my emancipation don’t fit your equation…

I doubt that Lauryn Hill could foresee how true those words from the track “Lost Ones” from her debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill would be.

With all of the hype, negativity, and ridicule that gets thrown Ms. Hill’s way, I wondered if Monday night’s free concert at Wingate Field in Brooklyn would be as packed with concertgoers as the shows of other hip-hop greats like LL Cool J (August 2006) and Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh, MC Lyte, and Hammer (yes, Hammer was there too, July 2007). We joined the just burgeoning line at about 4:13 for the 7:30 show and it didn’t look hopeful. But somewhere between us eating Trinidadian doubles and rushing to take our pick of seats in the bleachers, the field became packed with folk repping various black Brooklyn aesthetics from sisters with shaved mohawks Afro-punk style, to rastamen with requisite rasta caps, to the eccentrics, to around the way girls and guys in designer jeans and white or graphic tees. There were babies, 20-, 30-, 40-, 50- somethings and elders. There were preteens girls exclaiming how much they loved Lauryn Hill and could sing ever lyric and note of X-Factor as if it were the last time they would have their hearts broken. In all there were approximately 10,000 of us (plus hundreds more barred entry) there waiting to see if what ‘they’ say is true…if she still has it.

It turns out that she has something not quite the same as what we were used to, but it sure was amazing to behold. I keep hearing that she was an hour late, but I don’t recall it being that long. What I do remember is that the show itself started close to 9 pm AND we had to suffer through strangely overzealous local politicians, the opening act performance of misguided teenager Sean Kingston, Applebee’s cheerleaders/waiters, and repeats of a Marty Markowitz speech first. That said, Ms. Hill took the stage a little after 10 pm after a 5 minute interlude by her 14-piece band with a reworked, remixed, ultra-hyped version of ‘Lost Ones.’

That remix included vocal rearrangements, music that sounded more like Afro-beat than hip-hop and concluding shift into her own version of the Marley class “Natty Dread.” The crowd was not feeling it, as was the case for the succession of tracks to follow. Whether they felt that their suspicions of her were confirmed or just couldn’t follow, they began a mass exodus. One woman near me said that she loved the first album, but didn’t know any of the songs Ms. Hill was performing – this as a triple-time sped up version of “When It Hurts So Bad” blared across the field. That was followed by “Final Hour, ” which she ended with an amazingly creative interpolation of “Sinna Man”(you know, one of Nina Simone’s classics). By this point in the show, I approximate that 4,000 people exited by then.

Next up was X-Factor, which stopped people dead in their tracks. We were willing to trust Lauryn to really make us feel this one. Yes, the music was changed. But, I think that people got so caught up in singing it themselves that it didn’t matter what Ms. Hill and her band did on stage. So, they stayed…but not for long.

Before going into the ode to her firstborn “Zion,” Ms. Hill prefaced by letting the audience know that he’d just turned 10 years old two days prior, so he wasn’t a baby anymore. That was particularly sobering for me, because I hadn’t really thought about how long it’s been since these songs were written and recorded. It made me appreciate her artistry even more. I’m glad that Lauryn is still daring to be creative and daring with her messages of positivity, instead of settling to be a relic of her past glories. Anyhow, they performed “Zion,” which she concluded by going into a performance of Marley’s “Iron Lion Zion.” It was great for die hard fans of hers and his, but not for the approximately 2-3,000 more people who left the field.

By this point in the show, most people had made their decisions. Those of us who hadn’t planned on going anywhere had more space to get comfortable and air with less cigarette and weed smoke to breath. We all won because she proceeded to rock Wingate Field like it’s never been rocked before. She performed “Fugee-la,” “Killing Me Softly,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Zealots,” “Everything is Everything,” and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” She also performed her latest release “Lost Myself” from the Surf’s Up soundtrack, which I admit I wasn’t a fan of, but I still appreciated the live performance of it.

That’s it. There was no fire-and-brimstone preaching, no drunkenness, no slobbering or falling all over the place, and no weak and broken woman sobbing on stage. There was one of the best musical performances I’ve seen from an amazing performer. Yes, her outfit was crazy – a leather vest, long sleeved blouse, and long pants in that heat and under those lights! – and her voice was torn (but definitely not ragged)…and she gave it to us, really gave it!

other reviews: newsday, only the blog knows brooklyn, whudat

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~ by Anayah on August 9, 2007.

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