Why Did Lauryn Hill Vanish at the Height of Her Career?

Lauryn Hill is one complicated genius. At the young age of 23, she created one of the most acclaimed R&B albums of all time, with a profound lyricism that was way beyond her years. But, to everyone’s surprise, after the release of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” she disappeared.

Lauryn Hill / Lauryn Hill / Lauryn Hill / Lauryn Hill.

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Some blame her disappearance on the hostile lawsuit that followed the album’s release. And having her producers sue her surely played a part. But unbeknownst to her fans, Lauryn was also taunted by a self-deprecating voice telling her she would never be able to create anything better.

What Happened to Lauryn Hill?

The early roots of Lauryn Hill’s miseducation took hold in her home in East Orange, New Jersey.

The singer was introduced to a variety of music from an early age, from Spanish guitarists like Jose Feliciano to soulful musicians like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Bob Marley.

A studio portrait of Lauryn Hill.

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The artists Lauryn listened to weren’t singing about ordinary, materialistic topics. They were preaching for a better world, an opening of one’s mind, peace. “By listening, I grew an appreciation for certain musical philosophies and ideas and concepts,” she told interviewers. Lauryn’s eclectic upbringing deeply affected the music she made later on in life.

She Was Booed Off Stage at 13

Apart from music, Lauryn was into other activities such as dancing, acting, and athletics. She loved performing and decided to take her talents to the Apollo stage in New York City at the young age of 13. Sadly, she soon found out that the Apollo wasn’t very welcoming.

Lauryn Hill’s performance at age 13.

Source: YouTube

As 13-year-old Lauryn took the stage to sing Jackson 5’s Who’s Loving You, her nerves got the best of her. She struggled to get her act together but was eventually booed off the stage. Thankfully (!) she didn’t let the experience bring her down. Lauryn knew she was born to create music.

She Joined The Fugees in High School

In high school, Lauryn joined a hip-hop music group founded by her Haitian friend, Pras. The initial members were him and a girl named Marcy, who brought Lauryn into the group. Pras’s cousin, Wyclef, joined the group around a year later.

A backstage portrait of The Fugees.

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Lauryn remembers the first time she saw Wyclef. “He walked into the studio with a batman outfit and buckles on his boots. He was very dramatic,” she joked with interviewers. When Marcy left the group, Wyclef became a permanent member. They called themselves The Translator Crew, which later became The Fugees, short for refugees.

She Needed to Rap to Get Her Message Across

The original plan was for Lauryn to sing The Fugee’s hooks. Her raspy yet caressing voice added a beautiful touch to Pras and Wyclef’s powerful rapping. But, ultimately, Lauryn couldn’t hold herself back from saying more than a few lines. She had a deeper message she wanted to convey, and she saw rapping as the perfect way to do it.

Lauryn Hill performs on stage.

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While R&B was a great way to move and soothe the public, it wasn’t being used as a form to make any statements. Lauryn told her male peers that she wanted to rap. It wasn’t a matter of asking them. She was stating a fact.

They Were Offered Three Record Deals

The Fugees pursued their music career with fervor. Even though they were still in school, they somehow managed to balance their studies while recording demos AND landing pretty neat gigs. Their hard work ended up paying off because three different labels offered them record deals by the end of the school year.

The Fugees pose during a studio portrait session.

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The group ended up signing with Roughhouse Records, a label owned by Columbia and Sony. Even though they offered the least amount of money, The Fugees felt like the label’s executives were the most supportive of their direction as a group.

“Sister Act Two” Was a Big Deal

Remember we said that Lauryn Hill was a woman of many crafts? In 1993, she landed a role in a film alongside Whoopi Goldberg called Sister Act Two. It was a golden opportunity for Lauryn, who recalled being extremely surprised by how important the movie was to so many people.

Lauryn Hill and Whoopi Goldberg in a scene from the film.

Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

“I never realized how significant Sister Act Two was to so many young children,” she once noted. Within the crowd of spectators was one person in particular who fell in love with Lauryn’s performance – Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson Was Enthralled With Her

Michael Jackson saw Lauryn on Sister Act Two and immediately called music executive Jerry Greenberg to share the news. It was the middle of the night, and Greenberg recalls hearing Michael, excited like never before, telling him, “There’s a girl in the movie you have to see. I want to sign her.”

Pras, Lauryn Hill, Whoopi Goldberg and, Wyclef Jean pose for the press.

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Jerry managed to contact Lauryn, who told him she would be more than honored to work with Michael, but for now, she was busy recording an album with The Fugees. She said that if things didn’t work out with the group, she would be glad to sign with Jackson.

The Label Almost Dropped Them

Lauryn stuck with The Fugees, and in 1994, they released their first album, Blunted on Reality, which spawned three memorable singles. Their lyrics were strong and powerful, the beat was fine, yet the reception was relatively weak.

A band portrait of The Fugees.

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The album sold a shockingly low number in the first week – only 12 copies. Lauryn joked that they would go out to the streets and yell out, “Hey! Do you want our autograph? No? Okay… all right, bye.”

The Score Was Something Else

Luckily, The Fugees were given another chance. They were grateful for the second opportunity and were more determined than ever to prove themselves. This time around, something changed. They knew that in order to make a mark in hip-hop, they had to set the trend, not adapt to it.

The Fugees pose backstage at the Grammys.

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With only a 135-thousand-dollar budget, The Fugees worked on their new album called The Score, writing and producing every song with mostly live instruments. Their new sound was unique because it had both old school samples and new sounds merged into one sweet, nostalgic, yet refreshing beat.

Lauryn Was Treated Differently for Being a Woman

Unlike Wyclef and Pras, Lauryn Hill had an additional challenge to overcome. She was a female rapper in a male-dominated genre. She had to learn not to take things personally and fight her way to receive the same recognition as her male peers.

Lauryn Hill’s live performance.

Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

When interviewed, Pras and Wyclef would be asked questions like “What are your thoughts on the world?” or “What do you think of hip hop as an industry?” And when they would get to Lauryn, it would be questions like, “What is your favorite color of lipstick?”

Killing Me Softly Almost Didn’t Happen

Lauryn knew how to carry herself in freestyle. But the artist had an equally impressive gift – her singing voice. Her comforting vocals became the highlight of The Fugee’s second album, The Score. Killing Me Softly (a remake of Roberta Flack’s record) was their groundbreaking hit, thanks to Lauryn’s mesmerizing voice.

Lauryn Hill is performing on stage.

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Fun fact about the record – they weren’t even sure they wanted to release it. But a few radio stations got their hands on it and leaked it. After it came out, there was no turning back. Lauryn’s soulful voice drew in many new fans.

With Stardom Came Controversy

Hit after hit after hit, The Fugees were on a roll with their new album when it first came out. Killing Me Softly peaked at No. 1 on multiple charts, and other records like Ready or Not and The Cowboys weren’t too far behind.

A photo of Lauryn Hill during a live performance.

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In a matter of a year, The Score sold six million copies in the States alone. The result was lightyears away from the weak reception of their first album. But with success came – you guessed it – controversy. And Lauryn was the first one to suffer some backlash.

Was Lauryn Racist?

In the midst of their success, rumors circulated that Lauryn had made some snarky comments about white people, saying that she would rather die than have them listen to her music. The singer quickly cleared up the rumors on Howard Stern’s radio show.

Lauryn Hill attends an event.

Source: Pinterest

“I’m anti destructive social situations that cause hostility and anger in the ghetto,” she told him. When he flat out asked her whether it bothered her to see white people listen to her music, she solidly stated, “No, not at all.”

First Glimmers of a Solo Career

The Fugees bypassed the controversy and kept on creating music. They made another hit song for the film Love Jones. The song is called The Sweetest Thing and has Lauryn on the vocals (Lauryn’s voice truly is the sweetest thing).

A picture of Lauryn Hill on stage.

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As time went by, the young singer grew in confidence, and she started taking on a few solo projects, including a collaboration with the rapper Nas. She worked with him on a song called If I Ruled the World.

They Disbanded at the Height of Their Success

The Fugees took home two Grammys, including Best R&B Performance and Best Rap Album. Surprisingly, they disbanded during the height of their success. According to Hill’s former manager, Jason Jackson, it had to do with creative differences.

The Fugees pose for a portrait.

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Lauryn wanted to go solo due to some conflict within the group. But the record label wasn’t happy about it. They urged her to do another Fugee record. “I intended to be in the group forever,” Lauryn opened up, “until I found myself in circumstances where I felt the inner desire to express myself. Freely and openly without any constraint.”

Her Messy Relationship With Wyclef

Creative freedom wasn’t the only reason why The Fugees split up. Personal conflict between Lauryn and Wyclef likely caused the split. Their time in the studio led to a romantic relationship. Wyclef pursued Lauryn, and she gave in to his stubborn (yet equally charming) advances.

A portrait of Lauryn Hill.

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There was just one little problem. Wyclef was married to a woman named Marie Claude Annette. But that didn’t stop him from falling for Lauryn. Their relationship was an emotional rollercoaster, and the whole group suffered as a result of it.

“You Shouldn’t Have Messed With the Girl”

Pras strongly disapproved of their relationship from the get-go and warned Wyclef not to go after her. They got into huge fights in the studio. Personal, painful clashes. Pras felt that Wyclef was somewhat of a “cancer” in the group.

Lauryn Hill poses for the press.

Source: Pinterest

“You shouldn’t have messed with the girl,” he warned him. But Lauryn was too talented, too pretty, and way too unique to ignore. Even then, at the young age of 22, she had an incredible depth to her and a host of smart things to add to the conversation. Wyclef found it impossible to keeps his hands to himself.

Meeting Rohan Marley

In 1996, Lauryn, who had suffered enough from being Wyclef’s second woman, began dating Rohan Marley, son of the late and legendary Bob Marley. He was actually introduced to Lauryn through Wyclef.

Lauryn and Rohan sit together during an event.

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Just a year later, in 1997, Lauryn became pregnant. At the time, it was unclear who the father was. When confronted with news of her pregnancy, Lauryn told interviewers, “I’m very much in love, I’m very happy, and I see birth as a benediction.”

Who Was the Father?

It was assumed that Rohan was the father because he was the one publicly dating her. But Wyclef argued otherwise. He believed that he was the rightful dad. “There was nothing in my mind to lead me to believe it was not mine,” he recalled.

A portrait of a pregnant Lauryn Hill.

Source: Tumblr

Wyclef was wrong, and a paternity test revealed that Rohan was the dad. Furious with the result, Wyclef couldn’t contain himself next to Lauryn. Recording in the studio became an impossible feat, and the group parted ways.

She Was Pressured to Get an Abortion

It was an emotionally draining period for Lauryn, who was pressured by those around her to get an abortion. The singer poured out her heartache and frustration onto the pages in front of her, and, luckily for us, she created one of the most appreciated R&B albums of all time – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

A publicity portrait of Lauryn Hill.

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Creating this incredible body of work came with many obstacles. Lauryn didn’t have her regular team to help her produce it. Wyclef threatened everyone that if they worked with Lauryn or Rohan, they could forget about working with him.

Wyclef Boycott Her

Most people decided to work with Wyclef since he was an experienced producer, so Laurynn ended up having to find her own production team. Luckily, she found a group of talented musicians from New Jersey and invited them to work with her on her album.

Wyclef gets ready to perform.

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They were called The New Ark Producers. One of the producers, Johari Newton, said that Lauryn was definitely the guide. “It was her vision,” he explained, “Our job was to take whatever was in her head and put it down for her.”

They Had Little Faith She Could Make It Solo

Surprisingly, when Lauryn sent those first demos to the record label, they responded by saying that it sounded like “coffee table music.” Less than hopeful, they somehow managed to give her the benefit of the doubt and gave her the freedom to do her own.

Lauryn Hill is performing on stage.

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Lauryn’s album turned out to be a masterful piece of work. It was a beautifully crafted mish-mash of different styles, including funk, hip hop R&B and reggae. The variety of instruments featured on the record provided the rich sound she longed for.

She Was Especially Creative During Her Pregnancy

Lauryn was pregnant with her first child during the making of the album. The situation with Wyclef and Rohan made everything a whole lot more complicated, and she felt like she had to fight for her music, not just for herself but for her child as well.

Lauryn Hill attends an event.

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“I sang from that place and chose to share the joy and ecstasy of it, as well as the disappointments, entanglements, and life lessons that I had learned at that point,” the singer told Rolling Stone Magazine. She also credited Rohan Marley as being a “protective presence.”

She Became the Highest Selling Female Rapper

Not only was Lauryn’s music great, but the content was profound and moving as well. The rawness and bravery in her lyrics were missing in other songs at the time. It definitely distinguished Lauryn Hill’s album from the rest.

Lauryn Hill and Aretha Franklin take a picture together.

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The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was highly acclaimed and sold over 19 million records worldwide, making it the highest-selling album from a female rapper at the time. Only a young adult in her early 20s, Lauryn had already received a mass of respect from her peers.

The Spotlight Felt Awkward at Times

Everything in Lauryn’s life was moving super-fast. But her newfound status, as exciting as it was, came with more and more demands. Sooner than later, she started feeling the pressure. She admitted that the spotlight was an awkward place for her to be in at times.

Lauryn Hill, Paul McCartney, and Madonna pose together for the press.

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“The awards are a reflection of my relationship with the audience,” she told interviewers. “It means that my music is helpful to them. That’s the award. So, I get really afraid of those little comfort – those things that make us feel like we did something great. Because I’ve done nothing.”

Self-Righteous Criticism

As her fame increased, so did her faith. Lauryn managed to remain sane amidst all the blinding lights by devoting herself to God. But her faith was criticized by a few self-righteous folks who didn’t like the fact that she was an unmarried mother making secular music.

Lauryn Hill celebrates with her children.

John Marley, Selah Marley. Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images

Lauryn responded to her critics by saying that being successful and “fly and hot and whatever” doesn’t mean one can’t love God and represent him. “It’s not a contradiction,” she confidently stated in front of a crowd of proud fans.

Her Producers Demanded More Money

Public backlash over nonsense wasn’t the only thing Lauryn dealt with at the time of her album’s release. Seeing how well it was doing in sales, her producers, The New Ark crew, felt like they were being cheated out of millions of dollars in royalties.

Lauryn Hill’s live performance.

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Although everyone knew she collaborated with many others, Lauryn was credited as the only producer and songwriter on the album. They were initially paid 100k for publishing rights, but what were 100 thousand dollars compared to the millions Lauryn was making?

Ultimately, Lauryn and her label paid the New Ark Producers five million dollars.

She Was Called a Music Thief

The legal battle was painful for both parties, especially Lauryn, who hurt to see her friends sue her. After so many hours spent in the studio together, she had developed a deep relationship with the producers. It was disheartening to hear them accuse her of being a music thief.

Lauryn Hill is performing on stage.

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As if the lawsuit wasn’t keeping her busy enough, Lauryn was pressured to go on tour at the time. While the tour was successful, she finished it absolutely drained. She was more than relieved when it ended. “My whole life was hotel – studio – stage – hotel – studio – stage,” Lauryn recalled.

Something Wasn’t Right

Lauryn got to the point where she felt all dried up and used. And there was nothing more to use. Even though she kept working and creating songs for other artists, including Mary J. Blige, and a heartrending remix with the late Bob Marley, she still felt like all her works were forced.

Lauryn Hill during a performance on stage.

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At one point, she was supposed to collaborate with Mariah Carey. But technical and financial issues got in the way, and they never managed to do so. “if you’re not careful, the media can come between a collaboration,” Mariah warned.

She Began Drifting Away

With the turn of the century right around the corner, Lauryn slowly moved away from the public eye. Her sudden absence in late 1999 raised a host of questions. Where was she? When was she going to release more music? What was wrong?

Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu during a live show.

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In truth, all Lauryn wanted was to experience a life of normalcy again. The record label, for obvious (and greedy) reasons, weren’t supportive of her decision. They cared more about the money and less about her as an artist, which is understandable, but still, Lauryn wasn’t willing to be their money-making puppet.

She Walked Away From Everything

Not only did Lauryn step away from music, but she walked away from other major offers like movie roles in big films, including The Matrix, Charlie’s Angels, and Born Identity. Some would say that turning them down was a major career mishap.

Lauryn Hill and Rohan Marley attend an event.

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Lauryn, however, didn’t feel that way. She was desperate for a break. All she wanted was to walk down the street, go to the grocery store, and play with her kids in the local playground. No more chasing after money, no more chasing after offers. No more.

Spiritual Guru or Cult Leader?

After sorting out the lawsuit, things started to change for Lauryn. Her former manager, Jason Jackson, noted that her devotion to God increased. But not only to God, but to a spiritual advisor named Brother Anthony, who some suspected was a cult leader.

A portrait of Lauryn Hill.

Source: Pinterest

Jackson wasn’t the only one to notice the change. Several of her friends felt that she was growing more distant. They were worried about her mental health. And they had good reason to doubt whether her state of mind was healthy. Lauryn was fighting some stubborn demons.

Could She Make It Without Them?

Lauryn later shared that during her time of solitude, she was confronted by paralyzing fears: fear of not being good enough, of not being able to create another masterpiece like her first album, fear of not making it without her New Ark Producers.

Lauryn Hill performs on stage.

Photo by David Corio/Redferns/Getty Images

She was taunted with relentless self-deprecating thoughts. Unbeknown to the public (who was waiting for another album), Lauryn struggled to get her mind in order. Did Brother Anthony have something to do with Lauryn’s surprising drawback from the industry? Probably. But it also looked like she needed it.

Lauryn Returned, but the Crowd’s Reaction Was Ambiguous

Lauryn’s label executives were growing more impatient as time went by. They wanted her to release a second solo album promptly. In 2001, she finally got back on stage with a new song called Adam Lives in Theory.

Lauryn Hill is performing live.

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Viewers were surprised by the change in her appearance. Lauryn had chopped off all her locks and walked on stage in baggy clothes (she was pregnant at the time). The song itself was received with indifference, as well as some negative remarks.

A Fearless Force in Hip Hop

Lauryn decided that if she were to return to music, she would do it her own way. Unfortunately, her new music didn’t sit well with the record label nor with the fans. Her anti-institution rhetoric was apparently too much for people’s delicate ears.

Lauryn Hill performs on stage.

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Still, Lauryn spoke her truth, regardless of the conditions around her, including that one time when she performed in Vatican City and criticized the Catholic church for their corrupt behavior and child abuse (go Lauryn!).

The Fugees’ Startling Reunion

In 2004, after eight years apart, Lauryn reunited with her former bandmates, Pras and Wyclef. The comedian Dave Chapelle was the tying thread. He invited The Fugees to reunite on stage during his block party special.

The Fugees perform on stage.

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Their surprising comeback excited the fans and encouraged the group to start making music again. Realizing there was still a spark to them, they met together in the studio and planned their new album. Sadly, their reunion was short-lived due to the same old same old issues – creative differences.

Hips Don’t Lie Should Have Been Theirs

Fun fact about the Fugees’ almost reunion album. Pras and Wyclef came up with a song called Lips Don’t Lie, but Lauryn wasn’t interested in doing it. She felt like it was meaningless and way too shallow for her liking.

Shakira and Wyclef perform Hips Don’t Lie.

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The song ended up being passed on to – drum roll – Shakira! And it was renamed Hips Don’t Lie. As most of you are probably aware, the song became a massive hit. Whether Lauryn regrets passing it on… for some reason, I doubt it.

Is She Bipolar?

After The Fugees split up for the second time, Wyclef made some public comments regarding Lauryn’s mental health. He believed that she was bipolar and that she was in dire need of help. And he wasn’t the only one.

Lauryn Hill’s live performance.

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Comments by Rohan Marley added more fuel to the fire. He was quoted described her writing lyrics “in the bathroom, on toilet paper, on the wall. She writes it in the mirror if the mirror smokes up.” Her religious fixation and sudden disappearance led everyone to assume something deeper was going on within her mind.

Her Icky Tax Issues

Adding more fuel to the already blazing fire of Lauryn’s alleged crazy side was the fact she refused to pay her taxes. In 2012, she was charged with tax evasion for failing to pay $1.8 million in federal taxes.

Lauryn Hill departs from the court.

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In 2013, she served three months in prison for it. Before going to prison, she wrote a post on Tumblr where she referred to the many abuses she had suffered, the hypocrisy of the IRS, and the whole sneaky and terrorizing system.

Prince Reached Out to Lauryn

Apparently, Prince reached out to Lauryn during those difficult times. The late singer’s close friend, Van Jones, told CNN: “[Prince] had found out that Lauryn had gotten in some trouble and the first thing he wanted to know was, ‘where are her kids and what can we do to help.’”

A picture of Prince during a fashion show.

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After he died in 2016, Lauryn posted on Facebook: “I want to make mention of how both Prince and Stevie Wonder, separately but of similar Spirit, reached out to me when I was being sent to Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, both inquiring and desiring to help. I am grateful to them both for their compassion and movement to action.”

She Doesn’t Do Things for Popularity

Luckily for us, it seems like Lauryn is making a comeback. She’s recently collaborated with Nas in the record “Nobody,” and it seems like she’s back with a subdued vengeance.

“Now let me give it to you balanced and with clarity,” she raps, “I don’t need to turn myself into a parody/I don’t do the sh*t you do for popularity.”

Lauryn Hill’s live performance.

Photo by David Wolff – Patrick/Redferns/Getty Images

Lauryn Hill clearly doesn’t regret stepping back from the limelight. She was never one to do things just to be famous. She is an incredibly intelligent and sensitive human, and she knows that creating and putting her word out there is more important than any sum of money or hot contract.

What She Would Have Done Differently

Looking back, Lauryn Hill doesn’t have that many regrets. Yes, there are a few things she would have done differently, like keeping herself guarded against people who didn’t have her best interest in mind. But still, she understands that her path has led her to who she is today.

Lauryn Hill attends an event.

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“Regret is tough because I ended up with clarity I might not have been able to achieve any other way,” she told Rolling Stone. However, the thing she regrets the most is the lack of communication between her and her producers. “I would have been more communicative with everyone truly involved with The Miseducation and fought hard for the importance of candid expression,” she shared.

Is Miseducation the Album She Intended It to Be?

Lauryn has always been extremely critical of herself, but she admits that she really loves how her notorious album turned out. Seeing the economic and educational gaps in Black communities, she felt the urge to talk about it and raise awareness through music, and she believes the album did just that.

A photo from the album cover.

Source: Pinterest

“I used that platform to help bridge those gaps and introduce concepts and information that ‘we’ needed even if ‘we’ didn’t know ‘we’ wanted it yet,” she told Rolling Stone. “I had to move faster and with greater intention though than the dysfunctional norms that were well-established and fully funded then.”

The Face of Woolrich

In 2018, Lauryn Hill became the new face of clothing brand Woolrich. Not only did she model and pose beautifully for their latest campaign, but the musician was also the photoshoot’s creative director!

Lauryn Hill’s publicity shot for Woolrich.

Source: Vogue

The brand Woolrich, which was founded in 1830, is a manufacturer of outdoor clothing in America. The company was created to manufacture fabric for wives of hunters, loggers, and trappers (people who captured wild animals for their fur).

How Many Kids Does Lauryn Hill Have?

As of 2021, 47-year-old Lauryn Hill has six children. Here’s what we know about them.

She had five of them with Rohan Marley, and the father of her sixth, Micah, is publicly unknown. Her eldest is Zion, then came Selah, who works as a model nowadays. Third is Joshua, who keeps it pretty low-key.

Lauryn Hill poses with two of her children.

John Marley, Zion Marley. Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images

Fourth is little John Nesta. Then Sarah, Lauryn’s youngest daughter who once made an appearance with her on stage in 2015. And, finally, there’s Micah, who is busy being a normal kid in elementary school.