Dear Lauryn Hill
CC: Queen Latifah, Ericka Badu, Jill Scott, Angie Stone and the rest of 'em
I wonder if the Beyonce generation can say that -that in some picture of the singer, an image in a movie, or a song, reminds them of their mother, sister or a friend? What happened to the black female artists who were supposed to carry on Franklin, Fitzgerald and our mother's legacy of combining soul, beauty and dignity ?
When Jerome walked out my dorm room after breaking up with me two days after my eighteen birthday, I immediately turned on Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill for mourning support. Between sobs of tears, I sang alongside the lovers' track Tell Himand tattooed every word into my body, hoping the words would form some kind of protection from any more emotional trauma. That was my first break up and your first solo album; it's amazing how everything that is the first penetrates more.
Lauryn, I heard Ex factor while I was in a commuter taxi in Brooklyn, New York on my way to work the other day, and 2000 nostalgia started to roll back to me: the tears, the sympathy hugs from all the girls on the floor, the way your songs clocked like a fluffy down-blanket. As the driver raised the volume louder to pay respect to your irie melodies, your words encapsulated everyone to remember that day when the memory of that song and their life intercepted into one. With each pulse of the song, I started to remember that instant hole that was formed when Jerome closed my room door for the final time, and how he smelled like baby powder, raspberry, and Egyptian musk oil -young, sweet and powerful.
After pleading with him for months to be more romantic, Jerome came over to my room unannounced with a white plastic bag emanating smells of greasy broccoli, fried rice with over cooked chicken wings, and The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill, the album which never left his dorm room. We lay my pink blanket laden with flowers on my bedroom floor, lit the scented candles, and he put on Nothing really matters, on repeat. After the last grain of Chinese food sat in the containers, we moved to my bed, wrapped tightly in each other's hands, and he told me that he loved me. The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill was acquired from the relationship break-up package of 2000; whatever Jerome left in my dorm room that day became my property.
For four straight months, I blasted Nothing really matters in my room after I returned home from classes in tribute to my broken heart. Lauryn, during my college years you became my Bible because of your music and how your image penetrated into the minds and hearts of every brown girl growing up in America. To be a Black woman in the days of Lauryn Hill was fresh, distinct, and new. I imagine Queen Latifah's musical generation felt the same way when she came on the scene singing "U.N.I.T.Y. ", teaching Black men to respect women. L Boogie, you made me feel pretty to be a Sister; though you never sang it out like James Brown, we know you felt Black and proud. Your vibe, the animated texture or your brown skin, contradicted the perpetual images of what Black is supposed to be in the media.
I never knew Black women could of look so beautiful, Brahmin with their natural hair. I grew up to fear locks and my natural hair. From six years old to eighteen, I never saw any Black women in the media, (expect Whoppie) who wore locks and was successful. When I was eleven, I received my first perm after begging my mother for years to get my hair straightened. I hated my short natural hair; it made me feel unappealing, less than and unsophisticated. After that my hair went through the Black woman crusades of braids, perms, weaves and eventually, I stopped straightening my hair a month after vibe'ing from the Mis- Education. Let me just say I didn't get locks primarily based on your image -you were part of the process, my freshman Black history classes, and finally seeing myself as beautiful -contributed to my path of locks.
Your velvety bohemian rhapsody image never suggested that I should follow you; your representation provided me with an alternative to the mainstream conceptualization of Black beauty, and taught me that to be attractive means carving out my own path in life. Ms. Hill, I wonder if you knew how your comfortable ; home-girl from the block; beauty reverberated throughout the Black community.
My favorite picture of you is the black and white picture located in your first album, where you are standing in front the mirror adjusting your eye shadow-so soft, so organic-that picture reminded of my mother. You resembled an earth goddess with a Bedford Stuyvesant, East Flatbush or Crown Heights zip code. I wonder if the Beyonce generation can say that -that in some picture of the singer, an image in a movie, or a song, reminds them of their mother, sister or a friend? What happened to the black female artists who were supposed to carry on Franklin, Fitzgerald and our motherÃÂ¢s legacy of combining soul, beauty and dignity ?
A little bit after you disappeared from the musical scene for some much-needed rest, they started calling us bitches, hoes, and every other name we were told by our mothers were fighting words. We didn't fight, well some did, and the rest of us just dropped it like it's hot without questions. I feel like every female artist that came out on the scene after you had to giggle their booty and expose themselves "Victoria Secret" style in order to stay on the chats. I understand that with pop music there must be lots of flashy images in order for listeners to say tuned because the music composition is so limited, but when female bodies just become a sexual musical commodity, and their singing is secondary, we have some serious trouble.
But you already know about the dodgy music industry and the subjection of women. In your song Superstar you said, "Music is supposed to inspire, "maybe we should send copies of that song to the various Black artists who have lost their way to the dream -but I think the cost of postage would be too much.
After college, with a sophomore head-of-locks, I gave you a rest and started seriously dating Ericka Badu, chilling with Jill Scott and flirting with tacky girl bands I'm too ashamed to admit, but always keeping a special musical appreciation for you in my heart. Lauryn, you were my generation's mix- tape, mixed with soulful love music, hip-hop and the Bob Marley vibe that kept us on the right side of tracks.
"You've just heard Lauryn Hill's Tell Him", the radio said while traces of nostalgia made his voice cloudy. "Coming up next, Keisha Cole". His voice faded and Keisha's music started up. "What a musical perversion, " I said internally and I immediately plugged my white head phones into my ear - searching for a musician who can fill my belly with soul, like you.