Lauryn Hill is controversial, powerful, soulful, and on tour, she arrives in Montreal for Jazz Fest on July 5th after dates across North America and Europe.

The implosion of Lauryn Hill’s solo album, The Miseducation, in 1998, was like an unexpected, but highly anticipated meteor shower raining down and redeeming us from many of the sexist, cheesy offerings that the decade of 90’s popular music had bestowed on women. The album was nominated ten times at the 1999 Grammy awards, winning five of those nominations.

I know exactly where I was when I heard The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill for the first time: My best friend and I sneaked into her big sister’s room and rifled through her CD collection, before popping it into her CD player and putting pillows against the door so no one could hear us.

When Lauryn Hill sang about That Thing, I was too young to know that she was talking about sex, and respecting yourself in sex, but I couldn’t deny an unshakable feeling of deep empowerment and inspiration.

Lauryn Hill was no stranger to us when she busted on the scene with The Miseducation, though. A member of The Fugees, a revolutionary and hugely successful MC group active until 2006, she’d also starred in The Sister Act 2 (a film that is 90’s gold, in case you have been hiding from the barrage of pop culture in North America).

But Hill is nothing if not notorious and volatile these days. A mother of six (which would make any woman’s life hectic), Hill is also an outspoken artist, during performances that have become rare, and plagued with punctuality issues (fans are being refunded from a recent performance in Atlanta, as Hill showed up two hours late).

When Hill played the Vatican in 2003, she used the opportunity to call out the Catholic Church for its cover-ups of priests molesting small children. “I realize some of you may be offended, but what do you say to the families who were betrayed by the people in whom they believed?” she asked. Sometimes honesty makes us squirm with discomfort as our human faults are exposed, but our artists should have the freedom to speak, especially when the rest of us don’t have the courage to.

Imprisoned briefly for tax evasion is also on Hill’s crazy resume of life experience. Lawsuits over songwriting crediting have also shrouded Lauryn Hill in further controversy.

All of this could probably be chalked up to the scary success of The Miseducation, as it exposed Hill, dissected her, and put her up on a pedestal so high that the only way to come back to earth was to fall.

The music she’s created since has been just as intimate and revealing as The Miseducation, like her MTV Unplugged sessions, which showcased what fans and media called a public breakdown, or her tunes after imprisonment in 2012, where she spoke openly about ageism, and consumerism, writing songs called “Neurotic Society,” and “Black Rage.”

If you want to call yourself a real fan of Lauryn Hill, then you have to accept the humanity of her experience with fame, with society and with politics. I have nothing but a huge respect for Hill, and it runs deeper than I can even write. Her honesty may not always be popular or comfortable, but she is real. She is flawed, as we are flawed. And through it all, she fuels her ups and downs into music, like a true artist. No matter what happens when she performs, it’ll be worth being there to see.

Ms. Lauryn Hill will be playing two shows on July 5th and July 6th, playing at 7:30pm at the Salle-Wilfrid-Pelletier.

Ceilidh Michelle is a musician and author based in Montreal. She is a columnist for Bandmark, and has contributed to CULT Montreal, Vancouver Weekly, Montreal Rampage, Quip, CKUT, and more. She studies Creative Writing at Concordia University.

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