Lauryn Hill Celebrates ‘Miseducation,’ Plus a Fugees Reunion

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Between this spring’s Roots Picnic in Philadelphia and September’s Global Citizen event in Manhattan, Lauryn Hill has been in a celebratory mood. Along with playing the finest moments of her genre-jumbling, 20-million-selling “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (still her only solo studio album), the singer has thrilled audiences with a rare joviality, powerful displays of her throaty vocals and surprise mini-reunions of the Fugees, her legendary R&B/hip-hop trio with Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel.

Hill is keeping those spirited vibes and good Fu-Gee-La feelings going by celebrating the 25th anniversary of her game-changing 1998 album on a tour running through November. Plus, she’s bringing the Fugees with her for their own full set, and started the party Tuesday night in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey, at the Prudential Center.

Hill shouted out her hometown often and cheerily, name-checking Newark totems such as Essex County and her alma mater, Columbia High School, with a wellspring of homespun nostalgia that prompted her to welcome several area high schoolers to play as part of her band.

Still a rare jewel after 25 years, “Miseducation” intelligently and emotionally ran through personal and socio-cultural statements in raw and fluid fashion. Hill, of Haitian heritage, pushed her rough-edged Caribbean patois and full-throated vocals to their sultry, soulful finest. It was a mission statement that hip-hop could be sensuous and that R&B could play rough. Though she could be playful at times, “Miseducation” was no game.

“It’s an album of love songs and protest music like my parents listened to,” said Hill of “Miseducation” on Tuesday toward the end of her solo set.

Dressed in a pillowy red waistcoat, puffy pirate sleeves and bejeweled headdress, Hill and her large ensemble commenced her solo set with a hearty “I’m home,” followed by a head-charging version of “Everything Is Everything.” Accompanied by a sharply edgy rhythm section, Hill’s huskier-than-usual vocals were on powerful display. Later in the set, that same husky tone turned her version of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” into something radically more urgent and angular than the original. As a matter of fact, so many of Hill’s “Miseducation” tracks were deconstructed and born vividly anew, it was if its silver anniversary was meant for the gift of experimentation.

Should Hill ever decide to make another solo album, this nice-and-rough singing style, a la Tina Turner, would make a rich calling card.

With a drummer working overtime and an aggressive percussionist’s rolling congas, Hill punctuated the pain of “When It Hurts So Bad” with a cocksure swagger in each syllable, and pushed her vocals to their raw, barking extreme over the quick, flitting string arrangement of “Final Hours.”

When the string sound swelled to a radiant shimmer on “Ex-Factor,” Hill’s voice grew soft and tender. When the rugged, cluttered rhythms went off the rails, her legendary speed rapping came through, loud and clear, on “Lost Ones.”  Lest she forget about her devotion to sweet reggae grooves and lilting melody, she turned the word “beautiful” — during her supple rendition of “To Zion” — into a rubbery, repetitive prayer. Later, she pulled the phrase “love line” out of the Motown-meets-Thom-Bell-like “Tell Him” and got lost and longing in the hypnotic mantra’s reverie.

No sooner had Hill wrapped up her “Miseducation” tribute with a sensationally unsteady “Doo Wop (That Thing)” than the singer grew pensive, as she began sing-speaking, “We spread that truth to the masses and socio-economic classes… a Black girl and two Haitians. We were so far ahead of the game they’re still trying to chase us.”

With that, fellow Fugees Pras and Wyclef Jean hit the stage with Hill for an equal partnership of flavorful funky-but-chic hip-hop with each member zig-zagging through each other’s phrases — a rap Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, if you will. Unlike previous outings where the Fugees’ legend was synopsized down to their three biggest hits, their set on this night was full blown and totemic.

Though it’s tempting to say that the Fugees’ seamless blend of voices and shadings sounded as if they’d never been apart — especially on the hiccupping “How Many Mics” and a particularly rowdy “Cowboys” — in actuality, their 12-song set was more of a loud, proud, sibling reunion where long-lost brothers and sisters can’t stop talking passionately. That was particularly true when they pulled a ferocious version of “Family Business” out of thin air. Having old friends such as singer John Forté and the Outsidaz around just made this family reunion all the more sweet.

Along with the tart, reggae-fied likes of “Nappy Heads” and “Zealots” and a plucky “Vocab,” the Fugees ended their set after the midnight hour with audience sing-alongs of “Ready or Not,” “Fu-Gee-La” and “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”

With such hardcore harmony on display throughout this concert, here’s hoping they bring this energy and invention to a recording studio soon. Lauryn Hill and company’s particular brand of mixed-bag hip-hop magic is sorely needed.

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