…myself included.
What a travesty.
Hill’s Unplugged album was recorded in July 2001 before an intimate audience at MTV Studios in New York City. Her viewers were met with a raspy tenor, a far cry from the mezzo-Soprano that sang into our hearts in Miseducation, or the flawless lyricist that rhymed her way to stardom on The Score. Dressed in jeans and a baseball cap; she delivered a heart-felt performance, depositing pieces of her soul through each ballad. It was different from the Lauryn Hill that we were all accustomed to. It was real.
We claim to desire authenticity from our artists. But in actuality, since music is such an escape from our own reality, we don’t grant the artists full liberty to express their reality. We crave the smoke and mirrors and the illusion of perfection. We love hearing our artists sing how they “wake up like this” as we bask in the allure of their perceived level of perfection.
Lauryn cites in the album:
“I came to terms with the fact that I had created this public persona, this public illusion, and it held me hostage. Like, I couldn’t be a real person because you’re too afraid of what your public will say. And at that point I just had to do some dying and really accept the fact that, look, this is who I am. And I have to be who I am, and all of us have a right to be who we are… Whenever we submit our will to someone else’s opinion, a part of us dies…
“[I was] slaving to act like, you know, I wake up like this. And none of us do…”
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but judging by the poor reception that Unplugged received at the time of its 2002 release, it’s absolutely clear that the vast majority just isn’t here for the whole reality bit. The artists who are actually brave enough to walk in their truth are, for the most part, only able to attain niche status, never garnering mainstream appeal. Since music is such an escape from the dim realities of life, audiences want to escape to something that makes them feel good. But what simply feels good isn’t always authentic.
Ms. Lauryn Hill, I must admit that I completely slept on the Unplugged album. But now that I understand, I’m woke.