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The Diamond Standard

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, two decades later.

By Arielle LondonPublished 2 years ago 11 min read
The Diamond Standard
Photo by Verne Ho on Unsplash

She has the voice. She has the lyrics. She has the sound. She has the presence. She has the spirit. She is music. She is, Ms. Lauryn Hill.

About twenty minutes into writing this article my iPhone alarm went off. My trusty device was notifying me that it was time to take my chocolate chip cookies out of the oven. I then paced around my apartment eating two of the smaller but more appealing looking cookies (evaluated based on chocolate gooeyness) from the Betty Crocker pan.

I came back to my big red couch to submerge myself into the writing process but decided to check my phone first. I was going to randomly post a GIF of Lauryn Hill on Twitter and then clicked to see what was trending instead. Well, Lauryn Hill was! I looked into why this was happening only to find out that The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill has just been certified Diamond! Lauryn's debut solo album has sold over 10,000,000 units since it was released in 1998! I was hesitant to share my story before, but once I saw this, I took it as a sign and decided to continue writing.

Every life experiences peaks and valleys. Every person goes through rough times in their lives that manifest themselves through different lessons taught by the universe. My version of a greatest peak was as high as getting to meet with dignitaries at the United Nations during grad school. My version of a lowest valley manifested itself as being without a home for some time. It was one of the most challenging and heartbreaking experiences I have ever been through. It was the inspiration for my story Cali Sunshine & Rain and it is a time that weighs heavily on my mind daily. When you have lived on the streets you never want to go back there. Whether you were in a shelter or not, when you do not have a place to call home, or even a pillow to lay your head on at night, you feel forgotten.

Except there was one day, where someone saw me. There was one day where someone treated me with dignity and kindness but most importantly she gave me hope.

That day was mid-September 2016 and that person was Ms. Lauryn Hill.

I'm a singer/rapper and in 2016 I moved to Toronto for a lot of reasons including music. I was working as a freelance writer for Global Grind and AskMen as well as also working as an assistant manager at a boutique. Things went left at the store and I felt I had no choice but to quit. This was the beginning of a spiral that would land me on the streets.

A few weeks into my new circumstances I found myself outside of the Best Buy in Downtown Toronto rapping for money. I made a sign at the shelter and then made my way down to Best Buy to do my thing. I figured I hadn't tried asking strangers for money and it was better to offer to perform rather than just do that. I brought my beautiful Chocolate Labrador Penny Lane with me and we made our way to the front of the store.

I sat there, exhausted with my sign on a September afternoon, and waited for people to approach me. I had a sign, I wasn't going to insist on rapping for people if they weren't interested in hearing me perform. They knew why I was sitting there. And so, I waited. Sure enough, people started approaching me. A few of them, assuming I couldn't spit, almost challenged me to do it with their body language. I love to rap, no matter what the circumstances, and so I let some verses flow for each person that wanted to hear what I had to say. I got positive reactions across the board and the money kept on going into my hat.

Then I got a call from a friend in the city. He's involved in the industry and knew that I am a huge Lauryn Hill fan. I picked up the phone and started talking to him, leaving out the details of what exactly it was that I was doing in that moment. A minute or two into the conversation he says, "You know Lauryn's in town, right?"

I gasped!

"Oh my God! The concert!" I replied with equal shock and excitement.

Months prior I had reached out to Lauryn Hill's people to try and get an interview for Global Grind. I was unsuccessful and at that point I let the idea of getting an interview go. But now she was here! Now there was a shot I could try and get an interview in person.

"She's performing at Massey Hall." My friend informed me.

I instantly typed Massey Hall into my GPS on my phone and found out that I was within walking distance of the concert.

"Thank you so much for calling! I gotta go." I hurriedly said.

I hung up the phone, collected my $35 I had made from performing in under an hour, picked up Penny's leash and then we made our way to the venue.

I got to Massey Hall and introduced myself to the bouncers right away as a writer with Global Grind. There were two bouncers there, one older gentleman and one younger one. The older one did not look impressed with my introduction but the younger one did.

"Global Grind? Let me see what I can do." He said and then he disappeared into the venue.

He came back and told me that while he could not secure me a chance to speak with Ms. Hill, I could wait by the back entrance where she will exit once the concert is over. He said this was my best chance at getting an interview. I told him I appreciated that and so I went with Penny in tow to wait by the side of Massey Hall.

During the concert a man in a long dark coat walked up. As he got closer I realized that I knew this guy, he was in fact one of my ex who raped me's best friends. I called out to him by name, instantly regretting my decision, and then, understandably so, he walked towards me to say hi.

"Hi... and you are?" He asked either oblivious to who I was or completely knowledgeable and wanting an introduction.

"I'd rather not say." I replied.

"Okay." He responded with an eye roll and immediate side step to walk away.

Finally the concert came to an end and the fans started pouring out of Massey Hall. I was patiently waiting on the side of the venue as the bouncer had instructed me to when a few other VIPs from inside came to join. I can't recall who they were exactly, but they all had the energy you would expect people to have after seeing Lauryn Hill perform. Then a crowd started forming at the end of the alleyway for people to meet Ms. Hill after the concert.

I was conversing with a young professional by the back door when I told her that I'm a musician too. When she found out I rap she said, "why don't you rap for the crowd?!"

I hesitated, "I don't know, they just heard Lauryn Hill, I'm not gonna just walk up to them and say 'Hi! Do you wanna hear me rap?' after that!"

"Well what if I ask them if they want to hear you and I introduce you first?" She was insistent. The woman had never heard me rhyme, had no clue if I was even good and yet she was all of a sudden my biggest supporter.

In hindsight, maybe she was drunk.

Either way, I agreed to perform and off my new best friend went to the end of the alleyway.

"Hey you guys! There's a rapper from Montreal here! Do you want to hear her spit a verse for you while you wait for Lauryn?!" My hype woman directly asked the crowd.

"Yeah!!" The crowd resoundingly decided as they cheered me to come forward.

I made sure Penny was secure and then I walked towards the group of thirty plus people to perform a verse.

I chose to rap the first verse from Exhibit A. It was after all my most introductory style verse that I had at the time, and this crowd had absolutely no clue who I was. At all. When I sorted all of that out, I figured, "what do I have to lose?" and I went off.

"From activist to experiment...." I started rapping and as the words began to flow out of my mouth so did the reactions from the crowd. I was mid-verse when I noticed that the audience was divided into three groups of people. The first group was banging their head along enjoying the spontaneous performance. The second group was intently listening to my every word, wanting to understand the picture I was painting in rhyme. And finally, the last group had no clue what the hell was going on. If there was a big giant thinking bubble above those people's heads it would have read, "what the **** did she just say?!"

I finished my verse and the crowd cheered for my impromptu performance. I thanked them all and went back to Penny near the door.

Then, the door opened and out came Lauryn Hill who honestly looked like a brilliant mirage in the desert. She was glowing.

I have been a Lauryn Hill fan my entire life. From the Fugees to her live unplugged performances, I adore absolutely everything Ms. Hill touches. I also love hip-hop. I am a student of the genre and I take my studies very seriously. That being said, I personally believe that Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is the most perfectly conceptualized and most sonically beautiful album in existence. From the day that I began my musical journey until now, I have always looked at the the album as The Diamond Standard. My dream is to one day create a project that is as on point as The Miseducation, but until that day comes I will continue to have fun learning.

Lauryn made her way from the doorway to the adoring fans screaming her name. She spoke to every person, signed every autograph, took every picture and smiled warmly at everyone who had waited patiently for her to arrive.

As Ms. Hill greeted all of her fans I waited on the side of her SUV. I had prepared a note for Lauryn during the concert telling her what her music means to me and asking for an interview. I also made sure to put my contact details in the note just in case she didn't agree to an interview on the spot but changed her mind later.

Finally, after the last fan was greeted she made her way to the SUV where I was standing. Before I had a chance to introduce myself, Lauryn said to me, "nice hair!"

I was elated! I had just cut off all of my hair and never had a cut like that before in my life. When I had just gotten on the streets I had beautiful long bright red hair that I felt was a liability more than anything at the time. So, one of my first days being homeless I booked a night in a motel and while I was there I took my scissors and chopped off all of my hair. It was short, uneven in length, and also uneven in color. I looked rough, but hey, Lauryn liked my hair!

"Thank you!" I said with a huge smile on my face. We began talking and I explained who I was and mustered up the courage to ask for an interview while she was in town. Very politely, Lauryn declined the interview but when she took my note she said, "there's always the future."

But I didn't feel like I had a future. Prior to that moment, I felt as though things could end for me at any second. Prior to that moment, I was only thinking day to day, moment to moment, meal to meal. Prior to that moment, I was depleted with no hope.

Lauryn restored that.

Then Ms. Hill got into the SUV and was whisked off away from the peering eyes of her cheering fans.

I walked with Penny out of the alley and grabbed my sign that I had hid right near the alley's entranceway when I arrived earlier that evening. I was positively buzzing. I made my way back to the shelter by night bus to spend the night trying to sleep on a la-z-boy chair after meeting an icon who may have very well saved my life.

Not only did Lauryn Hill's comments lift my spirits, which is exactly what I needed, but she treated me with respect. She was so gracious with every person she met outside that venue that it was inspiring to even be near her. She complimented me, showing me that she saw me, and she kept it positive for the future, forcing me to actually envision one.

As I sit here on my comfy red couch typing in my home with the scent of fresh cookies in the air, I remember the state my mind was in before Lauryn Hill's comment. More than dark, it was hectic, fast-paced and highly intensified. Meeting Lauryn Hill was such a high in such a low moment that her words broke the spell of my mental state. If I could meet Lauryn Hill while I was homeless, what else could happen on any other given day?

I had to wonder.


About the Creator

Arielle London

Just a human rights and mental health advocate, writing, singing, rapping and painting her beliefs to life.

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