“I Am Black Excellence” Kid Fury is the co-host of an amazing podcast that I love, The Read, along with his partner Chrissle. He’s also a comedian and a budding TV creator and an advocate for mental health and therapy. So many of us are depressed or traumatized but we’re afraid to get help. Kid Fury is helping to normalize all that and let us know that life can be better with help. Let me know what you think! I’m on Twitter @Toure!
Touré Show x Macy Gray: “I’m Selling Weed.” My epic interview with Macy Gray about selling weed legally, singing, and her new album “Ruby.”
I chat with smart people like Vivica A. Fox, Toni Braxton, Taraji P. Henson, Van Jones, Zadie, Spike, Joy Reid, Kendrick, Maxwell, Patrisse Cullors, Black Thought, Susannah Melvoin, Kehinde, Nikki Giovanni, RZA, Diddy, Reggie Hudlin, Amanda Seales and more.
POLITICAL FOOTBALL: The President is ever on the prowl for events and people he can exploit to reassure his America that he’s looking out for them. And boy did he find one.
This was Trump’s worst week in office. By far. His approval rating dropped down to 37 percent—a historic low. His lie about Obama wiretapping him was debunked by the FBI. That same FBI told us that it is currently investigating Trump’s connections with Russia, and it may have found evidence indicating that Donald’s campaign communicated with Russia to coordinate the release of info damaging to Clinton’s campaign. Democrats announced that they’re going to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination. And the all important Trumpcare bill failed in a way that was a royal mess and made the Republicans look like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
I struggle to think of what’s going right in this White House. The old man arrives at the office on time most days.
But put aside all of the important news swirling around right now. I refuse to let it distract me from the Trump thing that offended me most this week. Health care is crucial, but sorry, I can’t let this one go: Trump’s verbal attack on Colin Kaepernick way back on Monday from a podium in Kentucky at a rally where he said, “There was an article today, it was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that?”
So much to unpack there. We see Trump gracelessly celebrating what he thinks is Kaepernick’s downfall. We see Trump cock-blocking an American in the process of trying to get a job. We see Trump sneering at how Kaepernick has used his right to free speech.
We see Trump calling for Kap to be disciplined by his fellow one percenters as if he were telling the other masters how to handle their property when they get out of line. Can you hear the faint echo in the background of Trump’s words—‘We gon’ teach that boy a lesson!’
We see Trump using Kaepernick as a symbol of what’s wrong with this country, a strawman he can pound on to show his people he takes no mess from the blacks. He’s very Boss Hogg that way. To Trump, Kaepernick is a villain who forced politics into the glorious NFL, and he’s someone who dared challenge the authority of the almighty police. But in reality Kaepernick’s transgression was this: in a way that did not take anything away from the games themselves, he silently and briefly protested against black people being killed by their government. The NFL employs some men who viciously beat up their wives or girlfriends but the real enemy of the people is Kaepernick because he wants justice for black people? Kaepernick would have a better chance of getting signed if the issue was him beating up a woman.
We also see Trump quoting an anonymous source about a month after excoriating media for using anonymous sources. The article he’s referring to was a post on the sports blog the Bleacher Report. Its title was “Colin Kaepernick Sentenced To NFL Limbo For The Crime Of Speaking His Mind.” I’m sure they left out that title when they told Trump about the story’s anonymous GM who said the “fear of a tweet from the President was a factor for about 10 percent of NFL teams, which would be three to four squads.”
So he’s wildly misstating the facts—as he typically does—so much so that he’s essentially disseminating fake news and showing an overly grandiose sense of his own power. The bully pulpit is loud but does anyone think any games put on by the mighty NFL would not be sold out or rabidly watched on TV because of a tweet from Trump? Please. But Trump’s still in campaign mode. He’s still speaking to his people and only to his people and trying to fire them up at any cost. He’s using Kaepernick as a convenient villain to show who he stands with. Presidents are supposed to represent the entire country but this one can only hear his most ardent supporters. He has no willingness in reaching out to the other side. He has no interest in mollifying the millions of Americans who are scared by him. If you think differently than he does, then Trump doesn’t care about you.
This is a problem in a diverse nation. You can’t say one particular American is the quintessential American—this is a nation characterized by it consisting of a broad array of people, some of whom are at virtual war with one another. We are a nation that has been produced from variety and the resulting tension between opposing groups fighting over rights. America is the result of both Trump and Kaepernick. But Trump thinks only he and his folks are legitimate or real Americans. We are a bipolar nation that has learned to distrust and demonize the other side. That’s why both Kap and Trump are heroes to some and heels to others. In September of 2016, as the NFL season was in its first weeks and Kaepernick’s protest was resonating, he had the #1 selling jersey in the NFL. And at the same time he had people burning his jersey.
We see similar split with Trump. His overall Gallup approval rating is 39 percent but his approval rating among Republicans is 86 percent, a historic high. His base remains happy. How is this possible? He has not accomplished much of substance so far. The Muslim ban is failing to get through the courts, Trumpcare is failing to get through Congress, his budget isn’t going to get through, either. But then again he has accomplished something.
The Presidency has an almost spiritual component—the man in the Oval has his persona, his perspective, his priorities grafted onto the soul of the nation. His supporters feel affirmed by his success. He is a symbol of the nation and those who feel invested in his success feel personally affirmed as if his win means their worldview and way of life are right. Obama’s rise made many of us feel better about being Americans. But while we reveled in that joy, there were others who felt left out. Trump has given them a boost, he’s made them feel central again.
The last eight years the White House was sympathetic to Kaepernick and Trayvon Martin and Jay-Z. Now the White House is sympathetic to the police and the Patriots and Fox and Putin. So even though he cannot (yet) produce a significant legislative victory, Trump’s already given his folks something powerful—he’s given them their swagger back. Just by his mere presence in the White House he is making whiteness great again.
From The Daily Beast, March 25, 2017
KAKISTOCRACY NOW: What happens when we lose American lives over a lie?
It’s hard to live with a leader you don’t trust. It makes you anxious. Makes you fearful. It’s not really a partisan issue. This president lies as constantly and as brazenly as a used car salesman trying to close at the end of the month.
Through 60 odd days we’ve had so many lies it’s hard to keep track. His inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Voter fraud was rampant in 2016. The Yemen raid was a success. And on and on and on.
This, I thought, must surely put the old man in a corner, boxed in by his own words, untethered from facts. He’d spun a distraction for us that had spiraled out of control like Mickey’s magic broomsticks in Fantasia. It’d bounced back and become a distraction for him. Now, to escape the distraction he would have to apologize or at least admit he was mistaken. He had to, I thought.
I was wrong.
Instead, he let Sean Spicer go out and take the heat and spread Trumpworld’s message: Despite having no evidence, the president continues to believe he was surveilled by the previous president.
Trump declined to speak directly to this scandal of his own making. He addressed it only cryptically, when forced by a German reporter, joking, “At least we have something in common,” referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel being tapped. Then he blamed the whole thing on something he’d seen on Fox News.
Wait, he’s joking? In a week when by all imaginable sense of human decency he should have come out and faced the problem he’d created for himself?
Here’s the thing: I don’t even know if I believe that Trump really believes that Obama tapped him. He’s the post-truth president.
Every president is supposed to be a paragon of integrity—the world hangs on his every word. The world needs to be able to trust him to understand which way the world’s greatest power will move. But Trump sows chaos by being the opposite of honest—by design.
It’s part of a much larger game that Trumpworld is playing. Trumpworld—by which I mean the major players in the administration: Bannon, Conway, Spicer, Miller, Preibus, etc.—they seem to be constantly telling lies, challenging accepted reality, gaslighting, giving us alternative facts, and spreading fake news.
Yes, Trumpworld has been effective at strategically using information to distract our attention from Russia or discussion of the Trumpcare bill and the mean-spirited budget both of which seem to come with the subtitle “The Poor Die In Darkness.”
But Trumpworld ultimately craves something much bigger from all this. They want the power that comes from destroying the media’s place in society.
Make no mistake: Their goal is to delegitimize media. If there’s no trust in media then there’s no objective broker of facts and then you’ve successfully destabilized the truth. You’ve created a climate where there are no agreed upon facts and no objective truth.
This week on CNN Kayleigh McEnany said, “If he said it happened, it did.” That’s an absurd suspension of disbelief. But that’s exactly the posture Trumpworld wants—believe Comrade Trump and do not question him no matter what media says.
Trumpworld wants to be your sole source of truth. If he has a monopoly on truth then he owns pricey real estate in your mind and he can get you to believe anything.
Sure, governments are always in the business of manufacturing consent, but this is different: Trump doesn’t want you to go along with an idea or a policy or a philosophy that he believes in. He just wants you to go along with him. Most of those who seek to destabilize the truth to get you to just go along with them are called dictators. Control of what’s considered the truth is critical to the domination of minds.
It’s sad but fitting that this game is working on the right. The once proud conservative movement has been corrupted by a weak relationship to the truth.
There are too many ideas in the modern right that stand on a foundation of falsity. Obama was born in Kenya.
Obamacare means death panels. Climate change is a hoax. Immigrants are streaming across the border. Voter fraud is rampant. The government is coming to take your guns. Welfare recipients are regularly dining on lobster, lazily enjoying handouts while you work hard. Bathrooms are dangerous because of trans people.
The modern left has problems but they do not include big ideas based on falsehoods, ideas perpetuated by the base and laughed at by the experts.
The right’s problem stems from conservative media’s tactic of attacking objective mainstream media.
Nearly every night O’Reilly dismisses The New York Times or CNN with the back of his hand, telling the audience in effect, “You know better than to believe anything they say.” The game is about winning audience loyalty—you can’t trust the other guys, you’ve got to get your news from us.
This leads to some on the right having less engagement with sources outside of their respective bubble versus those on the left—Maddow, O’Donnell, Maher, Krugman, Blow, etc.—who more commonly engage with objective sources. In contrast, Limbaugh, Levin, and the Fox prime time crew are out there doggedly disinforming people. And at a time when it seems like so many Americans believe so many fake stories and alternative facts, it’s easy to see how dangerous this game is for the country. It’s tearing us apart.
For Sean Hannity to attack objective media (or perhaps I should say for Hannity to figuratively point a laser-sight gun at them) this is not unlike a product knocking its competitor—Coke saying we taste better than Pepsi. Except Hannity is usually undermining the sense of integrity that journalism requires and thus undermining part of what’s needed to maintain a strong democracy.
So maybe it’s not really like Coke saying we taste better. It’s more akin to Delta saying if you fly American you might die. That might make you loyal to Delta in the short term but in the long run it would kill the airline industry.
This is the game Trump is now playing on the highest political stage. He hasn’t yet accomplished anything legislatively and his Gallup approval rating is hovering around 39 percent, far lower than any president at this point since polling began. What happens when this leader we can’t trust goes lower and lower in the polls? He’s going to need increasingly bigger lies to distract us from the self-inflicted mess he’s in.
Trump may be ignorant of history, but men like Bannon are not. They know that nothing unites a nation around a President like a war. So what happens when the President we can’t trust says something horrible has happened in another country. We may have a limited way of independently verifying what he’s saying. We won’t know if he’s telling the truth when he says we need to go to war now. What then?
We’re still paying for our mistakes in Iraq. What happens when we lose more American lives over a lie?
From The Daily Beast, March 17, 2017
Me and my co-host Jessica Shaw talk and argue about modern TV!
There were over 400 scripted TV shows in 2015. How can the average person sift through all of that to find what’s good and something they’ll like? Try Bingeworthy.
Bingeworthy — on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) — is a smart, humorous review of what’s burning up the small screen, from upcoming series and new season premieres to the water-cooler shows of the past week.
Each episode, our razor sharp, TV-obsessed hosts Jessica Shaw (EW Radio on SiriusXM) and Touré (MSNBC’s The Cycle) will duke it out over drinks at a cozy bar in downtown Manhattan. They’ll discuss, debate, and breakdown everything you need to know about the most important shows on television. Acting. Writing. Directing. What’s good? What’s bad? What’s so bad, it’s good? And in the end, they’ll answer the question on every pop-culture fan’s mind: Is it bingeworthy?
The above sneak peek gives an idea of how passionately Shaw and Touré will stump for shows they love, by giving it a “Binge” co-sign. Alternatively, if something is deemed not worthy of DVR real estate, they’ll push for a swift “Delete.”
Watch the full debut episode of BingeWorthy on PEN. Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.
My article originally appeared in the Nov. 5 issue of Billboard.
Bill Clinton, vibrant and trim at 70, in a tailored navy suit and a bright red tie, strolls into Billboard’s makeshift photo studio at the New York Hilton Midtown in late September, during the 12th and final meeting of his charitable foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), which has long tapped musicians to give voice to causes. “It’s astonishing the impact they’re having,” says the president about the artists he has worked with through the years, from Elton John to Usher. Right now, rock legends Jon Bon Jovi and Sting trail him quietly like starstruck roadies. When the former president stands beside Bon Jovi and Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, for a group photo, the stars remain quiet while Clinton becomes the quipster-in-chief. “Two couples out for a nice date,” he deadpans. Everyone giggles. Then, turning to Bon Jovi, he says, “I always thought you were the prettiest one.” Everyone laughs. “This is Bon Jovi’s Be Kind to a Senior night!” he says.
[Taylor Hill/FilmMagic] Jon Bon Jovi greats President Bill Clinton during the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting at Sheraton New York on Sept. 19, 2016 in New York City.
It is not surprising, given his professional history, that Clinton is able to maintain a sense of aplomb during this trying year that finds his wife, Hillary Clinton, in the ugliest presidential race in recent U.S. history. Their family name is getting dragged through the mud along with the reputation of the foundation to which Clinton has dedicated his post-White House life. While Hillary remains the clear frontrunner in the election, with just days to go, a steady drip of embarrassing-at-best hacked emails, released by WikiLeaks, has dampened spirits during her campaign’s stretch run. In the latest example, on Wednesday (Oct. 26), media outlets reported on a leaked memo from 2011 that raises further concerns about the intersection of the former president’s charitable work with his and his colleagues’ personal enrichment, in which a veteran aide to the president said that Clinton “gets many expensive gifts” from donors, while Chelsea warned of various aides profiting from the Foundation’s endeavors. The documents contain no evidence of any “pay-for-play” involving then Sec. Clinton, as charged by Republicans. A representative from the Clinton Foundation had no comment on the leaked emails.
[Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images] L-R: Albright Stonebridge Group Chair Madeleine Albright, U2 lead singer Bono, Co-Director of Century for 21st Century Security and Intelligence John Allen, and UN High Representative of Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Nigerian Minister of the Environment Amina Mohammed participate in a discussion at the Opening Plenary Session: “Partnering for Global Prosperity,” at the Clinton Global Initiative on Sept. 19, 2016 in New York City.
Clinton’s frustration with the attacks on his foundation and CGI is palpable. “It’s hard to hear because I know good and well that a lot of the people that are saying it know it’s not true. It’s an insult to all the people who have worked there. But the people who have contributed know, and the people who have done the work know, and sometimes that’s got to be enough.” His daughter, Chelsea, who is vice chairman of the foundation, is troubled by the accusations too. “First and foremost the Clinton Foundation is a charity, and somehow that has gotten lost,” she says.
[Barbara Kinney] Bill Clinton meeting students in Jaipur, India.
CharityWatch president Daniel Borochoff posits that “there’s a lot of unfair criticisms that are based on misunderstanding how a nonprofit operates.” Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy, and global research professor at New York University, suggests that “CGI is legitimately interested in promoting important causes in some of the world’s most underdeveloped areas, and they’re not only supporting those causes but building a group of like-minded young people who are committed to them.”
The Clinton Foundation uses 10 percent of its endowment in the way any foundation would: to fund charitable work. But most of the remaining 90 percent goes toward charitable work the organization carries out itself, along with its various partners. “We have been very transparent about the work that we do and how it’s funded, and that 87 percent of our funds go directly to our work,” says Chelsea. “I would hope that if people spend a little bit of time looking beyond the clickbait headlines, they’ll realize why I am so proud.” (Meanwhile, the Trump Foundation — a private family foundation — has been roundly lambasted for a large number of ethical and financial improprieties.)
[Max W. Orenstein/Clinton Foundation] Chelsea Clinton visits the pharmacy at the Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya in 2015.
Bill Clinton has many friends in the music world, and some of CGI’s key ties are with musicians. The group works with Bono, Elton John and Alicia Keys to fight AIDS; with Tony Bennett to provide arts education in schools; with Sting to save the rain forest; and with Bon Jovi to fight homelessness. Clinton is particularly proud of what Bon Jovi has done and honored him with a Clinton Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Philanthropy in September. They have been friends since 1996, and Clinton supported Bon Jovi in person when Bon Jovi launched his JBJ Soul Foundation. “I’ve had more than one opportunity to have a glass of wine with the Clintons. I have pictures of the kids just sitting with the Clintons, Mrs. C. with the glasses on,” recalls Bon Jovi. “His desire to help people is the foundation of who he is.”
[Barbara Kinney] Chelsea Clinton, Bill Clinton, Lady Gaga and Hillary Clinton at the CGI’s Decade of Difference concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 2011.
The Clinton Foundation confirms that this is the last year of CGI, though the reasons why are vague. No doubt it has to do with the likelihood that Hillary will become president — a great thing for Bill, even if it’s at the expense of his baby. “Oh, I’ll miss this a lot,” he says. “I love this. I love seeing people running big companies doing things that they hadn’t imagined.” But Clinton will need something to do during the next four to eight years, and he has a vision for what a resurrected CGI would look like — “if,” he says, “Hillary becomes president.” He says accepting donations from foreign countries would not be possible, but they could work through that. “What we’re going to do,” he says, “is take everything that’s funded by foreign funds and either spin it all to independent foundations that I’m not involved in, or we’re going to make those things independent and let them be taken over by someone else. But in America we should still be able to run a lot of these health programs with just individual contributions, not corporate.”
“We can’t lose him; he can’t be sidelined,” says Sting, who has observed Clinton closely on efforts around rain forest conservation. “His work is grounded in genuine empathy for people. ‘I feel your pain’ is not just a cliché for him.”
Original article by Touré appeared in Billboard Magazine on October 27, 2016.
[Bassist Brownmark, guitarist Wendy Melvoin and their Revolution bandmates reunited earlier this month in honor of Prince. Markus Akre]
It’s just after 9:00 on a Thursday night in downtown Minneapolis, and the sidewalks in front of First Avenue are crammed with people. The Revolution are about to play their first show since the death of Prince, their friend and former leader, in April. Appearing tonight is the lineup that made Purple Rain – rhythm guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardists Lisa Coleman and Matt “Dr.” Fink, bassist Brownmark and drummer Bobby Z – plus two core members of the band from a previous incarnation: rhythm guitarist Dez Dickerson and bass guitarist André Cymone, a childhood friend who lived with Prince when they were kids.
First Avenue is hallowed ground in Princeworld. This is where Purple Rain was shot, and where much of the soundtrack was recorded. Tonight is an important part of the grieving process for both the band and fans. That’s why multiple friends say that the Revolution are an “emotional wreck.”
Before the show, there was a week of rehearsals in Los Angeles – essential for a band that’s played only a handful of gigs since breaking up in 1986. Stories about Prince flowed easily; coming together musically was harder. “It was really intense,” Coleman says of the rehearsals. “Difficult. The music was mercurial. Like, we couldn’t quite grab it. I mean, we were trained to look at Prince for cues, and even if he’s wrong, he’s right. We were looking into a space and then looking at each other going, ‘What is this?'”
Minutes before the show, back in the tiny dressing room, a low-key family reunion is taking place. Apollonia – Prince’s love interest inPurple Rain – floats in, wearing a tight gold dress. These days, she runs an entertainment company. Both of Prince’s ex-wives, Mayte Garcia and Manuela Testolini, are here. So is Susannah Melvoin, Wendy’s twin sister and Prince’s ex-fiancee, and co-lead singer of the Family. There’s also Jerome Benton from the Time, Purple Rain engineer Susan Rogers and Omarr Baker, Prince’s younger half-brother. Band members’ children flow in and out of the room.
Wendy says the members of the Revolution have been taking care of each other since Prince died: “We need each other to get through this.” She says they talk every day. “I’m still in shock,” Bobby Z says. “I still can’t believe he’s gone.” Around 9:30, I ask Coleman if she’s ready. She says, “Yeah . . .,” without much conviction. Then she says “no” and shakes her head.
Just before 10 p.m., the purple lights go up and the band launches into “Let’s Go Crazy,” with Wendy singing lead. There’s something tentative about everyone’s performance. Maybe it’s because, as Wendy adds later, “There were people [in the audience] in complete catatonic tears.” Or maybe, as many said, they could feel Prince’s presence. “I know it sounds metaphysical or something,” Apollonia says later, “but we feel him. He is with us.”
By the third song, “America,” things begin to coalesce. Wendy is dancing. The band rocks through “Mountains,” “Uptown” and “Little Red Corvette,” the leads shared by Wendy, Dickerson, Brownmark and Cymone. Then Bilal, the R&B singer, walks onstage and does justice to the powerhouse “The Beautiful Ones.”
Around 11, the guys depart, leaving Wendy and Coleman alone onstage. The pair, who once appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone with Prince, went on to release three albums as a duo after the Revolution broke up. Tonight, they ease into “Sometimes It Snows in April.” “I often dream of heaven, and I know,” Wendy sings, changing a key line, “that Prince is there.” Everyone in the building is in tears. To get through it, Coleman later recalls, “I had to put myself into a trance and not think about what it’s about too much.” At the song’s end, she points to the sky, looks up and mouths, “I love you.”
The following night, they do it all over again, but this time the nerves are gone. The band explodes out of the gate, and from the first chorus of “Let’s Go Crazy,” everyone’s dancing. Melvoin tells Prince stories from the stage. “He always told us,” she says, “ ’if you make a mistake, make it twice!’ ” Now, they know they can take this show on the road – and there’s talk that they will. But once again, after “Purple Rain,” the dressing-room door closes and there are lots of tears. “It’s a very strange feeling,” Bobby Z says, summing up the reunion. “You’re excited and sad at the same time.”
A rare copy of Prince’s unreleased 1986 LP ‘Camille,’ is currently on the auction block.
My article originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Rolling Stone.
She made one of the best albums of the Nineties with ‘Miseducation’ and then had a public breakdown with ‘Unplugged.’ What happened?
In 1998, when Lauryn Hill was recording her debut solo album, she was on a mission. “She was aiming for big hits so she could outshine the Fugees and outshine Wyclef,” says someone familiar with the sessions. Her 1996 album with the Fugees, The Score, had sold more than 17 million copies and made her rich and famous, but something was missing. After The Score, many perceived Wyclef Jean as the group’s musical genius. Hill began plotting an album of her own that would change that. “Her solo career wasn’t based on ‘I wanna do an album,'” says Roots drummer Ahmir Thompson. “It was based on not being Wyclef’s side girl.”
Twelve million people bought The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and Hill was established as one of the great female MCs, a quadruple threat: a rapper as well as a world-class singer, songwriter and producer. She was critically acclaimed and extremely rich. In 1998 and ’99, sources say, Hill grossed $40 million from royalties, advances, touring, merchandising and other revenues, and pocketed about $25 million of that. When Hill was thirteen years old, she already knew she would grow up to become an entertainer. In ’98, Hill became an international superstar.
Hollywood beckoned her onto the A list. Sources say she was offered a role in Charlie’s Angels, but she turned the part down, and Lucy Liu took the job. Hill met with Matt Damon about being in The Bourne Identity, with Brad Pitt about a part in The Mexican and with the Wachowski brothers about a role in the last two films in the Matrix trilogy. She turned down lots of work. “Lauryn wasn’t trying to do anything,” says Pras Michel of the Fugees, almost lamenting. But she did begin developing a biography of Bob Marley in which she was to play his wife, Rita; started producing a romantic-comedy film set in the world of soul food called Sauce, in which she was to star; and accepted a prize part in the adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Beloved but had to drop out because she got pregnant. The doors were open for Hill to create a multimedia entertainment empire of the sort that J. Lo, Janet and Madonna have built. Hill could have been J. Lo with political substance. Someone who once worked with Hill says with regret, “She woulda been bigger than J. Lo.” Instead, she disappeared.
“I think Lauryn grew to despise who Lauryn Hill was,” a friend says. “Not that she despised herself as a human being, but she despised the manufactured international-superstar magazine cover girl who wasn’t able to go out of the house looking a little tattered on a given day. Because Lauryn is such a perfectionist, she always sought to give the fans what they wanted, so a simple run to the grocery store had to have the right heels and jeans. Artists are a lot more calculating than the public sometimes knows. It don’t happen by accident that the jeans fall the right way, the hat is cocked to the side just so. All of that stuff is thought about, and Lauryn put a lot of pressure on herself after all that success. And then one day she said, ‘Fuck it.'”
In 2000, Hill became close with Brother Anthony, a shadowy spiritual adviser, then abruptly fired her management team and the people around her. In 2001, she recorded her MTV Unplugged 2.0. Few bought the album, but many talked about how she could be heard on the record breaking down in tears and saying, “I’m crazy and deranged . . . . I’m emotionally unstable,” and repeatedly rejecting celebrity and the illusions that make it possible. “I used to get dressed for y’all; I don’t do that anymore,” she said on the album. “I used to be a performer, and I really don’t consider myself a performer anymore . . . . I had created this public persona, this public illusion, and it held me hostage. I couldn’t be a real person, because you’re too afraid of what your public will say. At that point, I had to do some dying.”
Her honesty was both touching and confusing. She was rejecting so much of what she’d spent years being. The only thing that was clear was that she was suffering. “Artists do fall apart,” a record executive says. “The most commonly held falsity in the game is that they have it all together. They fall apart. Look at Mariah, Whitney, Michael, all the great ones. They all have a moment where you go, ‘Are they really all there?’ And I think Lauryn chose to expose that to the world.”
Until recently, the twenty-eight-year-old Hill lived in a high-end hotel in Miami with Rohan Marley, the man she called her husband, and her four children. Her fourth child was born this past summer. Sources say that not long ago, Hill moved out of the hotel and that her relationship with Marley may be over.
She now insists on being called Ms. Hill, not Lauryn, and is working on a new album, albeit very slowly. “I heard from a friend that she don’t really wanna do music right now,” Pras says. “I heard from another friend that she wants to do a Fugees album.”
So what caused the Lauryn Hill of Miseducation, viewed as regal and brilliant, to morph into the Lauryn Hill of Unplugged, seen as possibly unstable, and then into someone willfully absent from the public? Confidential conversations with more than twenty friends and industry figures and a lengthy interview with Pras have clarified much of what has happened during the five years since her zenith. “I don’t think she’s crazy,” Pras says. “People tend to say that when they don’t understand what someone’s going through. Walk in her shoes, and see what would you do.”
Hill was born in 1975 and raised in middle-class South Orange, New Jersey. By her teens, she was determined to have a career in entertainment. At thirteen, she sang on Showtime at the Apollo. The audience was rough on her, and after the show she cried. In 1998, her mother, Valerie Hill, told Rolling Stone about her post Apollo talk with her young daughter. “I said . . . now, if every time they don’t scream and holler you’re gonna cry, then perhaps this isn’t for you,” Valerie recalled. “And she looked at me like I had taken leave of my senses. To her, the mere suggestion that this wasn’t for her was crazy.” At seventeen, Lauryn had a role on the daytime soap As the World Turns; two years later she appeared in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and had a small role in Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill. Meanwhile, she was also spending nights working on music with friends Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel. She was eighteen when the band’s 1994 debut, Blunted on Reality, flopped, but, two years later, with The Score, the Fugees’ cover of “Killing Me Softly” made her a star. She was sex-symbol beautiful, and her music and public persona seemed politically savvy and spiritually aware.
After the explosion of The Score, Jean began recording a solo album. Hill and Pras supported him emotionally and creatively. But when Hill started writing her own songs, Jean showed no interest. Pras says, “I remember when Pepsi wanted her for a commercial, and they were like, ‘All we want is you. We don’t need the other two cats.’ She said, ‘Without them I’m not doing it.’ There’s a lot of things she didn’t do because of the group. Then when she goes to work on her [music] and she doesn’t have the support, that can have an effect mentally. She felt – this is based on conversations we had – she felt there was no support on that angle. When you feel the ones you stuck your neck out for ain’t doin’ the same for you, it brings a certain animosity and bitterness.”
Once, the three Fugees were close friends, but now Pras has little good to say about Jean. “He’s the cancer of the [Fugees],” Pras says. “He’s the cancer. You can quote me. He’s the reason why it got wrecked to begin with, he’s the reason why it’s not fixed.” Is he the reason for Hill’s troubles? “Maybe, indirectly, she’s where she’s at because of him,” Pras says. “Maybe. But not directly.” Jean politely declined to be interviewed. “I’m somewhere else in my head,” he says on the phone from his studio. “Certain things I don’t talk about. I’m in another zone.” He pauses. “I wish it didn’t go down the way it went.”
Hill responded to an e-mail request for an interview. “I am not available for free interviews at this time,” she wrote. “The only interviews I will consider are those that amply compensate me for my time, energy and story.” It was signed “Ms. Hill.” She asks for money, friends say, because she feels she’s been exploited by the media and the record industry. When Oneworld magazine contacted her about a cover story, she demanded $10,000.
People close to the Fugees say there has always been competition between Jean and Hill. “Not competing for something in particular,” says one. “It’s more competing just who’s better, who’s greater.” Hill’s solo music was intended to settle the matter. When Jean finally came around and offered his production assistance on the record, she no longer wanted it. “She said [to Jean], ‘I’m thinking about working with this producer and that producer,'” a friend says. “He said, ‘Oh, no – I’m producing your whole album.’ She chewed on that for a minute and then said, ‘Nah, I got my own vision.’ That’s when who Lauryn really is started to take form.”
At the same time, Hill’s love life began to get really complicated. For years she’d been clandestinely dating Jean. Their relationship started long before he married his current wife and continued afterward. But Pras says, “I think he was kinda, like, playing with her emotions.”
But in the summer of ’96, when the Fugees were on the Smoking Grooves Tour, she met Rohan Marley, who was on the tour with his brother Ziggy, both sons of Bob Marley. At first Hill was uninterested in Rohan – a former University of Miami football player – because she was still seeing Jean. “Honestly, she didn’t even want the relationship,” says a friend. “Everyone was pushing her towards [Marley] to get her out of the other thing. They pushed her towards him, like, “Why don’t you give him a chance, come on, go out on a date. Just do it,’ not knowing that this man had all this other baggage and drama in his life.”
Pras singled out Hill’s first pregnancy as a turning point for the group. “When she got pregnant, definitely things started goin’on,” he says. “Things got crazy.” While Hill’s stomach grew, the Fugee camp wondered whether the baby was Marley’s or Jean’s. Says a friend, “The conversation between everyone on the low was no one knew until that baby came out.” The day Hill went into labor, Jean told a source he was flying to her side to see his new child. “People don’t know how calculating she can be,” a friend says. “Lauryn used Ro to pull herself out of the relationship with Clef, and she happened to get pregnant. She hoped that baby was Wyclef’s, because it would’ve forced his hand. But it wasn’t.” Hill named her first child Zion Marley.
For years, Hill claimed that she was married to Rohan Marley, but at some point after Zion was born, Hill got another surprise: Someone told her Marley already had a wife. On March 18th, 1993, when he was a sophomore at the University of Miami, Marley married an eighteen-year-old woman from New Jersey in a ceremony in Miami. “The reason [Hill and Marley] aren’t married is because Ro is already married,” says a friend. Sources say Marley has two children from the marriage.
Hill decided to ignore it. “I think she was kinda like, ‘Put it in the closet and don’t even pay attention to it,'” says a friend. Rolling Stone could find no record of the dissolution of Marley’s marriage, and even now it’s unclear whether Hill and Marley were ever married in a conventional sense. “She has her own rules about life,” another friend says. “According to her, she’s married. Marriage to her is not a piece of paper, and it’s not part of some civilization – civil-lies-action. If you say to her, ‘You’re not married,’ she’ll say, ‘What, do I have to get a government official to tell me I’m married?'”
It was critical that on Miseducation, Hill was credited as the sole auteur. “That was why she had to be seen as doing it all herself,” says someone familiar with the sessions. “To show, ‘I’m better than [Wyclef]. He’s getting credit as the genius in the group. I’m the genius in the group.'”
But when musicians collaborate in the studio, it’s often difficult to establish exactly who has written what. “It gets real gray in the studio,” one artist says. At the time, people close to her suggested Hill needed documentation that would define everyone’s role, but she was against the idea. “Lauryn said, ‘We all love each other,'” a friend says. “‘This ain’t about documents. This is blessed.'”
The album was released crediting Hill with having produced, written and arranged all the music except one track, and Hill was established as a self-contained musical genius. Then she was sued by four men who had worked on the record who alleged that she had claimed full credit for music that they’d been at least partly responsible for. Her label, Columbia, urged her to settle, but she wanted to fight. “She felt settling would’ve been an admission of guilt,” says a friend. “She was very concerned about credit. It’s what eluded her from the past success [with the Fugees]. She didn’t wanna be just a pretty face and a pretty voice. She wanted people to know she knows what she’s doing.” But she had to go into depositions and discuss making her art with lawyers. “That fucked with her,” another friend says.
Eventually, Hill settled the suit. A source says the four producers were paid $5 million.It wasn’t nearly as painful financially as it was emotionally. A friend says, “That was the beginning of a chain effect that would turn everything a little crazy.” She was far from the first recording artist to have a crisis of faith and career, but few have had such a crisis so publicly.
She was a working mother of two, who, according to many, was unhappy in her relationship. She felt pressure to look like a model every time she left the house. She had several members of her family working for her or being supported by her. “To have your whole family depend on you for their well-being, that can be a lot of pressure,” says Ahmir Thompson. “I said, ‘If I was in that situation, I would snap.'” And she felt betrayed by the musicians she’d thought of as family and thus was increasingly mistrustful of people in general. Friends say she wanted to get out but didn’t know how. “It was tough for her to admit all that to someone,” a friend says. “So I think she spoke to God, and maybe it wasn’t God, but somebody showed up.” Another friend says, “A person came in, and they divided and conquered. They destroyed this whole thing.”
Around this time, Hill met a religious figure named Brother Anthony, a tall black man in his forties. Within three months she was going to Bible study with him two or three times a week. A friend says Brother Anthony taught Hill that “she should be whoever she wants to be, because she doesn’t owe her fans anything. God didn’t create us to be beholden unto people and entertain them. God holds us to be the people that we want to be.”
The two became inseparable, and Hill began starting many of her sentences with the words, “Brother Anthony says . . .” Shortly after recording Unplugged, Hill told MTV Online, “I met someone who has an understanding of the Bible like no one else I ever met in my life. I just sat at [his] feet and ingested pure Scripture for about a year.” But Hill’s friends found Brother Anthony bizarre. “His whole demeanor was real possessive, aggressive and crooked to me,” a friend says. “You know how people are slick? He’s a quick talker.”
No one was certain what church he was from or what religion he belonged to. “I don’t think he had a religion,” a friend says. “I think he was more like, ‘My interpretation of the Bible is the only interpretation of the Bible. I’m the only one on earth that knows the truth.'”
“Brother Anthony was definitely on some other shit,” Pras says. “I had a tape of [his teachings]. That shit is ill. Fucked me up. I can’t really explain it. It was some weird shit, man. It was some real cult shit. When I heard the tape, I couldn’t believe that this dude was really serious. He was sayin’, ‘Give up all your money.’ I don’t know if that meant ‘Give it to me’ or whatever, but on the tape he said, ‘Money doesn’t mean anything.'”
Many believe Brother Anthony drove a wedge between Hill and the rest of the world. “It was like she was being brain washed by this man,” a friend says, “believing everything he was saying and tellin’ her what to do.” Another friend says, “I think he’s just looking at a cash cow.”
She recorded her MTV Unplugged 2.0 in July 2001 while she was pregnant with her third child, Joshua. In a rehearsal the day before, Hill ripped up her throat but refused to reschedule, and on the record her voice is raspy and ragged. She accompanied herself on guitar, the lone instrument on the album, which was courageous given that she hadn’t been studying very long. But a veteran industry executive says, “Anyone with ears can hear there are only three chords being played on every song. I saw it with a roomful of professionals, and someone said, ‘I feel like jumpin’ out a window.'”
“A lesser artist, it would’ve never been released,” an industry insider says. “A lesser artist would’ve been shot and thrown out the window.” Unplugged sold just 470,000 records, a failure. Another industry insider says, “I’m sure Columbia lost money on it.”
In the past few years, Hill has been in Miami, where she’s working on a new album. She’s determined to get full credit this time. “A lot of different people have been called down there and had strange experiences,” says an industry figure. Sources say the musicians are required to sign a waiver giving Hill sole writing credit for the tracks they work on. The sessions have gone slowly. A few people spoke of her flying in a gang of top-flight musicians, putting them up in a nice hotel and paying for their time. But for more than a week they sat around each day, expecting to play, then getting a call saying, “We’ll start tomorrow.” Eventually they all left without ever getting into the studio.
While no one is clear what stage of completion the tracks are in, those who’ve heard the music describe it as thrilling. “What she’s doing and where she’s going with it, ain’t nobody even touching her,” says an industry insider. “Nobody’s even thinking that way. In the sad state of music we’re in, I feel deprived knowing that she’s got some real flavor that she’s holding back.”
“She gonna sit down and record until she feels happy,” a friend says. “Whoever can’t wait, she don’t care.” Some sources say she’s spent more than $2.5 million, and Columbia has cut off her recording budget. The label denies this and maintains that Hill’s new album will be out next year.
“Plenty of artists spend $2 million,” says an industry insider, “but she had to fly all these people around and she had to build a studio in her Miami apartment, because she couldn’t drive half a mile to the studio. Columbia bent over backwards for her, in pure self-interest, and I think they still believe in her, but you can’t abuse the system like that. You can’t do that.”
Several of Hill’s friends and associates are clearly worried about her. “She’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” one says. “But not, like, two faces but, like, eight faces of that. You don’t know who you’re gonna get from one hour to the next. Not just one day to the next but one hour.” Others recall Hill talking entirely in Bible-speak, “quoting Scripture, fanatically religious,” one friend says. She sometimes answers business questions by saying things like, “We’ll see what God has in store.” A few tell a story in which Hill asked people to work with her on the new album, but when they asked how much they would be paid, she said, “Do it for God,” meaning, do it for free, and God will reward you.
“I feel like she’s lost,” a friend says. “Something’s not right. I just feel like she’s sad and lonely and alone. I think she wants to cry out for help, but she has too much pride.”
Others disagree. “Really, it’s about restructuring her life and her lifestyle,” an associate says. “I think maybe for a long time she thought she knew what she wanted. But, in reality, she didn’t. She’s gonna come through it, but she doesn’t think anything’s wrong with her. She used [Brother Anthony] to get rid of stuff in her life that she didn’t wanna struggle with. She used him to her advantage, then she went too far, and she doesn’t know how to come back. It’ll be a process. It’ll be a couple of years.”
“She wants to do another album,” a friend says. “Deep down, Lauryn is still Lauryn. She always wanted to be famous, she always wanted to sing, she always wanted to hear the applause. That’s what she grew up to do. So to now not want it, that’s not believable. She wants it the way Brother Anthony thinks it should be. His opinion is the only opinion that matters to her.”
Many still have faith in her. “Sometimes people gotta find themselves, man,” Pras says. “I don’t believe that’s crazy. People go through certain things, they gotta fight certain demons, and she’s entitled to do that. Because her life isn’t to please people. At the end of the day, Lauryn is not happy with herself. She’s not gonna do some disc because she gotta make money for Sony. It just so happens that she’s done something that captured a moment in people’s lives. They want more of that, but she’s not ready to give that.”
Watch this amazing pop-up performance of C.R.E.A.M. by Ghostface Killah with Young Guru that took place after my interview at Chicago Ideas Week.