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What the Hell Happened: Lauryn Hill and the Fugees Risk a Return to the Spotlight

Lauryn Hill performing at the Mayan theater in 2019.
Lauryn Hill performing at the Mayan theater in 2019. By Courtesy of Justin Higuchi / Wikimedia Commons
By Elise M. Guerrand, Contributing Writer

Music fans rejoice: Lauryn Hill is making her return to the stage.

This August, Lauryn Hill announced she would be embarking on a global tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her revered album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” And what’s more — she is bringing The Fugees along.

This year, The Fugees joined Hill on stage in surprise appearances at both the Roots Picnic in Philadelphia and the Global Citizen Festival in New York. The sets featured classics like “Ready or Not” and “Killing Me Softly.” The performance of Fugees songs alongside tracks from Miseducation on the same stage is a satisfying fusion of two eras that seemed disparate for so long. By inviting The Fugees on tour, Hill is affirming that the success of her solo record is in large part thanks to her work with bandmates Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel.

While the group’s reunion is reason enough for excitement, the tour’s significance goes deeper than mere nostalgia. The reunion highlights Hill’s unifying power as an artist and performer amidst the many hurdles she and The Fugees have faced throughout their careers. It also recognizes the group’s undeniable impact on “Miseducation,” Hill’s solo record.

“Miseducation” was a pioneering work that set a new standard for hip-hop. Following its release in 1998, it sold a record 422,000 copies in its first week and Hill became the first woman to receive 10 Grammy nominations in a year as well as the first hip-hop artist to win Album of the Year.

When Hill began work on the record, she had just released two albums with The Fugees, including “The Score,” which propelled the group to stardom. On top of this, she was also 22 years old and pregnant with her first child at the time. “Miseducation” was the solo journey Hill needed in order to gain perspective on what had transpired. The project was also undoubtedly built on the foundation of Hill’s work with The Fugees, which fused hip-hop, reggae, and classic soul through socially conscious lyrics.

The Fugees began as a high school collaboration between Prakazrel Samuel “Pras” Michel and Hill, who both attended Columbia High School in New Jersey. Michel’s cousin, Wyclef Jean, soon joined the ranks. The group later disbanded in 1997 due to internal conflict.

In April, Fugees rapper Michel was convicted in federal court on claims of political conspiracy. Prosecutors claim Michel illegally funneled foreign funds into former-president Obama’s political campaign. He now faces up to 20 years in prison.

Hill’s own career has been far from scandal-free. Her raw, acoustic “MTV Unplugged” performance in 2002 was met with intense vitriol from critics. In 2003, Hill received backlash for condemning pedophilia in the Catholic Church during a concert at the Vatican. Later, in 2013, Hill served three months in prison for tax evasion.

Both Hill’s and The Fugees’ decisions to return to the spotlight despite controversy confirms that their creative projects reach much deeper than commercial appeal. When Hill invites Michel and Jean to take the stage with her, she affirms that the threads connecting the three artists over the course of tumultuous lives and careers are still intact. And, perhaps most importantly, she is giving her audience another chance to look back and groove.

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