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.
My article originally appeared in Rolling Stone on September 21, 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?'”
[Lisa ColemanMarkus Akre]
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.”
[Dez DickersonMarkus Akre]
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.
ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. — On March 22, at 3 a.m., Q-Tip and Phife Dawg were on the phone. The two rappers — lifelong friends from Queens and half of the influential hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest — were “yucking it up,” Q-Tip recalled, and talking about a project few people outside their inner circle knew was in the works: a new Tribe album, the first in 18 years.
Q-Tip was in the million-dollar recording studio he built in the basement of his stately New Jersey home; Phife was at his place in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Phife was fired up about a potential track: “Yo, make sure you send me that beat. I’ve got to put some verses to it. That beat is fire!” Q-Tip said in a recent interview in the lounge of his studio, surrounded by white shelves holding hundreds of vinyl LPs. The lighthearted conversation ended around 4 a.m. and Q-Tip went back to work. Nineteen hours later, Phife’s manager called. His friend and lifelong collaborator was dead.
The cause was complications from diabetes; Phife was 45. The other members of A Tribe Called Quest were shattered. The rapper Jarobi White was at Q-Tip’s house and heard people screaming. “We broke down,” he said. “There were two puddles of goo on the floor.” The producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad was in Sherman Oaks, Calif., walking out of an Apple store with a replacement iPhone when the call came in. “I was in shock,” he said. Without any of his contacts, he stood paralyzed, unable to reach out to anyone.
“I had no idea that his days was numbered,” Q-Tip said. Retelling this story in the same room where he had had so many conversations with Phife, he became too emotional to speak. He buried his face in his hands and sobbed. Finally he said, “I just want to celebrate him, you know?”
On Friday, Nov. 11, A Tribe Called Quest will do just that, releasing on Epic Records “We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service,” the group’s sixth album. It features all four of the group’s members plus a host of guests — André 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, Jack White and Busta Rhymes, a longtime Tribe collaborator who made a heralded appearance on the 1992 posse cut “Scenario.” Busta Rhymes said he saw Q-Tip and Phife in the studio vibing the way they did in the old days. “I seen them laughing and joking and high-fiving, and you can just see that young, invigorated ‘we’re-just-getting-our-first-opportunity-to-do-this’ energy again!” he said. Q-Tip noted, “I hadn’t seen Phife that happy since we were kids.”
They went through so much to reach that point. Tribe assembled as teenagers in Queens — Q-Tip and Phife, who first met in church at the age of four; plus Mr. Muhammad, who created much of their music; and Mr. White, who Q-Tip has called “the spirit of the group.” In the early ’90s, they made what are widely considered two of hip-hop’s greatest albums: “The Low End Theory” and “Midnight Marauders.” (Mr. White left after recording “The Low End Theory” to pursue a career as a chef.) The group was known for thoughtful lyrics, jazz samples and a more artful, less macho, approach to hip-hop. Q-Tip was the artistic, esoteric, philosophical M.C. while Phife Dawg was the streetwise, confident yet humble rapper with a little Trinidadian “ruffneck” swag. “He’s like your common man’s homeboy,” said André 3000. “He’s like the dude next door that watched sports and is always talking about the game. And he was funny.”
Three of Tribe’s five albums went platinum, and the other two went gold, but the group’s influence extended far beyond sales figures. As part of the Native Tongues movement, which also included De La Soul, they were into Afrocentrism and positivity and showed a generation how to make music that was both fun and substantive. “Tip’s kind of like the father of all of us, like me, Kanye, Pharrell,” André 3000 said. “When you’re a kid, it’s kind of like, O.K., who am I going to be? Can I be Eazy-E? Nah. But Q-Tip? Yeah. He seems more like a common kind of person.”
Around the same time, a teenager in Detroit was also studying Tribe’s music. “They were trying to break new ground, and they had a musicologist’s attitude toward what they were doing with their samples,” Jack White said from his studio in Nashville. “I mean, you’ve got ‘Can I Kick It?’ over a Lou Reed sample from ‘Walk on the Wild Side.’ That really showed that they were miles and miles deeper than most other people in pop music.”
By the end of the ’90s, Tribe’s members had broken up. In the ensuing years, they would occasionally reconvene to do shows, but the relationship between Q-Tip and Phife was difficult at times, as can be seen in Michael Rapaport’s sometimes brutal 2011 documentary “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.” Q-Tip said the group had grown so popular that it was hard to maintain the friendships that were at its core. He also felt uncomfortable being cast as the de facto leader. “I’m more of a special-ops soldier,” he said.
Even still, Phife repeatedly asked about doing another group album; Q-Tip would respond, “Not now.” He was on a self-imposed sabbatical. “I wanted to rethink my life as an artist and as a man,” he explained.
He stepped out of the spotlight to re-energize himself and flowed into a yearslong period of spiritual rejuvenation. He studied music theory. He read a lot — Duke Ellington’s “Music Is My Mistress,” Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” George Orwell’s “1984,” the fiction of Paul Beatty, the poetry of Nikki Giovanni. He worked on his own poems. He tried all sorts of things.
“I was celibate for like a year,” he said. “I just wanted to ensure my mental health as a human being.” Then one day he said to himself: “How much longer are you going to be here? It’s good that you sat and you’re reading these books and you’re leaving the girls alone but, like, get over yourself.” It was time to get back to work.
Shortly afterward, in November 2015, the group was asked to perform on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of its debut album. It was the group’s first television appearance in 15 years, and everyone agreed. “It felt right,” Q-Tip said. “The energy was right. It felt like we was those kids that had that big show in Paris when they were 19. It felt fresh. It felt exciting. It felt new. Plus, it was just good to be with my brothers after all of that time.”
Mr. White said the group easily slipped back into the zone: “It was like, oh man, this is the feeling that we’ve all been missing!” That was the night when Q-Tip finally said: “Let’s just do an album! Let’s just start tomorrow!”
But just because you put out the bat signal doesn’t mean everyone can come running. Q-Tip and Mr. White were ready to work on a new album but Mr. Muhammad was in Los Angeles working as the music supervisor for Netflix’s “Luke Cage.” And Phife was in Oakland, recording his own music and dealing with his health problems.
Since 1990, Phife had been dutifully managing life with Type 2 diabetes. He was receiving dialysis three times a week and eating right. “He wasn’t in any pain,” his wife, Deisha Taylor, said in a recent interview from the home she and Phife shared. “He hadn’t been in the hospital in years. He was in a really, really, really good place before he transitioned.”
Phife was working on his craft every day — he finished a solo album that Ms. Taylor said should come out next year. (The single “Nutshell” is out now.) And while he was ready as a musician to work on a new Tribe album, his relationship with Q-Tip needed work. “I went through a lot of internal and family persecution around the group,” Q-Tip said. “A lot of people faulted me for breaking it up.”
So Phife flew out to Q-Tip’s home, and they sat and talked for hours.
“He came here, and we was bonding,” Q-Tip said. “We went through all of the stuff and apologized, and it was just so good, man. We were so back.” Ms. Taylor said Phife was encouraged by the meeting: “They were developing that chemistry again. He was excited about that.”
Phife found a clinic in New Jersey where he could receive dialysis, and in December 2015, just weeks after the triumphant Fallon performance, he began flying between Oakland and New Jersey twice a month and staying at Q-Tip’s house for weeks at a time to work on the album. The music was inspiring, but Q-Tip believes Phife was primarily focused on repairing their relationship.
All of the recording sessions for “We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service” took place at Q-Tip’s studio, which Busta Rhymes called “phenomenal.” Soft design touches like bamboo floors and pink mood lights contribute to the warm aesthetic. But a vibe also flows from the history in the room. The main recording board has captured the music of Blondie, the Ramones and Art Blakey. There’s a tape reel that was used by Frank Zappa and equipment from the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix.
Q-Tip had one major rule for the album: He insisted that everyone who was a part of it come work in the studio. “If you wrote your rhyme somewhere else, you still had to come back and lay your verse in Q-Tip’s house,” Busta Rhymes said. “So we pretty much did every song together. Everybody wrote his stuff in front of everybody. Everybody spat their rhymes in front of each other. We were throwing ideas around together.”
When Jack White came to the studio, things fell right into place. “We recorded so many tracks and ideas,” he said. “It’s one of those scenarios where we’re so excited to finally get to work together that it was exploding in a whole different direction. We really didn’t know what we were doing, it was just a ‘hurry up and press record’ kind of moment.” (Q-Tip and Jack White connected when he asked to do an old Tribe song called “Excursions”in his stage show. They learned they were mutual admirers of each other’s work.) Jack White came to the studio without his own gear. “He just took a guitar off the wall and plugged it in and just got his wizard on,” Q-Tip said.
It was thrilling to the guys to watch stars like Jack White, Mr. Lamar and André 3000 come through and record. It was even more exciting to have their brother Phife around all the time. But now some of the group members think that all that traveling may have contributed to grinding him down, physically. “Doing this album killed him,” Jarobi White said simply. “And he was very happy to go out like that.”
In the months since Phife died, Q-Tip has worked to finish what he called “the final Tribe album.” Its title is the one Phife wanted. What does it mean? “I don’t know,” Q-Tip said. “We’re just going with it because he liked it.”
Q-Tip said it was tough to finish the album. From April until late October, he recorded and tweaked his way to the end, but one part was never easy. “It’s so hard for me to sit in there and hear his voice,” Q-Tip said. “Sometimes I just have to like take a break and walk away. It gets heavy. It doesn’t necessarily get sad, it just gets heavy. I literally feel the energy from him when I hear his voice.”
Q-Tip, Jarobi White, Mr. Muhammad and everyone in the Tribe family are still in mourning. The wound is fresh. “I’m gonna be missing him for a while,” Q-Tip said, with an audible lump in his throat. He paused. “God is in control,” he said. “And I feel at peace. I feel hopeful. I feel Phife with me.”
Correction: November 13, 2016 An article last Sunday about the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest misstated the location of the home of the rapper Phife Dawg, who died in March before the group’s new album was completed. He lived near Oakland, Calif. — not in Oakland.
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.”
Hip-hop has long been a key American art form, but why has it just recently become widely accepted as such? I talk about this with Ghostface at Chicago Ideas Week.
Since its arrival in the early 1970s, hip-hop has grown to shape much of American culture. Until recently, it hasn’t been included in conversations about fine art like other genres of music. Today, hip-hop is widely accepted as an essential art form for critiquing, influencing and reflecting on American society. Hear from some of the leading artists and producers in the genre about the future of hip-hop.
A tribe has been found, a leader identified and that leader loves media attention. And he knows how to spew fear and loathing to massive effect. Soon enough there will be a TV network broadcasting Trump’s pronouncements and the paranoid ideas of the kooky conspiracy theory loving far right. I can see it now. “Tonight on Trump. At 8pm it’s Sean Hannity” Is Bill dating Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansen? And did Chelsea have four plastic surgeries to hide who her real father is? We’ll discuss.” At 9pm it’s The Mr. Trump Show: “Hillary is the worst President ever. America regrets not electing me. Everybody says that. Believe me. Someone go tell the Second Amendment folks to go do somethin about it. Heh, heh, heh. Just kidding, folks! But if you kill Hillary I’ll all pay your legal bills. Believe me.” And at 10pm Alex Jones “Is Hillary a person or an alien in human form???” Yeah, you’ll get a little hatred, a little disinformation, a little White Lives Matter. They’ll attack the rest of the media and the rest of the GOP. They’ll air Ann Coulter, Chris Christie, Roger Stone, Duck Dynasty, David Duke, and even Katrina Pierson: “Vietnam was Hillary’s fault!” The nightmare that is the Trump campaign will survive the election and continue haunting us for years to come. Fear the walking dead. (Artwork provided courtesy of Mitch O’Connell/Chicago.)