Lauryn Hill's legal woes: Can her music save her?

Lauryn Hill's legal woes: Can her music save her?
Looking a bit grumpy about her court appearance.

Lauryn Hill has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this week: yesterday she was sentenced to three months in prison and three months house arrest for tax evasion.  She pled guilty to failing to file tax returns on $1.9 million dollars between 2005 – 2007.  Hill told the judge that she had planned to pay the taxes but hadn’t quite worked out the timing (I guess super rich singers don’t have the same April 15th deadline that the rest of us do?).

Hill also claimed that she and her six children do not live a lavish life, and that she is being forced to work (gasp!) in order to pay her taxes, to which she said, “If that's not like enough to slavery, I don't know.”  The point she was trying to make, in case you can't quite decipher it from that quote, is that despite the fact that her hugely popular album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, has sold between 16 – 19 million copies, depending on what you read, she is not even able to pay her taxes.

I’m not an accountant or a tax attorney, nor do I work for the IRS, so I don’t quite understand the intricacies of Ms. Lauryn Hill’s situation (she apparently uses the “Ms.” at all times now), but I can tell you I don’t feel even slightly sorry for her situation, and I’m sure most other people don’t either, especially the ones who pay their taxes on far smaller incomes that hers.

“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was released in 1998, 15 years ago.  Aside from an MTV Unplugged album more than ten years ago, she has mostly been known for staying out of the spotlight, even though she supposedly has “a vault” of unreleased material.

Now that her financial situation is in disarray, Lauryn is coincidentally putting out a new album, which will supposedly help to alleviate some of her debts.  Today, just one day after her sentencing, I noticed that a new single from Ms. Lauryn Hill was available: “Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix)”.  Her website contains this disclaimer about its release:

Hello All: Here is a link to a piece that I was ‘required’ to release immediately, by virtue of the impending legal deadline. I love being able to reach people directly, but in an ideal scenario, I would not have to rush the release of new music… but the message is still there. In light of Wednesday’s tragic loss (of former label mate Chris Kelly), I am even more pressed to YELL this to a multitude that may not understand the cost of allowing today’s unhealthy paradigms to remain unchecked! — MLH

What an endorsement!  I gave it a listen a half dozen times or so, and I was not impressed.  It basically sounds like a rant, and a rather incoherent one, at that.  Whereas “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” had rap intermixed with lovely vocals and interesting music to soften it, “Neurotic Society” has no softness.  After a 15 year hiatus, I was certainly hoping for more.

The release of Lauryn’s full album, whenever that may be, will certainly be highly anticipated because of how successful she has been and how long it has been since we’ve heard from her.  But if it feels like she pooped out an album to satisfy the government or if she uses it as an opportunity to rail against a “neurotic society” I doubt it will be commercially successful.  Ironically, what she needs (for financial purposes) is something that will be appealing to the masses, but she has dug her heels in about putting out work that she feels is a mandate from a record company.  Ms. Hill will have to learn what the rest of us learned long ago: you don’t always have your dream job, but sometimes you do what you must in order to pay the bills.

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