Last week, the internet buzzed about an open letter authored by enigmatic music superstar Lauryn Hill. Hill, who rose to fame as a member of The Fugees and became a Hip Hop-Soul darling with the release of her heavily lauded album, Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill in 1998. After a polarizing unplugged release in 2002, Hill dropped out of the spotlight. Over the last ten years, she’s been fairly reclusive, making few public performances characterized by inconsistency and poor makeup jobs.
Hill’s letter, posted via her Tumblr, came in response to reports that she faced charges of failing to file a tax return between 2005 and 2007 on nearly 2 million dollars in earnings. She explains that the corrupt forces of the music industry forced her (and her six kids) to live underground (whatever that means). It was at this point that she ceased filing tax returns becuase, obviously, people living off the grid CANNOT pay taxes.
I have no problem supporting Hill’s ambiguous critique of the music industry. There’s no denying its treacherous qualities especially at the level of success Hill once had. However, I do feel that Hill’s letter lacks any semblace of personal responsibility. The music industry existed, and was corrupt, well before Hill made her entry into it in the early 1990s. Countless artists have reached heights equal and greater than Hill and have come out rather unscathed. Those artists who appear to have succumbed to the industry had personal complications that existed independently of their recording careers. Lauryn Hill is no different as she has made questionable personal decisions dating back to her time in the Fugees. Blaming the music industry for her failure to pay taxes seems like an attempt to save face in the wake of another poor decision.
Response to Hill’s letter has been scattered. Some feel that it was a lame attempt to escape blame for her failure to pay taxes. Many others seem to wholeheartedly support her claims. I can’t seem to remember other stars getting such support during their tax woes and many of them had better excuses than “I had to go underground because of the music industry monster.” Although she was once a pop star, she has managed to become somewhat of a folk-hero in many people’s eyes. As a result, she’s able to avoid blame in ways others, like Lil Wayne and DMX, aren’t. Her cult of personality is way strong.
I have nothing againt Lauryn Hill. I, like millions of others, enjoyed the hell out of Miseducation. I’m just not buying what she’s selling. Her letter was a bit insulting to the millions of Americans who are living in much worse conditions, yet still manage to pay their taxes. I hope that she moves past blaming the music industry and the military-industrial complex for her woes, gets her life in order, and comes back stronger than ever.