The five-time Grammy winner battles her DJ in San Francisco
Humbly dressed in a denim skirt and shirt — from her own line of Levis — Lauryn Hill bobbed and weaved across the stage of San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium last Wednesday night. The 23-year-old’s soulful vocals complemented surprise guest Carlos Santana’s sweet guitar licks, and she engaged the peace-sign-waving, bud-smoking multicultural audience with the rapid-fire lyrics of a hip-hop pugilist.
Despite snagging five Grammy Awards a week earlier — the most ever in a single year by a woman or a hip-hop artist — Hill, 23, ain’t taking no shorts. Out to prove that her recent success is well deserved, she ran through a diverse medley of songs from her solo debut, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” along with a string of gospel, reggae, and soul classics. Backed by her so-so-funky 16-piece band, she baby-stepped, strolled, and skanked to her rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” gesturing much like the reggae legend himself. (Hill’s companion, and the father of her two children, is Bob’s son Rohan Marley.)
After a break and change of clothes — khakis and a knitted cap over her spiky dreadlocks — Hill issued a challenge to her dj. “All the instruments we play are real,” she taunted. “Whatchu got?” A battle ensued between her live band (two drummers, three horn players, three guitarists, three backup singers, and three keyboard players) and her dj, Leon Higgins. The spirited exchange produced renditions of old-school songs by Stevie Wonder, Rolls Royce, and New Edition, to which her dj countered with scratches of classic Dougie Fresh, Doctor Dre, and Biggie jams. Done by a less-talented artist, this segment would have felt like an onstage lull time, but Hill held it down with enormous energy, playfulness, and a pure joy for the art of song.
She brought the crowd to a deafening shrillness (and ended her 90-minute set) with a two-song encore: the Roberta Flack classic (and Fugee hit) “Killing Me Softly” and her own “Everything Is Everything.” Remaining dates on Hill’s national tour include Houston (March 11), Atlanta (March 13-14), Washington, D.C. (March 16-18), and New York City (March 23-25).
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill