Lauryn Hill (born May 26, 1975) is an American singer, songwriter, rapper, producer and actress. She is best known for being a member of the Fugees and for her solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Raised in South Orange, New Jersey, Hill began singing with her music-oriented family during her childhood. She enjoyed success as an actress at an early age, appearing in a recurring role on the television soap opera As the World Turns and starring in the film Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. In high school, Hill was approached by Pras Michel to start a band, which his cousin, Wyclef Jean, soon joined. They renamed themselves the Fugees and released two studio albums, Blunted on Reality (1994) and the Grammy Award-winning The Score (1996), which sold six million copies in the United States. In the latter record, Hill rose to prominence with her African-American and Caribbean music influences, her rapping and singing, and a rendition of the hit “Killing Me Softly”. Hill’s tumultuous romantic relationship with Jean led to the split of the band in 1997, after which she began to focus on solo projects.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998) remains Hill’s only solo studio album. It received massive critical acclaim, showcasing a representation of life and relationships and locating a contemporary womanist voice within the neo soul genre. The album debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 and has sold approximately eight million copies there. It included the singles “Doo Wop (That Thing)” (also a number one), “Ex-Factor”, and “Everything Is Everything”. At the 41st Grammy Awards, the record earned her five awards, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist. She won numerous other awards and became a common sight on the cover of magazines.
Soon afterward, Hill dropped out of the public eye, suffering from the pressures of fame and dissatisfied with the music industry. Her last full-length recording, the new-material live album MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 (2002), sharply divided critics and sold poorly compared to her previous work. Hill’s subsequent activity, which includes the release of a few songs and occasional festival appearances, has been sporadic and erratic. It has sometimes caused audience dissatisfaction; a reunion with her former group did not last long. Her music, as well as a series of public statements she has issued, have become critical of pop culture and societal institutions. Hill has six children, five of whom are with Rohan Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley. In 2012, she pled guilty to tax evasion for failure to pay federal income taxes, and in 2013, served a three-month prison sentence.
Lauryn Hill was born on May 26, 1975, in East Orange, New Jersey to English teacher Valerie Hill and computer and management consultant Mal Hill. She has one older brother named Malaney (born 1972). Her Baptist family moved to New York and Newark for short periods until settling in South Orange, New Jersey. She had a middle-class upbringing, knowing both many white, Jewish families and many black ones. Future actor Zach Braff lived in the neighborhood, and she attended his Bar Mitzvah.
Hill has said of her musically oriented family: “there were so many records, so much music constantly being played. My mother played piano, my father sang, and we were always surrounded in music.” Her father sang in local nightclubs and at weddings. While growing up, Hill frequently listened to Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight; years later she recalled playing Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On repeatedly until she fell asleep to it.
In middle school, Hill performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a basketball game. Due to its popularity, subsequent games featured a recording of her rendition. In 1988, Hill appeared as an Amateur Night contestant on It’s Showtime at the Apollo. She sang her own version of the Smokey Robinson track “Who’s Lovin’ You?”, garnering an initially harsh reaction from the crowd. She persevered, though she later cried off-stage.
Hill attended Columbia High School where she was a member of the track team, a cheerleader and was a classmate of Zach Braff. She also took violin lessons, went to dance class, and founded the school’s gospel choir. Academically, she took advanced placement classes and received primarily ‘A’ grades. School officials recognized her as a leader among the student body. Later recalling her education, Hill commented, “I had a love for – I don’t know if it was necessarily for academics, more than it just was for achieving, period. If it was academics, if it was sports, if it was music, if it was dance, whatever it was, I was always driven to do a lot in whatever field or whatever area I was focusing on at the moment.”
While a freshman in high school, through mutual friends, Prakazrel “Pras” Michel approached Hill about a music group he was creating. Hill and Pras began under the name Tranzlator Crew, chosen because they wanted to rhyme in different languages. Another female vocalist was soon replaced by Michel’s cousin, multi-instrumentalist Wyclef Jean. The group began performing in local showcases and high school talent show. Hill was initially only a singer, but then learned to rap too; instead of modeling herself on female rappers like Salt-n-Pepa and MC Lyte, she preferred male rappers like Ice Cube and developed her flow from listening to them. Hill later said, “I remember doing my homework in the bathroom stalls of hip-hop clubs.”
Hill took acting lessons in Manhattan while growing up. She began her acting career in 1991, appearing with Jean in Club XII, MC Lyte’s Off-Broadway hip-hop rendering of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. While the play was not a success, an agent noticed her. Later that year, Hill began appearing on the soap opera As the World Turns in a recurring role as troubled teenager Kira Johnson. She subsequently co-starred alongside Whoopi Goldberg in the 1993 release Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, playing Rita Louise Watson, a Catholic school teenager with a surly, rebellious attitude. In it, she performed the songs “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (a duet with Tanya Blount) and “Joyful, Joyful”. Director Bill Duke credited Hill with improvising a rap in a scene: “None of that was scripted. That was all Lauryn. She was amazing.” Critic Roger Ebert called her “the girl with the big joyful voice”, although he thought her talent was wasted, while Rolling Stone said she “performed marvelously against type … in the otherwise perfunctory. Hill also appeared in Steven Soderbergh’s 1993 motion picture King of the Hill, in a minor but pivotal role as a 1930s gum-popping elevator operator. Soderbergh biographer Jason Wood described her as supplying one of the warmest scenes in the film. Hill graduated from Columbia High School in 1993.