Twenty years after the release of Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the 43-year-old ex-Fugees member, rapper and singer is still writing her legacy through arena tours, celebrating her seminal solo album anniversary with a live band and special guests slated to appear on various dates on the trek. Dave Chappelle, SZA, Santigold, Nas, Talib Kweli, De La Soul, Patoranking, Shabazz Palaces, Tierra Whack, Iman Omari and more are expected to appear before the tour wraps overseas at the end of the year. A musical icon of this status deserves to bring a few friends along for the party.
On a seasonal rainy day in Portland, Ore., on Wednesday, Hill’s show at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum changed the narrative of her expected tardiness, which fans have been very vocal about in Atlanta and Toronto in the past. After opener Iman Omari ended, the absence of billed performers Santigold and Nas forced the DJ to play a longer set. Perhaps it wasn’t communicated to ticketholders that they weren’t going to show up, but it put Hill in a position to show up earlier -- if she wanted to.
At around 8:40 p.m., Hill and her band hit the stage to massive cheers. She once explained the reason for showing up late to shows was combating the challenge of aligning her energy with the time. Hill centered herself last night, performing a two-hour set of Miseducation songs, while sprinkling in some classic Fugees cuts.
Over 20 years, Hill has performed these same songs with different variations, using her perfectionist sensibilities to scrutinize her band so they deliver something unique for every audience. Reggae and funk were infused into these songs in past performances, but here Hill stuck to a mostly hip-hop and R&B space, feeding off the crowd’s reactions and adjusting accordingly.
The re-ordering of Miseducation live works in Hill’s favor, as fans were treated to uptempo versions of her slower tracks (“Lost Ones,” “Everything Is Everything,” “When It Hurts So Bad”), featuring moments of spontaneity when her band members were feeling the vibe. L-Boogie, the MC, is still sharp, delivering her verses with the same focus as when she first recorded them.
“Happy anniversary, Portland! Twenty years, y’all,” Hill said. “You feel good, everybody? Or grateful that we are here? Twenty years. That music that’s still relevant and still resonates with people -- we are grateful for that. We appreciate all the support we have gotten through the years.”
Hill continued to go through Miseducation, pausing to reflect and send a needed message to educate, inspire and uplift your peers. “The world is reeling from generations and generations of damage,” she said. “Where you can extend grace and forgiveness to someone, do your best to do that. Call upon the universe to empower you to forgive because if we don’t do it, then we won’t stop the cycle of damage.”
“I choose to forgive the people who hurt me,” she added. “I choose to forgive the people who talk negatively about me. I choose to forgive the people who conspire to put resistance in my path. I choose to forgive them. I step right out of the way of that negativity. I choose to forgive them. I choose to uplift those who try to hurt me. I choose to do that. That’s my choice, my free will choice.”
Hill began to hit her stride during the second half of her show, singing moving renditions of “Nothing Even Matters” and “To Zion.” During “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” she seemed to be having more fun with her band rather than being a fussy conductor, controlling the bassist, drummer, and background vocalists in build-ups that got her dancing a bit. “We’re just being silly,” she said.
In another address to the audience, she spoke about the creative process of Miseducation, explaining that she wanted to bridge the gap between music’s past elders and its current contemporaries. At the time, she inherited the roots of classic soul and reggae thanks to her parents giving her their old vinyl collection. So she hoped to fuse those flavorful elements into an album made from a personal space, adding the knock of hip-hop and live instrumentation to bring it all together. Her magnum opus has every raw emotion, from love and commitment to pain and sacrifice, prompting her to call it “the people’s music.”
Then, she needed to speak her mind against the music industry and how it can warp your sense of self, telling aspiring artists in the audience that “you can’t sustain what isn’t truly you…I encourage everyone to be authentic in their own skin.”
It was an artist with a respectable legacy using their platform to educate, a trend that has seen more elder statement of rap (JAY-Z and Kanye West, for example) step up to use their influence to bring perspective. Inspired to perform again, Hill concluded with “Doo Wop (That Thing),” which still sounds fantastic today.
In her encore, Hill did her remix of Drake’s “Nice for What,” which samples her song “Ex-Factor.” Even if Hill has promised to never put out a sophomore album, the performance of this remix has gotten positive reactions -- both live by the crowd and online through concert footage. If released officially, it could give her a bigger spotlight in mainstream hip-hop.
Or she stays in this lane -- a musician who maximized her potential through her songs that have become timeless classics. Hill retreated back to her Fugees days and performed “Ready or Not” and “Killing Me Softly,” the final goodbye you want from someone like her. Shows like this are meant to reveal something new about the person. For Lauryn, it’s about giving her all every night in order to tell her truths from the heart.