We may never know why Lauryn Hill has an affinity for perpetual lateness. As the wait for The Fugees’ former first lady seemingly drove the audience into somber annoyance, a fight broke out following the third false start, and police escorted the rowdy participants out just as the highly-anticipated set finally began.
Hill was selected as the closer to the concert portion of Mary J. Blige’s second annual Strength of a Woman Festival, courtesy of her Ms. Lauryn Hill Fund’s initiative to empower Black women. It was around 11:30 p.m. on Mother’s Day Eve at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena when the hour-long set began with “Final Hour,” one of the few rap tracks on the classic 1998 album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Onlookers were greeted with a silent command for our attention: strobe visuals that were confined to a screen behind the singer, as opposed to the jumbotrons spread throughout the venue. Hill’s face was restricted behind a veil and underneath the dark hues illuminating the stage. Her elusiveness became her.
The alternative bass of “Everything Is Everything” echoed throughout the arena, but was equally something worth tuning out because the live version varied drastically from its original recording—at no fault to her. The lackluster first half slowed the antsy crowd as their eager high retreated to hushed murmurs between songs. The arena even began to clear out as the midnight hour drew closer. Still, one thing is worth noting about Hill’s diehard fans. They were going to sit through this show in its entirety—and luckily for us, we witnessed redemption in real time.
After the rhythm of “Lost Ones” pierced through the wave of slumber that had washed over some fans, things took a turn for the better. Crowd favorite “To Zion” reunited the fans still tapped in with Hill as she melodically bounced around the Miseducation tracklist. Bridging the generational gap, the mother of six brought out her second eldest son, Joshua Omaru Marley, to perform a remix of “Mr. Intentional” from her 2002 MTV Unplugged 2.0 album.
“You know we make music. The next generation hears the music, decides they wanna do something with it,” she stated as a precursor to the duet. What was disappointing though, was the missed opportunity for Hill and Blige to perform “I Used To Love Him” live. However, “The Sweetest Thing,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” “Ready Or Not,” and even the interpolation of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” into “Killing Me Softly” had the audience captivated during the show’s latter half. Lyrics were regurgitated like an act of second nature. This was the Lauryn Hill we’d been anticipating all night.
Some got lost in the trance of “Turn Your Lights Down Low.” One man nestled his nose into the back of his lady’s neck as they swayed together, arms intertwined. Moments later, two young old souls played an innocent battle of “remember the lyrics” as an acoustic opening melody of “Doo Wop (That Thing)” began. The band toyed with the record’s musicality while simultaneously wrapping up the show.
One may consider this performance to be Hill’s penance because not many would play to a half empty stadium. There was a point where even the festival’s production team was unclear if Hill would actually show up. Yet, she seems to be unfazed by the notion that time doesn’t move on her accord. The 48-year-old appears to be satisfied to still be able to tour off of one borderline-perfect album. But would she agree that punctuality is a gaffe of hers?
Hill emerges from the shadows at her leisure, delivers a satisfying albeit contentious performance, and withdraws until the next go ‘round. Had it not been for the 25th anniversary of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and The Fugees’ tragically canceled world tour, we may never have been afforded the opportunity to see (what some believe to be) the problematic 8th wonder of the world. In spite of the controversy that her solo debut will forever be engulfed in, if you’re willing to take a chance on the spellbinding chanteuse and she actually shows up, the experience will be worth it.