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The Hill Is Alive

[whitespace] Lauryn Hill spans the rainbow

By David Espinoza

READY OR NOT, here she comes. From corner to corner, guitars, drums, horns, percussion, turntables and keyboards lined the Shoreline stage last Sunday, a sign of the variety of sounds that the night would bring. In the background hung a massive old world map, with Africa in the center and what appeared to be Jamaica to the left. Beyond the stage, fans stood in anticipation, some mouthing the words to Bob Marley's "Crazy Baldheads" being played out the speakers, others watching the stage in hopes of getting the first glimpse of the featured performer, Lauryn Hill.

Just as the sun was going down, Ms. Hill, wearing light blue jeans and a blouse, strolled onstage accompanied by at least 16 other musicians. The audience's applause was deafening. Waisting no time with introductions, Hill started things off with a souped-up version of the hit "Ex-Factor," then quickly moved into her challenge to the hip-hop establishment with "Superstar." From that point on, it was easy to see why Hill will go down as one of the most beloved singers of the '90s. For a relatively young artist, Hill has an incredibly compelling and charismatic stage presence. Not once throughout the two-hour set did a majority of people sit down, as Lauryn wooed the crowd, moving from one side of the stage to the other.

In one particularly touching moment, she exclaimed, "This next song is about personal choices; you gotta do what's right for you," before introducing Carlos Santana to play the leading lines of "To Zion," a song about Hill's first son. The rest of the night included such Fugees hits as "Ready or Not" and "Fu Gee La," as well as Hill's own tunes, like "Lost Ones" and "Doo Wop (That Thing)." Still only in her mid-20s and with one solo album under her belt, Hill has managed to turn hip-hop and R&B on its head, giving it a much-needed dose of originality. But Hill's music didn't come out of nowhere; rather she represents the evolution and synthesis of the best things about soul, reggae, funk, hip-hop and R&B. The proof came in the barrage of cover songs that Hill laid out during a battle between the DJs and the band. Backed by her band, Hill sang everything from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to TLC and Parliament.

Sunday's show reaffirmed Hill's status as one of the most promising artists of our time, but there was a deeper meaning behind it all. Judging by the different faces attending the concert, Hill's music has accomplished something few artists can attest to--she's been able to reach across class and color lines, offering a common ground for people of all backgrounds to stand on. At the end of the show, Lauryn left the audience with the words "Keep shining, everybody." With luck, she'll be shining too for a long time.

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From the July 29-August 4, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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