Lauryn Hill must get very little sleep these days. Sure, jet lag’s a factor — the bohemian diva, the cool center of the molten-hot Haitian-American rap group the Fugees, has been landing in a new country every few days on the group’s 12-city tour of Europe. But that’s not the half of it.
Even as she and her partners — Prakazrel (Pras) Michel and Wyclef (Clef) Jean — have pushed their sophomore album, The Score, to the top of the pop charts, the honey-throated rapper-singer has found time to translate her socially conscious lyrics into action. Hill, 21, recently launched a slew of projects — including an outreach program, an inner-city camp, and a voter-registration drive — in her native New Jersey. ”We represent the have-nots, the outsiders,” she explains. ”Fugees is short for refugees, and we’re trying to turn the negative energy of that word into something positive.”
The positive vibes have grabbed a lot of attention. The Score, with its melodic vocals and earthy beats, has gone triple platinum and spawned a huge hit single: If Hill’s sultry remake of Roberta Flack’s ”Killing Me Softly” hasn’t made your head bop by now, you need to have it examined. Exactly how this gamine unleashes such a thunderous voice is a wonder, but it’s won her some unlikely fans. At a recent show at L.A.’s House of Blues, the sometime actress (Sister Act 2) so impressed Warren Beatty that he showed up backstage to introduce himself. ”She’s just a kid,” he says, ”but she’s an old soul with uncommon humility, beauty, and musicality. She’s totally devoid of bullsh–.”
Record execs came calling long before Beatty, hurling solo deals Hill’s way even though the Fugees’ 1993 debut, Blunted on Reality, barely moved critics or units. But talk to her about leaving the group and she goes ballistic. ”That’s my family; those are my people,” she says heatedly. ”We’ve been together since I was 13, and I love the music we make.” Hill assumes she’ll one day cut a solo album, but wary of record company politics, she insists she’ll do it her way, thank you. First, she wants Pras and Clef involved. Second, she wants it released on a vanity label to be called Refugee Camp Records — a deal she says the Fugees are currently negotiating with Sony. For as giving as Hill is, she’s no fool. ”This way,” she laughs, ”we’ll be the ones exploiting ourselves.”