It Happened Last Night: Ms. Lauryn Hill Played South Street

The Axl Rose of hip-hop disappointed Philly fans

You remember Lauryn Hill. The vibrant young woman who came of age in the 1990s with The Fugees and with a rousing performance in Sister Act 2 before launching a solo career with 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. That album birthed hits like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” “Lost Ones,” and “To Zion” and righteously earned the North Jersey girl five Grammy awards, including Best New Artist and Album of the Year. The future seemed bright. Fans waited anxiously to see what would happen next.

One such fan was Lenore from Darby. The pretty 35-year-old spent two hours getting herself ready for Hill’s $75-a-head show at the TLA last night. She picked up her girlfriends and drove to South Street, bouncing and singing to Hill tunes all the way. They had dinner and margaritas at Copa and chatted about the old days, back when Hill and fellow Fugee Wyclef Jean were an item. They dished on Hill’s life since then, during which she married a Marley, had five kids — or is it seven? And is it true that one of them still doesn’t have a name? — and either lived in a mansion in the tropics or, according to some reports, with her mom in Jersey. They wondered why she never released another studio album and why she chose to reappear now. But mostly, they were just excited.

But by 1 a.m. this morning, less than an hour after the perpetually late diva took the stage, Lenore and the girls stood in the foyer of the TLA, debating whether they should ask for a refund. In addition to her unforgivable tardiness (after all, it was a Tuesday night in February), Hill’s performance was, to put it mildly, underwhelming.

The girl who used to be able to spit with laser-guided precision has lost that ability. There was once a subtle sultriness to her voice, but that is gone. Today, her vocals are thin, watery, and from the throat instead of from within. Hill’s stage presence is odd, her movements awkward. She seems a bit, well, off, as her former colleague and lover Jean has publicly suggested. And her tunes, which she has almost completely reconceptualized and rearranged, have suffered badly from those changes. It’s a noble pursuit to rethink your catalog, but the new versions had better be good, and for the most part, these were not. Or, as one of Lenore’s friends put it, “Why the hell are you messing up your old hits when you should be writing new songs?”

Judging by the general crowd reaction throughout the show – the lackluster applause, the minimal singing along, and the many early departures – most of the folks who turned out were in agreement that they didn’t get their money’s worth out of Hill. And many were downright angry. But something tells me that Hill, a woman who demands to be called “Ms. Hill” because she says she deserves that respect and yet showed absolutely none of it for the nearly 1,000 fans who paid $75 to see her last night, just doesn’t give a damn.