Ms. Lauryn Hill commanded The Paramount Theatre July 8 with elegance, presenting the culmination of a varied life and career. She shared highlights of each phase of her artistry while blending the different styles throughout her set. Fans of exclusive records may have been jarred by the different song arrangements by Hill and her seven-piece band, but as an artist progressing through diverse projects, her performance seemed to be an honest representation of who she has become.
DJ Rampage warmed up the crowd with a long set to fill the time before the notoriously late Hill took the stage.
“Who remembers ‘Killing Me Softly?’ What a piece of song that was,” Rampage said, paying homage to a famous track from the Fugees 1996 record The Compete Score.
“Open your ears tonight to hear that live. In the meantime, a little bit of hip-hop history.” Rampage’s spinning included Naughty By Nature‘s song “O.P.P.,” during which he cut the song and let the crowd fill in the call-and-response, “Yeah, you know me!”
After a lengthy DJ set, the band took the stage and Hill’s voice was heard before she graced the stage in a glamorous black outfit with gold flourishes, her confidence and smile filling the theater.
Her band, including three backup singers, gave a high-energy performance and were locked in with Hill’s direction, even through groove and style changes. Some of the songs were perhaps too fast and her rhymes felt rushed, but she still kept up and remained the queen of flow.
Hill paid homage to Bob Marley with “Turn Your Lights Down Low” and “Could You Be Loved.” She also performed songs from the Fugees, including “How Many Mics,” “Ready Or Not,” and “Zealot.” She flowed “Killing Me Softly” straight into “Is This Love?” branching her solo record with her connections to the Marleys.
From The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, she performed “Lost Ones,” with lyrics projected on the screen behind the band. She held her hand to her ear, inciting crowd responses and her backup singers’ interjections.
“Ex Factor” was a prime example of the culmination of her artistry. The band played a slower reggae groove than the track on the record and broke into a sort of electro/house beat as she sang, “this is crazy,” and the “care for me, care for me” hooks at the end of the song. Although her recent performances have received criticism for straying from her old sound, a live performance with a band is different than the production of a record, especially one like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which relied so heavily on layered vocal tracks and production.
Her voice has also changed and matured with time, and consequently her runs are less intricate, but more like choice parts separated with space. This gave the audience difficulty when singing along, but also made her confessional, autobiographical rhymes stand out in a new way. Because Hill’s writing is so known for representation of her own life, experiences as a woman, and reflections on human relationships, the timeless truths of which she sang so many years ago rang just as true with the emphasis of space amidst her legendary improvisation.
Hill left the stage and returned with an acoustic guitar to share choice tracks like “Jerusalem” from her live album MTV Unplugged No. 2.0. She closed with Miseducation’s “Doo Wop (That Thing),” leaving the audience high on swagger and rhymes till the last note.
The songstress has remained relevant as both a timeless and dynamic icon.The Lauryn Hill of today is a rebirth, a unity of artistry, and an honesty. It does not cater to what anyone else necessarily wants, and is therefore both criticized and acclaimed. But what she offered in Seattle radiated from the true joy and life of music.