Lauryn Hill confronts claims of ‘stealing’ music and mistreating musicians

The R&B musician has responded to allegations made by jazz pianist and producer Robert Glasper

Lauryn Hill has responded to recent allegations by the jazz pianist and producer Robert Glasper that she “stole music” for her classic 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. In a recent radio interview, Glasper – who says he performed with Hill once in 2008 – reportedly suggested that Hill treated her musicians poorly, instructing them not to make eye contact and threatening to halve their pay because she was unhappy with how they were “learning the music”.

Hill responded in an essay on the self-publishing platform Medium. “I’m confused as to why such a principled musician, who thought I ‘stole’ from his friends, would show up to work for me,” she wrote, referring to Glasper.

The bullet-pointed piece is Hill’s first lengthy public statement in some time; she rarely gives interviews. “You may be able to make suggestions, but you can’t write FOR me. I am the architect of my creative expression,” she wrote, adding: “These are my songs, musicians are brought in because of the masterful way that they play their instruments.”

She said she had no “details or recollection” of cutting pay, acknowledged her selectiveness in picking musicians to play with her, and discussed the difficulties of asserting herself as a solo artist after her previous group the Fugees disbanded in 1997.

She also commented on disparities between male and female artists in terms of creative control. “Men often can say ‘I want it done like this’ and not be challenged. The same rules don’t always apply for women, who may be met with resistance.” She conceded to Glasper on one point: “Yes, ‘Ms Hill’ was absolutely a requirement. I was young, black and female. Not everyone can work for and give the appropriate respect to a person in that package and in charge. It was important, especially then, for that to be revealed early.”

She connected interpretations of her seriousness as “meanness” with the wider black struggle. “I wouldn’t be the first black person accused of this. I don’t think of Harriet Tubman’s skills as those of a hostess, but rather her relentless dedication to helping people who wanted out of an oppressive paradigm.” Hill also denounced the “old urban legend” that she “[hates] white people”, clarifying that she “[despises] a system of entitlement and oppression set up to exploit people who are different”.

Hill addressed “the lengthy history of unfairness and brutality towards people of color”, and said that her 2002 MTV Unplugged performance conveyed how unsafe she felt during this period in her career. The live album, MTV Unplugged No 2.0, was poorly received at the time: Hill performed no material from Miseducation, instead debuting new, acoustic, politicised material, and talking at length about her personal struggles.

Hill is in the middle of the 20th-anniversary tour for Miseducation. “The Miseducation was my only solo album, but it certainly wasn’t the only good thing I did,” she added, highlighting her work with the Fugees, advocacy for mothers and black women in hip-hop. She concluded: “The album inspired many people, from all walks of life, because of its radical (intense) will to live and to express love. I appreciate everyone who was a part of it, in any and every capacity.”

This article originally appeared in The Guardian.



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