Friday, May 11, 2007

Lauryn Hill: Post-Modern Prophetic Hip-Hop Queen

Ben Brubaker
African-American Feminist Thought

Lauryn Hill: Post-Modern Prophetic Hip-Hop Queen

In the post-modern world we live in, it is often difficult to determine viable definitions for anything without resorting to modernist modes of classification and description. Still, certain cultural, technological and historical elements have combined to create new movements that represent the post-modern reality we live in. One such movement is hip-hop, an urban-born culture based around specific, yet fluid, styles of music, fashion, locution and visual art. Yet even a culture as post-modern as hip-hop will inevitably be defined in modernist terms and capitalized by the economic forces that pervade in society. One hip-hop artist that continues to redefine this culture through her music while rejecting the influence of oppressive social norms is Lauryn Hill. This prophetic vocalist/poet/musician/actress/activist/mother has redefined her self, and in doing so, has redefined notions of feminism and religion in the context of hip-hop.

Lauryn Hill is a complex individual manifestation of post-modernity, encompassing a wide range of beliefs and characteristics that often conflict and blend together. Lauryn Hill also represents the less narrowly defined 3rd wave of feminism because her post-modern complexity results in an incredibly empowering message for women, which often conflicts with her more traditional submission to certain patriarchal values. Lauryn Hill also embodies a post-modern approach to “Prophetic Christianity” (a term coined by Dr. Cornel West) in how her lyrics often break down the oppressive forces within the world on a spiritual level, including criticisms of the Catholic Church and expressions of liberation through personal testimony.

“The mixing of codes from religion with elements of contemporary and secular culture is at the heart of the [post-modernist] [sic] distinction. ”- Shayne Lee.

Lauryn Hill’s music, words and actions reflect her ability to constantly redefine her conception of self, escape the oppression of social norms and elevate her level of consciousness in the pursuit of freedom. Lauryn’s evolution from her early years to the present has encompassed a vast progression, including stardom and controversy, both radical and universal. One of her most notable acting roles was her character in Sister Act 2, where she displayed her vocal skills in remixed versions of traditional Christian hymns like “His Eye is on the Sparrow”. Her first big break into the music industry came with the Fugees, releasing popular hits such as the remix of “Killing Me Softly” and their single “Ready or Not”. In the meantime, Lauryn attended Columbia University. Then she dropped her solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which received 5 Grammy awards and vast critical acclaim. Her most popular hits were often infused with a neo-soul approach to hip-hop, similar to some works by Erykah Badu. This neo-soul movement reflected many feminist social critiques while also appealing as a powerful testimony to the streets, with a universally authentic appeal for many fans. Still, the parochial influence of the music industry continued to weigh heavily on Lauryn’s soul and creative energy.

I think it is evident in her actions that she did not “go crazy” as the media often reported, rather, she displayed her power over the forces of mass marketing, exploitation and stereotyping that are so ubiquitous in the mainstream hip-hop industry. This system of capitalization and commercialization reflected various covert attitudes of racism and sexism in mainstream American culture. Michael Eric Dyson poetically highlights this power system, describing how “the advocates of market multiculturalism appropriate marginalized minority discourses for the purpose of packaging and reproducing a hegemonic conception of what is authentically black” . Even in her early years with the Fugees, Lauryn was consistently spitting rhymes “admonish[ing] hip-hoppers to examine social issues critically and [using] art to fuel the psychic and aesthetic liberation of black people” . In many ways, her musical legacy bared resemblance to various historical traditions in black culture, including the oral traditions of West-African griots, poets and preachers, the influence of women Blues and Soul singers, and the religious worldview of liberation through spiritual experience. Heavily influenced by the life and music of Bob Marley, Lauryn saw the potential for political and social liberation through music. She is so deeply post-modern because she is able to mix and elaborate on these previous codes and narratives while using it to deconstruct the historically oppressive and racial forces that pervade in mainstream media. Her most recent album, MTV Unplugged, was almost entirely written and performed exclusively by Lauryn Hill, who accompanied herself with an acoustic guitar. This album in many ways deconstructed the expectations and previous limitations that defined hip-hop music, blending rap with spiritual requiems, personal religious testimony, freedom anthems and folk soul. It is ironic that rapper 50 Cent seemed so threatened by Ms. Hill’s personal revolution and challenge to mainstream hip-hop’s standards, that he ignorantly lashed out at her, rapping “I used to listen to Lauryn Hill, and tap my feet/ then the bitch put out a CD that didn’t have any beats”. 50 Cent’s misogynistic and violent music is extremely popular, because it has a massive marketing machine pushing it and a growing audience of people to consume it. Interestingly enough, 80% of the people buying these CD’s are white.

The industry’s exploitation of hip-hop and obsession with material gain in many ways reflects the original power structure that the United States economy was built on; slavery. Lauryn’s rejection of this new covert system of slavery was evident in her infamous comment that she would rather have her “children starve than have a white person buy [her] album”. This comment caused a national controversy, and in many ways contributed to Lauryn’s apparent dismissal/escape from the public spotlight. I believe Ms. Hill (who later apologized for those comments) was not so much speaking literally as representationally and metaphorically, comparing the cycle of mass production and white consumption of black hip-hop culture to the power relationship of slavery. Talib Kweli alludes to the various historical accounts of mothers giving birth in slavery and being forced to decide if they would “rather kill the babies then let the master get to them”. In her music, both before and after her departure, Lauryn mixed radical secular rhetoric with the sex appeal of the blues tradition and the spiritual content of liberation theology. She mixed codes while symbolically inverting the pervading social, political and religious power structures, first using her popular appeal to reach the masses and then rejecting the capitalization of her message. As a feminist figure, she reflected the post-modern reality of 3rd wave feminism, empowering women by deconstructing the patriarchal social structures while also embodying a more traditional and modernist view of romance and religion. As a female, she may have served as an exception, but as an artist, she was in good company.

This prophetic strain of hip-hop encompasses a number of profoundly underappreciated conscious rappers, such as KRS-1, De La Soul, Dead Prez, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common Sense, and Lauryn Hill. These lyricists all succeed in creating critical analysis of social systems, using references to historical and philosophical content, while also framing their message in terms that appeal to their true target audience, the “streets”. Their powerful and revolutionary styles have elevated all of them to some level just below mainstream commercial success, with the exception of Lauryn Hill, whose vocal abilities and unique style appealed to mainstream audiences. In many ways, her content is configured in specific ways; subtle, coded and deep, as if to slip by the record company executives unnoticed and unedited. Lauryn follows the prophetic hip-hop tradition using “coded language that informs the culture through metaphors and abstract images to express what is experienced” . Using coded language in rhymes “is one process used in hip-hop to be socially interactive” while also fulfilling “the need to speak in such a way that it doesn’t give too much information but just enough to rally listeners” .

Lauryn grew up in a convergence of identities, urban and suburban, working and middle class, college graduates and high school dropouts. Perhaps the tension between Lauryn’s relatively privileged suburban background and her later experiences with “ghetto” life, compelled her to seek out ways to prove her authenticity; “all [she] wanted was to sell like 500 and be a ghetto superstar since [her] first album”. Her exposure to the streets and collaborations with other musicians helped her “get diplomatic immunity in every ghetto community” even though she admits she “had opportunity”. She seems to identify with the streets, despite her more suburban upbringing, claiming to make an easy transition from “Hood-shock to Hood-chic”.
During her time with the Fugees, Lauryn adopted many elements of “gangsta rap”, which reflected the previous styles of the Notorious B.I.G., Nas, the Wu-Tang Clan, and other New York rap icons. Still, she managed to use this style to deconstruct stereotypes of African-Americans, both male and female, which gangsta rap and mainstream hip-hop seemed to propagate. In many ways, Lauryn was appropriating and inverting the combative style of lyricism that many male M.C.’s had coined as an expression of dominance and masculinity. Her use of gangsta stylistics helps her convey a powerful message while gaining respect from less conscious male listeners, rapping, “even after all my logic and all my theory, I add a motherfucka, so you ignorant n*ggas hear me”. This gangsta rap influence, along with her sheer brilliance, helped established her as one of the premier female lyricists in hip-hop history, a position that is heavily misogynistic and monopolized by men. Lauryn’s flow and lyrical content is, in my humble opinion, arguably one of the most intricate and significant expressions of consciousness and liberation in hip-hop, ever. Her blend of secular content and experience with spiritual testimony and reflection creates a powerful prophetic narrative of liberation in a post-modern world.

“People always ask me, ‘Yo, Mos, what is happening with hip-hop?’ I tell them, ‘Whatever is happening with us. If we smoked out, the hip-hop is going to be smoked out; if we are fine, then hip-hop is going to be fine. People be talking about hip-hop as if it is some type of giant sitting on the hill side. We are hip-hop! So the next time you wondering were hip-hop is going, ask yourself, ‘Where am I going? What am I doing?”- Excerpt from Mos Def’s album, Black on Both Sides

Mos Def’s statement above is expressing how “the hip-hop subculture manifests itself in people, and as people identify the needs in their life that hip-hop meets, the culture is sustained” . In many ways, the black church, which was once at the heart of the Civil Rights movement, has become too conservative and out of touch with the hip-hop generation. In contrast, Ms. Hill, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common redefine the boundaries of black spirituality, combining elements of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Rastafarianism, and secular philosophy in a liberation theology for the streets. They address real life experience without the limitations and taboos of the church, assembling their poetic manifestos in a street vernacular while taking cues from many of the greatest artists, musician, activists and religious figures in black culture. In many ways, hip-hop is the pinnacle of the post-modern evolution of Jazz, because it combines so many elements of European, African, Caribbean and Latin music, in electronic sound bytes, which can be instantaneously broadcasted around the world over internet, television, and radio. From South America to Europe, to Africa and even Asia, hip-hop has become an international medium of expression that resonates with oppressed peoples everywhere, while also influencing American youth culture from the upper-class suburbs to the projects.

I believe Ms. Hills’s development as an artist reflects her intellectual and spiritual struggle and progression, highlighting the contradictory nature of post-modernity as it relates to African-American women. Her story exhibits the internal and external tension between “making it” and “selling out”, criticizing and excluding, intuition and epistemology, critical acclaim and street credibility, intellect and accessibility, sexuality and exploitation, personal truth and social lies, identity and persona. These conflicting tensions are primarily influenced by socially constructed narratives which shape her personal experiences and artistic expressions while the judgment of popular opinion looms over her. In many ways her escape from the music industry and the spotlight symbolized a milestone in her personal development, enabling her to confront the responsibilities and challenges of her love life, her motherhood and her spiritual life.

Ms. Hill expresses her growing resentment of the mainstream hip-hop machine and her need to define freedom in her own terms, rapping, “it's funny how money changes situations/ miscommunication leads to complication/ my emancipation don't fit your equation” . The mainstream media, upset over their loss of potential capital and the rebellious rejection of their expectations, depicted Lauryn as “crazy”, “schizophrenic”, and suffering from an “emotional breakdown”. Lauryn commented, before beginning a song on her MTV Unplugged album, that she was “talking to the people in [her] head”, referring to the constant internal dialogue that often takes place in our minds subconsciously. The media interpreted her candid personal commentary literally without understanding where Lauryn was coming from. The media did the same thing in reaction to the actions of successful comedian, Dave Chappelle, when he refused to compromise his artistic integrity and decided to escape the industry by spending months with his family and friends, and gaining perspective on life while staying in South Africa. Dave’s return yielded a milestone in both his and Ms. Hill’s careers, when they collaborated in the making of “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party”. Defying the conventional methods of the entertainment industry, Chappelle held a free block party for local Brooklyn residents, featuring a dream team of conscious hip-hop artists, including the Roots, Talib Kweli, Kayne West, Common, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and the recently reunited Fugees with Lauryn Hill. This DVD did reach a somewhat mainstream audience including hip-hop fans and Chappelle viewers, serving as a socially symbolic event in the establishment of this tradition of conscious hip-hop.

Beyond industry executives, even popular mainstream hip-hop artists often seem to miss out on the merits of living one’s life and using one’s talents for principles and purposes beyond making profits; they buy into the values and standards of the industry. Beyonce Knowles naively commented on Lauryn’s escape from the industry, claiming that she will “never ‘lose herself’ like Lauryn Hill”, describing Hill’s story as "tragic", because she “has been unable to cope with the demands of fame and success” . Lauryn’s talent, beauty and intelligence gave her the potential to be a Black female icon, much like Beyonce, while also gaining much more respected for her musical abilities. Instead, Lauryn rejected the expectations and limitations of fame in search of truth, spiritual renewal and meaningful experience. Her actions and decisions serve as an organically authentic paradigm for using art to deconstruct contemporary mainstream narratives.

As an African-American female pop icon, Lauryn Hill represents a uniquely 3rd wave approach to feminist issues, combining vivid critiques and empowering messages with some traditionally patriarchal values and semantics. To some extent, Lauryn represents the traditional maternal responsibilities of black womanhood, while infusing personal struggles with male lovers in ways that are both empowering and disempowering. Lauryn was a sexual icon to a large extent; however, her public persona reflected more modest fashion and behavior than many of the female stars in the hip-hop world. She talked about the influence of pop culture on her relationships, because “being young and female in America, you watch a lot of TV and grow up on false images of what love truly is” . Many feminist critics have condemned Lauryn’s very public struggles with her marriages and relationships, believing it a sign of weakness to be so heavily swayed by emotional dependencies on men. Her racially controversial comments made her susceptible to a wide range of criticism, both inside and outside the hip-hop community. Like 50 Cent, Eminem took a shot at Ms. Hill, saying he “bought a Lauryn Hill tape so her kids would starve”. Since her departure, it seems as if many of the Black female pop stars embody and submit to the sexual demands of a patriarchal society that objectifies women, perpetuates stereotypes about black culture, and equates masculinity with sexual prowess, wealth and violence.

Misogynistic rappers such as Eminem, 50 Cent and many others, seem to share a false opinion about gender roles, and valorize the lifestyle of “pimps” and “G’s”, gaining wealth and popular influence. In contrast, conscious artists like Talib Kweli and Common pay homage and respect to Ms. Hill’s example of strong black womanhood. Lauryn’s impact as a black female icon has clearly made a strong impression on men and women in different ways. Talib Kweli recently paid tribute to Lauryn’s influence on hip-hop in the song “Ms. Hill”. In the song, Talib describes a different side of Lauryn’s controversial escape from the industry, telling of her inspiring courage to seek redefinition of self and spirituality, even when it defies convention and mainstream expectations. Kweli shows deference to Ms. Hill in various ways:

“Her songs still better than anything out there, hotter power play/ remember how they accused her of saying she did her album without help?/ then she went to Rome to sing and tell the Pope about herself/ just after she left the Fugees, started rolling with the Marleys/ got back with her crew at Dave Chapelle's Block Party/ she made songs about Zion and trying to be faithful/ took the Blackstar on tour in Europe , I was so grateful… I know you hate Babylon, and wanna see it fall, but they won't let you read your poem at the BET awards/ you give us hope, you give us faith, you the one/ they don't like what you got to say but still they beg you to come/ whoa, now that's powerful sis, it's black power/ we get money, keep our eyes on the final hour, and no I ain't saying you Christ, that would be sacrilegious right? but you can blow up the night, sister them raps is vicious/ the raps the sisters recite with their black fist up/ the devil's last wish is a queen that rise past bitches”

Kweli arranged his own escape from the limitations his record label had placed on his music by creating his own label “Blacksmith Music”. Kweli’s devotion of an entire song to Ms. Hill shows just how influential she has been on conscious hip-hop artists, and how her influence as a hip-hop icon of female empowerment has resonated with both men and women. Kweli’s analysis of Hill’s influence and character negate the assumption that “women have been the only feminist forces in hip-hop and rap” and exemplifies “the contributions of progressive, anti-sexist men within the movement” . Another example of a male M.C. with empowering messages of respect for women is Common Sense, who shares a similar approach in describing sexuality, relationships and gender equality. Common depicts a romantic relationship based on equality, respect and communication, referring to his partner as “queen” and saying “it's important, we communicate and tune the fate of this union, to the right pitch/ I never call you my bitch or even my boo/ there's so much in a name and so much more in you” .

Lauryn Hill also addresses romantic relationships on a conscious level using street rhetoric to describe her lover as “sweet prince of the ghetto” with “precious dark skin tone” . Lauryn projects a sexy, consciously confident, yet affirmative attitude while describing the characteristics of her ideal man in a song with John Legend:

“you're so conscious and self aware/ I'm next to you, I hold your back and you express pure ecstasy/ It's more than just the sex to me, because mentally you take me there/ Yo, I pretended to be unaffected, you intended to be respected/ I commend your boldness, you don't fear being rejected/ So you approached me my love and didn't remain intimidated/ glad you did 'cause once you came you got much more than anticipated/ and its true, I've got the mind of a genius/ and every time we kiss we feel the magnetic field we got between us/ I think its something to witness your vulnerability/ the definition of a real man, he can acknowledge how he feels for me/ and I'm fascinated with your manhood exploration. Your transparent language, how you articulate the situation/ and I can see it in your stare, in the air, I love the texture of your hair, statuesque, black and beautiful like classical architecture…”- So High (Cloud 9 Remix)

These lyrics, along with the words of Talib Kweli and Common, construct a new narrative of gender relationships that values communication, respect, thoughtfulness, spirituality, and the positive affirmation of a shared black identity which transcends gender inequalities.

“Spirituality is sustaining one’s sanity in the midst of cultural conflict while pressing towards a moral goal that is highly unachievable yet still possible in order to sustain one’s spirituality, creating a social balance to live another day.”
-Michael Eric Dyson, at St. Sabina Catholic Church in 1999

The black church has been heavily influential in the political and personal realm for many African-Americans, yet many traditional sects are now failing to connect with younger generations and fulfill their desire for liberation and self-realization. The hip-hop generation has adopted many of the traditional elements associated with the black church’s struggle for liberation in America, thus “you can talk about neither hip-hop nor the Black church without looking at issues of justice, race and the inner-city or elements of song, shouting, praising and story-telling” . Lauryn Hill represents the prophetic strain of Christianity in hip-hop, reflecting how “throughout history, prophets provoked radical changes when the church disregarded the relevant needs of the masses” . Her criticism of the corrupt politics and practices of the church, blended secular and spiritual codes, signifying a turn to a more post-modern theology, freed from the narratives and contradictions of organized religion.

Lauryn’s use of music to convey a post-modern liberation theology enables her to develop more inclusive and profound connections with her listeners. It also shows how “spiritual revolutions occur when existing religious institutions lose their vitality and fail to be relevant to the human condition” . Lauryn exemplifies a paradigm in which “hip-hop liberation is found in personal self-awareness” when she “is spitting about a place of personal reflection and affirms that new decisions must be made for a destructive cycle to stop” . The rise of theological exploration in hip-hop is “often brought about… through a personal crossroads experience- maybe a brush with death, having a child, falling in love, sickness, or spiritual awakening” . In the time just prior to Lauryn’s “spiritual awakening”, she was dealing with having a child and falling in love. Her lyrics often operate on multiple levels, blending the sacred with the sensual and the religious with the romantic, in order to convey her love for God and the satisfaction of spiritual renewal.

Lauryn’s theology of liberation is a unique blend of linguistic, moral and historical elements from a wide variety of religious traditions, including Rastafarianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In what is perhaps an allusion to the internal spiritual warfare (which Islam refers to as Jihad), Lauryn describes her current view of Christianity in the song “Freedom Time”, saying:

“There's a war in the mind, over territory for the dominion/ who will dominate the opinion, schisms and isms, keepin' us in forms of religion/ conforming' our vision to the world churches decision/ trapped in a section, submitted to committee election, moral infection, epidemic lies and deception”.

Lauryn blends more traditional Islamic and Christian morality with feminist commentary in her song “Doo Wop”, admonishing women who are “talking out [their] neck sayin' [they’re] a Christian/ A Muslim sleeping with the gin [gentile], now that was the sin that did Jezebel in” . Hill later combines Black Baptist and Pentecostal allusions with references to the prominent female figure in the Black Nation of Islam, Betty Shabaz, describing her rhymes as “heavy, like the mind of Sister Betty”.
Ms. Hill also blends Old Testament imagery with the Zionist traditions of Rastafarianism, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Judaism. It is interesting that Ms. Hill refers to her home state, New Jersey, as “New Jerusalem”, considering the relatively large population of Jewish families in East Orange and surrounding suburbs. Lauren even embodies a Marxist perspective towards organized religion at times, viewing it as an opiate of the masses and a system for propagating and justifying arbitrary and oppressive historical power structures. Her analysis is really more post-modern and deconstructionist, questioning the epistemological sources of modern societal beliefs and their validity.

“Are you sure it's God you servin'? Obligated to a system, getting less then you're deserving, who made up these schools? I say who made up these rules? I say animal conditioning, Oh, just to keep us as a slave.”-Lauryn Hill

The religious narrative of oppression, exodus and eventual liberation is a common thread in many African-American religious traditions; however, nowhere is it more thoroughly explored and emphasized than in Rastafarianism. In many ways, Rastafarianism is like a blend between Christianity and Judaism, with an emphasis on a distinct interpretation Old Testament scripture and the coming of Christ. Most closely attributed to Jamaican and Ethiopian peoples, Rastafarianism was a religious response to the slave experience in Jamaica, and focuses heavily on a Zionistic return to the African Diaspora’s “homeland” in Ethiopia. One of the major symbols in the religion is the Lion of Judah, which is closely related to literary allusions to Christ. Lauryn blends Rastafarian symbolism and other cultural codes, claiming to have the “Heart of lioness”, while also being a” scientist” and “street Zionist”. In the same song she sings, “I’ll never forget how they crucified Jesus Christ… how they sold Marcus Garvey for rice…I'll never forget, no way, how they turned their back on Paul Bogle”. Marcus Garvey was one of the largest figures in the black Zionist movement in America and Africa in the early 20th Century and is often credited for helping form an “imagined community” of African peoples; an “African Identity”. Paul Bogle was a Baptist Deacon and a Jamaican rebel who “helped his congregation cope with poverty and injustice” , and was later executed by the United Kingdom for leading the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865.

For many Jamaicans and other peoples of the African Diaspora, the idea of “Zion symbolizes a longing by wandering peoples for a safe homeland”, but also sometimes refers to a “safe spiritual homeland… or a kind of peace of mind in one’s present life” . Lauryn’s Rastafarian influence came from a variety of sources, including immersion in the culture of Jamaica, Queens in New York, her musical and personal relationship with Haitian immigrant, Wycleff Jean, and her later relationship with Bob Marley’s son, Rohan. Bob Marley’s musical influence is prevalent in Hill’s music which often emulates the way Marley conveyed a universal struggle for liberation through religiously influenced lyrics.

Lauryn’s ability to convey deeply personal spiritual experiences is heightened by her tendency to blend narratives of romatic/human relationships with spiritual/divine relationships. Many of her song lyrics reflects multiple layers of meaning, sometimes depicting a male lover as a divine figure in her life, and other times describing her relationship with God in terms of worldly romantic imagery. A third-dimension of meaning can also be drawn from her love songs; the relationship between the personal and the political. In a different way, these same lyrics reflect her post-modern contradictions as a champion of female empowerment; the lyrics can be simultaneously read as empowering and disempowering in many instances. In her song, “Just like the Water”, she uses the juxtaposition of these two opposing extremes, addressing an undefined lover/Lord who is “melting down the walls of inhibition/ evaporating all of [her] fears/ baptizing [her] into complete submission/ dissolving [her] condition with his tears”. Later, she blends descriptions of spiritual renewal with erotic allusions and imagery, saying “He's pouring out his soul to me for hours and hours/ drawing out my nature with his hands/ yearning I'm so thirsty for his power/ burning to be worthy of his land”. In some ways, Hill’s coding of spiritual, political and erotic language in her music reflects the complexity of early female blues singers, who used coding as a way of ensuring popular exposure while expressing the complex play between the spiritual, political and personal. A similar approach to spirituality can be seen in the erotic poetry of the book, Song of Solomon, in some versions of the Old Testament.

Ms. Hill’s Prophetic Christian approach to music is best shown through her appropriation and inversion of biblical stories, figures and terminology, which express complex adaptations of traditional scripture to modern situations. One great example of this textual manipulation is seen in her song, “Adam Lives in Theory”. As young 3rd wave feminist writes, “the story of Adam and Eve reveals the church’s view on women” in which the woman is “created specifically to meet the man’s needs,” and eventually leads him into sin. In Lauryn’s account, Adam is “Praying to the alter of himself, making pilgrimages, thinking he's religious, like he's got all the light, and no one else”. In contrast, Eve is corrupted and exploited by Adam, “caught up in emotion, burning up in her devotion to the king of exploitation in the field, she handed him her virtue, cause he told her ‘I won't hurt you’, so she lay with him to see how good it feels”. She also uses Adam to allude to the ways in which men have often failed to assume responsibility for their shortcomings, “hiding from the truth, he provided an excuse to explain away his desperate situation/ when confronted, blamed his wife, giving birth to carnal life, refusing to acknowledge what he’d done”. Lauryn’s reconfiguration of scripture reflects a historically hermeneutic tradition stemming from Traditional African Religions and the Black Church, which interprets ancient biblical stories in ways that adapt and remain relevant to current events. Her blending of secular and religious themes in the form of hip-hop allows her to take that hermeneutic approach one step further, adapting to a medium that is more relevant to young people.

Lauryn Hill is a unique manifestation of the post-modern tensions within the black community, gender relations and modern society. Her complex blend of the erotic and the spiritual, in empowering and disempowering ways, reflects a 3rd wave approach to feminism that utilizes a wide variety of narratives to deconstruct patriarchal social systems of oppression. Her post-modern complexity lends itself to a profound spirituality, a prophetic Christian gospel packaged in a pseudo-secular medium. As a prophetic voice, Lauryn Hill blends the modernist traditions of the black church with impeccable social analysis. Dr. Cornel West asserts that the latest expression of the “prophetic Christian tradition in the Afro-American experience” must be seen in the context of “post-modern times” in which black theology is defined by its critique of capitalist civilization” .

Hill has proven herself as a pioneer in the conscious hip-hop movement, not only for women but men as well, using music to “challenge vectors of oppression in post-modern society by using ideologically eclectic philosophies and methods to intercept and intervene upon rapidly changing and heterogeneous exploitative and violent forces and discourses” . Hill’s life experiences, from fame to motherhood to controversy and spiritual rebirth, all come together in a complex narrative of personal progression and self-definition in a contradictory post-modern world. Ultimately, I believe that Hill’s life and works were far ahead of her time, and as a result, they will never receive the level of respect, appreciation or understanding they deserve. Hill’s potential as an artist, activist and public figure will fall short of the popular potential she could achieve; however, her decisions reflect a profound understanding of the oppressive forces which pervade in society and a paradigm for personal liberation.

1. Dyson, Michael Eric, Open Mike: Reflections on Philosophy, Race, Sex, Culture and Religion, Basic Civitas Books, New York, NY 2003

2. Smith, Efrem and Jackson, Phil, The Hip-Hop Church: Connecting with the Movement Shaping our Culture, IVP Books, 2006

3. Tate, Greg, Ed., Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture, First Edition, Harlem Moon Publishing, New York, NY, 2003.

4. Zugna, Daniel, “Beyonce Deals With Fame”, August 21 2006


6. Phillips, Layli, et al., Oppositional Consciousness within an Oppositional Realm: the Case of Feminism and Womanism in Rap and Hip-Hop, 1976-2004, published in the Journal of African-American History.

7. Lee, Shayne, T.D. Jakes: America’s New Preacher, New York University Press, New York, NY, 2005.

8. Article on Paul Bogle,,

9. Article on Zionism,,

10. Hernandez, Daisy, Ed., Rehman, Bushra, Ed. Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, Seal Press, New York, NY, 2002.

11. West, Cornel, Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2002.

The Fugees, the Score, 1996:
-“Killing Me Softly With His Song”
-“Ready or Not”

Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 1998
-“Lost One”
-“Doo Wop”
-“Final Hour”

MTV Unplugged No. 2, 2002
-“Adam Lives in Theory”
-“Just Like the Water”
-“Freedom Time”
-“So Much Things to Say”

Talib Kweli, Reflection Eternal, 2000
-“For Women”

Right About Now!, 2005
-“Ms. Hill”

Mos Def, Black on Both Sides, 2005

Common Sense, Like Water for Chocolate, 2000
-“The Light”


My Majestic Page said...
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Unite4deright said...

Thanx 4 your very good article.

It shows the very good seeing trough the higher soul of a queen,who helped many people 2 reach theirs or searching.Especially those who r voiceless /helpless or underpriviled and more .Not only the modern slaves the working class heroes or the lost ones ,also the upper class and many more.It shows the works of a woman who light up all .The purity and healing process through honesty and unity.Whos world is this?Breaking the wrong barriers and some stupid traditons.Who got the real power 2 change something into positiv? Still the people ,always the people!!!!