Lauryn Hill Leaves It All on the Stage at ‘Miseducation’ 25th Anniversary Concert in Brooklyn

“Thank you for your grace and patience,” Ms. Lauryn Hill gushed. “I’m ’bout to sing my voice out, but that’s okay because I’m in BK!” Ms. Hill — armed with both an admirable air of gratitude and a motivation to quell the controversy caused by her tardiness at her Oct. 17 Newark opening show — mounted a glorious celebration of her seminal Miseducation album, the Fugees’ legacy, hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, Black innovation, and family, both blood and chosen, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, on Thursday night (Oct. 17).

Considering that she’s selling scores of tickets off the back of a 25-year-old album and no new material, it should be clear that Ms. Hill has nothing to prove. Yet, with a seemingly ever-deteriorating reputation as a punctual performer — fresh with new grumbles following Tuesday night’s show — Lauryn Hill did, in fact, have something to prove. Gracing the stage around 9:40 p.m., the Grammy-winner battled and conquered a slew of technical issues, holding on dearly to the two constants that have kept her such an alluring cultural figure for nearly three decades: music and family.

Donning a stunning white pantsuit complete with an oversized bow on the back, Ms. Hill opened the show with “Everything Is Everything” — a subtle nod to the ways in which the show would track the interconnectedness and cyclical nature of Black music and Ms. Hill’s approach to her art.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Ms. Hill’s debut solo album, arrived on Aug. 25, 1998. The album debuted atop the Billboard 200, making her the first solo female rapper to reach No. 1 on the chart. The record, which was certified Diamond by the RIAA in 2021, spawned three Billboard Hot 100 top 40 singles: “Doo Wop (That Thing)” (No. 1, two weeks), “Ex-Factor” (No. 21) and “Everything Is Everything” (No. 35). Miseducation won Hill five Grammys in one night, making her the first woman to do so; her album is also the first hip-hop record to receive the Grammy for album of the year. Hill’s debut solo studio album — which remains her only studio LP as a solo artist — was added to the Library of Congress in 2015.

All this is to say that few albums can sit in the same space as Miseducation, and that’s part of the reason why a tour of this nature can exist and excel. Despite delivering some of the most recognizable couplets and hooks in late-20th century pop music on Miseducation, Ms. Hill opted to perform reimagined arrangements of each track, nearly seamlessly executed by a sprawling live band featuring a hearty brass section, a standout guitarist, and background singers that, at times, assisted the crowd in singing Ms. Hill’s biggest hits with their original melodies.

More often than not, the new arrangements functioned as an extension of the Miseducation universe. During a lively rendition of “Final Hour,” she interpolated The LOX, DMX and Lil’ Kim’s “Money, Power & Respect” — a move that contextualized Miseducation with other hip-hop classics of its time and ilk. While singing “When It Hurts So Bad,” however, Ms. Hill beckoned the audience to re-contextualize that song with a montage of Tina Turner’s live performances playing on the jumbotron. Ms. Hill’s goal for the night was not to simply rest on the laurels of Miseducation, but to continue to imagine where else she can take the album 25 years after release.

Ms. Hill repeatedly spoke about writing and recording much of the album while she was in her 20s, and with motherhood and family informing so much of her introspection throughout the night’s show, she laid bare why it makes sense for her to never release another studio album. Towards the end of the set, she flashed a self-attributed quote on the screen that read: “This life is a process of learning.” Her (mis)education will never end. And, for what it’s worth, the new arrangements were terrific: a gospel-informed outro to “Superstar” was particularly moving, even while she was visibly voicing her frustration with the sound team because she was apparently unable to hear herself onstage. The new arrangements also allowed Ms. Hill to find new pockets, providing the foundation for some truly virtuosic rapping to complement the rasp and physicality that bookmarked her singing.

“To Zion” was the obvious peak of the night; Barclays Center may never feel that small and intimate again. With a montage of home videos playing in the background, Ms. Hill fought through tears to deliver a downright magnificent performance of one of her most personal and beloved songs. Zion himself took a break from his stage duties to hug and console his mother, eventually returning to the spotlight to give a brief message of world peace and love. Zion Marley was far from the only Marley present onstage on Thursday night: Ms. Hill brought out her former partner Rohan Marley for a trip down memory lane as they recounted the making of Miseducation (as well as the making of their five children), and her son Joshua Omaru Marley performed in the middle of “Doo Wop (That Thing),” effectively killing the crowd’s already dwindling energy considering how late the night was getting. Outside of her blood family, Ms. Hill also took some time to celebrate the original members of her band and tour crew who are still with her 25 years later.

Following an action-packed solo set — at one point, she stopped the show to make sure security could attend to a fan in need of assistance — Wyclef Jean and Pras joined Ms. Hill onstage to herald the beginning of the Fugees set in celebration of The Score’s 27th anniversary. By the time the trio got into the meat of their set, the crowd — most of which looked like they experienced the height of Miseducation and The Score in real-time — didn’t have the energy Wyclef was looking for. Nonetheless, their set was just as exhilarating as Ms. Hill’s solo showcase. Between breathless renditions of “Vocab,” “Nappy Heads,” and hits like “Killing Me Softly” and “Ready or Not,” Fugees’ dynamic performance was yet another example of the old heads outclassing the new school in terms assembling an engaging and consistent live show.

Ms. Hill’s penchant for new arrangements also permeated Fugees’ set, with a drill remix of “Fu-Gee-La” drawing Wyclef into the center of the crowd as the track morphed to include snippets of Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot N—a.” Wyclef also delivered some standout solo moments, including a tender cover of Bob Marley’s classic “No Woman, No Cry” and a bombastic rendition of “911.” Given Brooklyn’s rich history of West Indian-American culture, it was a particularly rich site for Fugees to commemorate The Score, and that much was felt as Wyclef and Pras gushed about their love of Kings County, from Flatsbush Avenue to the parkway.

An intensely emotional and physical show that highlighted the multitudes of blessings music can bring in this life, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill 25th Anniversary Tour‘s stop in Brooklyn made for a challenging but triumphant night for two musical acts who the industry is still desperately trying to catch up to.

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