Lauryn Hill Does Not Owe The World Another Album10/18/2014
by Anna Gibson Recently, an article appeared on Medium titled, “ It’s Finally Time To Stop Caring About Lauryn Hill .” In it, the author ...
by Anna Gibson
Recently, an article appeared on Medium titled, “It’s Finally Time To Stop Caring About Lauryn Hill.” In it, the author Stefan Schumacher makes a number of points regarding Hill’s lyrical hiatus and musical appearances both on stage and in the recording studio. Although I disagree with his argument, it should be noted that Schumacher did make a few good points in his article.
It’s true that fans have gone to her concerts and had to endure waits as long as three hours. It’s also true that “The Miseducation” is over a decade old. In a sense, I understand exactly where Schumacher is coming from: Artists should produce art. However, the question of when and how they produce that art, should be entirely up to them.
There have always been bands that haven’t produced hit records for long amounts of time, but are still held in high esteem by their fans. It’s no secret that artists like Aerosmith, Barbra Streisand, and younger artists like Fiona Apple aren’t as prolific as they once were.
He states, “Most importantly, her most dedicated fans (myself included) have wondered, ‘When will she produce another piece of art?’” and “I really don't care about her public statements or her indiscretions with the law (certainly other artists are guilty of far worse).”
The above statement reads as unusually callous. There have been numerous rumors of Hill being involved in various fringe groups, and even of her possibly having bipolar disorder. Whether the above is true or not, it doesn’t seem to matter to Schumacher, who only appears to care about what she can do for him.
Schumacher’s critique of Hill seems to stem from the presupposition that he’s owed something of her work and that she must produce according to his whims. We have to ask ourselves, why does this man feel so entitled to Lauryn Hill’s labor? Why is Hill being held to a standard other artists aren’t? Even more startling: Why should we all simply ‘stop caring’ because she’s taken a break, when that’s her right as an artist?
The idea that women—particularly black women—should continuously give of themselves is as old as slavery. In her seminal work, “Sister-Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America,” Melissa Harris Perry explores the negative archetype of the Mammie. She explains:
“Unlike the bad black women who was aggressively sexual, Mammy had no personal needs or desires. She was a trusted advisor and confidante whose skills were used exclusively in service of the white families to which she was attached… Her love doting, advice, correction, and supervision were reserved exclusively for white women and children.”
From the above quote, we can see that often black women are considered the pack-mules of society, taking on everyone else’s needs, wants, and desires—all while sacrificing their own. The black woman’s personal needs are rendered non-existent to the feeding frenzy of the crowd. Ms. Hill and many black women become a commodity to be discarded after being worked until broken.
I don’t believe that Schumacher is consciously attempting to reenact this dynamic, but the archetypes align perfectly. We must take into account that no one is calling for us to stop caring about white artists. Some artists will often take breaks often—sometimes permanently—breaks in their music career. It’s clear that there’s a double standard in place.
Furthermore, Lauryn Hill has performed work since her release from prison, and contributed a number of songs to various soundtracks. She produced “Black Rage” in 2012, but the song resurfaced during the tragic Michael Brown shooting. Despite this, it would seem she hasn’t produced enough work, according to Schumacher’s standards.
He says, “When I heard about Hill’s song “Black Rage,” released in response to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, I thought maybe she’d found a reason to write something new and important. Unfortunately, the song is one she’s been performing since 2012. Her singing is thin and uneven and the recording is of poor quality.”
As black women, Hill’s story is our story. Often we have given our all only to be treated as lesser by an industry or individual whom we’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into. Why are we asked to produce outside of our mental, physical, or emotional resources, even if this means moving towards our breaking point? It doesn’t matter if we have a stellar track record in the classroom or the workplace. Or if we’re being pushed harder when we should rest. We are never even given the option of rest.
Lauryn Hill’s story has some strange twists and turns. However, instead of chastising her for not producing her work on cue like a trained monkey, we should give her the breathing room necessary to produce her art at her pace.
As black women, we should take a lesson from Ms. Hill and resist any attempts of others snatch our personhood away from us. She’s still out there, as a whole person. She’s a mother, musician, political activist, and more. We are also more and should carve out time to care for ourselves. We matter as we are.
And to Stephan Schumacher: If you happen to read this, I would urge you to remember the humanity behind a person’s work, not simply its production.
Photo credit: Medium
Anna Gibson is a freelance writer and nerd stationed in Detroit, MI. She's an Africana Studies major at Wayne State University who enjoys reading all things Afrofuturism and watching "Scandal." Follow her on Twitter (@TheRealSankofa) or reach out to her on Facebook (firstname.lastname@example.org).