Who wants ‘superstars’ who sit down to a bowl of cornflakes in the morning, just like every one else (we’re sure Lauryn bathes in asses’ milk and eats nothing but the finest tropical fruits picked fresh that morning)? Where did this tolerance for all that is mundane and ordinary in entertainment spring from? At what point was mediocrity deemed desirable, Hollywood glitz equated with hollow sham? Lauryn Hill has one foot forever planted in the ghetto, but her head is, thankfully, up in the stars.
Bounding across the Wembley stage, trailed by her faithful B-boy toaster, the crowd igniting like napalm whenever she swoops close, she makes the likes of ‘our’ Cerys seem laughably, tragically puny. Who would prefer the empty swagger of, say, Oasis, or the Home Counties scandal-mongering of Suede, to something as sumptuously satisfying, as retina-scarringly glorious as tonight’s show?
It’s a lush line-up, about 18 people up on that stage at any given moment. There’s moments of effortless, crowd-pleasing showmanship – a jaw-dropping display of pyrotechnic DJ skillz and percussion flair, while Ms Hill takes a short breather; a heady DJ-vs-Band face-off, which sees Lauryn duel covers of Stevie Wonder, TLC and The Jackson 5 against her DJ’s crowd-pleasing snatches of Beenie Man and Boogie Down Productions.
But these are just the details. The true argument ‘for’ Lauryn Hill is best explained by the songs (one complaint: like Jeff Buckley, Lauryn relies too much on cover versions; though faultlessly chosen and delivered, her own songs are fast outstripping them), the many flashes of genius tonight. Like when the live tympani shimmer through ‘Ex-Factor’ as Lauryn and her backing singers draw out every last painful, glorious note. The way ‘Lost Ones’ rains down on the audience like the metallic hip-hop of early Public Enemy, room-quaking beats edged with a flinty, brash NOIZE which underlines the essential, apocalyptic howl of the track. Then there’s the glorious harmonies entwining ‘Superstar’, the funk writhing at the heart of ‘Every Ghetto, Every City’ (again underlining how ‘The Miseducation Of…’ is the best-realised ‘soul’ LP since Stevie‘s ‘Talking Book’), ‘Killing Me Softly’, made her own now, aching and sublimely melancholic.
It would take longer than the show itself to list every gooseflesh-inducing moment, every bull’s-eye Lauryn hits tonight. For all her fame, money and talent, she is still connected inextricably to the audience, could hang with them, club with them, if she had the time. She’s something like a phenomenon, baby, as long as she doesn’t lose that connection with her roots. She will soar in that hallowed firmament, a modern soul legend with all the classic qualities. Ready or not.