The Joup Friday Album: MTV Unplugged 2.0 – Lauryn Hill

Album cover of MTV Unplugged 2.0 by Lauryn HillAs a single, child-free woman, I’ve found myself with not one, but two, pregnant friends this summer. Both are expecting boys. And I cannot wait.

Childbearing is something I’ve never wanted or done. While many women experience the proverbial biological clock, or feel pangs of longing whenever they encounter babies, I’ve never been there. My role models were always older, child-free women with rich, fulfilling lives, complete with travel, careers, relationships, and adventure. Having a kid in the mix would do nothing but tie me down.

Yet I would take – and give – a bullet for my nephew.

Does that seem counter intuitive? It’s not. Women are often pigeonholed by their reproductive capabilities, or nurturing capacity. Because I’ve never wanted one of my own doesn’t lessen my all-encompassing love for the five-year-old hellion who considers me an essential part of his world. He’s a 3’6” preschool hype machine. No one else screams out my name with such fervor every single time I see him. No one else gives me the kind of smile that makes me feel like I’ve met my favorite celebrity. And there’s no one else I’d rather adventure with (outside of his mom, my sister).

My friends found themselves joining the boys-mom club somewhat unexpectedly. As I enjoy the quiet evenings spent alone, I’m plotting what we’re going to do for their baby showers. How I’ve become the world’s best aunt and babysitter, forged in the fires of five years of being the best pit crew for my nephew.

Lauryn Hill knows something about motherhood. She knows something about being the proverbial Every Woman, too. One-third of ‘90s legendary hip-hop trio The Fugees, a solo career that took off and nose dived, and (in addition) the birth of her first child, a son named Zion.

The year was 2002. Still under the success of her debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the songstress released a live performance on MTV’s “Unplugged” series. And everyone … was terribly disappointed. Lauryn had chopped off her locs, her voice was ragged, she was fairly destroyed from touring and betrayed by then-husband Rohan Marley, and people dogged her guitar playing.

Everyone but me. I cherish this fucking album, and here’s why:

Her voice is ripped (allegedly due to an over-enthusiastic jam session with rapper Nas the evening before). She has numerous rambling explanations between songs. And the guitar playing isn’t stellar.

But this is as emotional a performance as can be, what feels like Hill metaphorically ripping her head and guts open and spilling it on the tastefully lit stage for an undoubtedly hipster audience there to witness her demise.

MTV Unplugged 2.0 has a place in my music collection that’s also occupied by the likes of Lady in Satin by Billie Holiday and Chet Baker’s last live performance in Amsterdam. All three were in various stages of destruction; Holiday and Baker, wrecked by heroin, turned in performances with voices that were mere ghosts of their former incarnation; raspy, reedy, almost broken. Hill, grappling with the demands of endless touring, a broken relationship with Marley, and feuds with her former bandmate/lover/whatever the hell he truly was (Wyclef Jean), sat down and turned in a two-disc live performance of her own self-destruction.

The hushed acoustic narrative, peppered with serious emotion, landed like a fat turd on the ears of stans who expected 2.0 to be the same witty, slickly produced Miseducation clone. But at the time, the tracks mirrored a nation deeply into its own reflection and anxiety, over terrorism and “others” and examining what life truly means. We wanted the Lauryn Hill of “Doo Wop (That Thing),” not someone who was trying to put the pieces together of her own life.

The idea that life … means life … the beginning, the ending, the middle … is much of what 2.0 addresses. As a mother, as a partner, as a career woman, as an artist, Hill expounds and expunges so much in a performance that has largely gone unappreciated, particularly in hip hop circles. Are we witnessing a destruction or a rebirth?

The ironic thing is, 2.0 was 20 years too early. It would be well at home today among the amazing amalgamation of acts such as noname and Ibeyi, artists who meld hip hop and acoustic music with mind-bending harmony and social statements.

Since that performance, Hill, 42, has largely gone underground, appearing in performances at festivals around the world. She’s kicked off a 20th anniversary tour for Miseducation, and last year became a grandmother when Zion welcomed his first son.

I hope she finds her way back to gracing us with another album. I can’t wait to introduce the boys in my life to her music.

Tagging Joe for next week’s deep dive.

Melissa Fowler

Melissa Fowler

Smart, opinionated, crabby, fortysomething who loves to word. Hates squirrels; rampant stupidity in the form of willful ignorance, bigotry and intolerance (yeah, reconcile THAT); and is starting to realize that Mike Judge is indeed a soothsayer.

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