Whatever Happened To Lauryn Hill?

Lauryn Hill was one of the biggest names in hip-hop and R'n'B in the 1990s. As a rapper and singer, she first made her mark with classic hip-hop crew Fugees alongside Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel. Their first album, Blunted On Reality, was met with limited critical and commercial success upon its release in 1994, but the group achieved stratospheric fame when their second release, The Score, dropped in 1996, spawning the mega-hit singles "Fu-Gee-La," which hit number 29 on the Billboard Hot 200, and "Killing Me Softly," which made it all the way to number two. The album's third single, "Ready Or Not," was also a huge success in Europe, replicating the performance of "Killing Me Softly" by peaking at number 1 on the UK singles chart.

The Score went on to sell more than 18 million units, according to Amoeba, being certified six-times platinum in the US and Europe and winning a Grammy for Best Rap Album in the process. It was not to last, however. The Fugees broke up acrimoniously in 1997 following complicated personal issues between Hill and Jean, according to HuffPost. 

Lauryn Hill conquers the world

Outwardly, however, Hill was unfazed. She followed up her enormous success from The Score with her debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which, in the years since its release in 1998, has become a defining record for both the decade and the many genres Hill blends together on the record. "She was aiming for big hits so she could outshine the Fugees and outshine Wyclef," according to a 2003 profile in Rolling Stone, and Hill certainly achieved that. Miseducation went on to sell more than 18 million copies worldwide and win Hill a total of five Grammys, well and truly positioning her as the biggest name among the three ex-Fugees. The album is hugely influential to this day, and has been recently sampled by both Cardi B and Drake, according to the New Yorker.

Though she found herself with the world at her feet, Lauryn Hill has, until now, never released another studio album. What exactly happened to Ms. Lauryn Hill?

The missteps of Lauryn Hill

Trouble began in the year of Hill's greatest success. In November 1998, a 50-page lawsuit was filed by four musicians: Vada Nobles, Johari Newton, Tejumold Newton, and Rasheem Pugh, otherwise known as New-Ark Entertainment, according to Salon. They claimed to have helped create much of the material on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, but said Hill had failed to either pay or credit them on the album. According to Stereogum, the case was eventually settled for a reported $5 million, while the same source claims that the musician Robert Glasper has since questioned Hill's behavior and ability during the making of her classic album: "Lauryn Hill should be able to be cool. You haven't done enough to be the way you are. You just have not. The one thing you did that was great, you didn't do." According to Rolling Stone, a friend recalled that as "the beginning of a chain effect that would turn everything a little crazy."

Hill collaborated with a number of high profile musicians as the '90s rounded out, including Carlos Santana and Mary J. Blige, before retiring from the public eye for a number of years. She returned in 2002 with MTV Unplugged Vol. 2, an acoustic set featuring many between-song monologues that was both a critical and commercial disappointment upon its release. To date, it is her final release, except a handful of appearances as a guest vocalist.

Lauryn Hill's legal and spiritual troubles

Many of Hill's friends and collaborators point to one specific relationship which has been especially destructive since her 1990s hey-day, a relationship which came into being just as Hill was at her most vulnerable, feeling the pressures of both public life and the demands of supporting a family as a working mother of two. "A person came in, and they divided and conquered. They destroyed this whole thing," Rolling Stone reports a friend as saying.

That person was a man who called himself "Brother Anthony," a figure whom many commentators and friends of Hill have described as a cult leader, peddling "real cult s***," in the words of Hill's fellow Fugee, Pras Michel. Anthony is believed to have convinced Hill to sever ties with her management, colleagues, and friends, damaging her career in the years following their initial meeting in 2000.

Hill has emerged sporadically in the intervening years, and even attempted an ill-fated Fugees reunion. While she is still known as a talented and energetic performer, she has grown a reputation for showing up late and being unreliable. Worse, in 2013 Hill served three months in prison for tax evasion,  reports the BBC, a sad moment that could have been avoided, considering her substantial new worth.

Since her release, Hill has returned to live performance, with a number of festival appearances. More than two decades on, however, fans still await the follow-up to the classic The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.