MTV Unplugged 2.0
Record label: Columbia
Release date: 7 May 2002
You might not believe this, but it has taken me four years to listen to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill from beginning to end. Not that I thought it was a bad album, I just kept putting it off. I think I just brought the art of rhythmic procrastination to new heights. So what made me decide to sit down with it after all this time? If you were in my position and just got through listening to her MTV Unplugged performance, you would've done the same thing. The general consensus on Miseducation was that Lauryn had made a fantastic solo debut on which she bared her soul. Turns out that it didn't even scratch the surface of who she truly is. Her live double disc set is so revealing and personal that it reintroduces us to her all over again. Or to put it in Lauryn's own words, "Y'all came to see Lauryn Hill, but this is the first time y'all meetin' me. Don't think you've met me before."
Sitting before an audience with a guitar, Lauryn showcases new works, all of which sound thousands of miles away from the material found on Miseducation. Based on her personal struggles outside of the media spotlight, these songs are quite spiritual in nature. Symbolism and metaphors are woven into some of the lyrics, as is the case with "Adam Lives In Theory." While the overall meaning of some songs may not be immediately obvious to some listeners, Lauryn feels free to let them make their own assessments. Between the songs and the spoken interludes (which are just as important, if not more so), we get the sense of just how deep and life changing the journey has been. At one point, she states that "fantasy is what people want, but reality is what they need, and I've just retired from the fantasy part." Songs like "Freedom Time" and "Mystery of Iniquity" are steeped in harsh truths, and also remind us how lyrically tight she was as an MC. She hasn't lost her step in that regard - in fact, she gained a few - and this part of her musical "past life" adds an interesting dimension to the new one she's making her way through.
This audio document gives new meaning to the played-out phrase "keep it real." Lauryn keeps it so real that the mistakes are left in - bum notes on the guitar and vocals, stopping midway through a new song to retrace her steps, false starts and stops due to the material being so fresh. The Miseducation -era Lauryn Hill would have never allowed any of those things to happen before a live audience, and she confirms that while telling her story on this album. This performance is a testament to her emancipation as an artist and a musician. I'm almost tempted to subtitle this album "The Death of L Boogie" - clearly that part of her had to die so that she could live a new life and sing a new song. In light of the press having a field day commenting on her state of mind, she says: "When people think you're crazy, they don't mess with you. As far as I'm concerned, I'm crazy and deranged. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it." Never before has being "crazy and deranged" sounded so on-point.