Ms. Lauryn Hill released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill five months after I gave birth to my son. I often held him while singing along to “Zion“. Ms. Hill’s voice and the lyrics were cathartic as I quietly struggled through what I now suspect was postpartum depression. With Miseducation, I fell more in love with Ms. Hill than I was when she was a member of the Fugees.
When I moved to Atlanta in 2003, seeing Ms. Hill in concert was one of my top five Atlanta To-Do list items. I don’t recall the exact date when I first saw her in concert, but I do know that I’ve seen her perform in Atlanta at least four times – at the Tabernacle, Center Stage, Chastain Park, and Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood. I also had a picture taken with her after hearing her speak to a surprised group of middle school youth at an end-of-year ceremony.
I saw “polo-and-backpacks” Kanye in concert for the first time in 2004 at Atlanta’s Centennial Park. I also attended the shows for the Watch the Throne Tour in 2011 and The Yeezus Tour in 2013 and had plans to attend the Saint Pablo Tour in 2016. I’ve bumped Kanye’s albums from The College Dropout to The Life of Pablo. I stopped listening after Pablo.
For a while, I felt – as did/do many people – Kanye was misunderstood. He was just being an eccentric artist. That was the reason – excuse – I gave. Whenever he’d speak in circular patterns at awards shows or during interviews, I’d interpret his comments and post them to my Facebook page. Eventually, some of my Facebook friends would look to my page or tag me in a post and ask me what he was trying to say. They jokingly referred to me as the “Kanye Whisperer”.
I have followed and been a fan of Ms. Hill and Kanye in various capacities. Both are artists whose work I admire, love. Both are artists whose creativity sets them apart from other artists, no matter whether that creativity is wrapped up in one studio album (and one equally and differently impressive live album…I said what I said.) or in multiple albums and production credits. Both have had some challenging life experiences. Both of them have disappointed fans.
But they are not the same. Kanye West is NOT the male Lauryn Hill.
Critiques of Ms. Hill being difficult to work with and for and being late to shows have lingered for most of her post-Fugees career. These critiques have been reignited this year Robert Glasper’s commentary about an alleged 2008 interaction and late-starting and canceled shows for her 20th Anniversary Miseducation Tour. Ms. Hill has responded to the critique, but some fans understandably find her inconsistency inconsiderate.
When Kanye was hospitalized in November, 2016, many expressed prayers for his health. But his behavior since his release have had fans, foes, and other hip hop artists see-sawing between calling for him to be saved by a Black woman to saying, “Fuck him and that Donald Trump hill he wants to die on.” People are convinced that he’s not “the old Kanye” – the one who said George Bush doesn’t like Black people; the one who interrupted Taylor Swift. He’s now the Kanye who meets with and idolizes President Trump, wears Make America Great Again hats, says slavery was a choice, and rants on social media, interviews, and on Saturday Night Live. Kanye is beyond inconsiderate.
At one point, I was one of Kanye’s biggest fans. I still am one of Ms. Hill’s biggest fans. I understand why people have been disappointed in and by their words and actions. But let’s be clear, suggesting that Kanye West is the Male Lauryn Hill is a false analogy. The disappointment in Ms. Hill and Kanye West are not the same. There are levels. Ms. Hill being late to or canceling shows is inconsiderate but is not comparable to Kanye’s idolization of Donald Trump, MAGA hats, and statements about slavery and the 13th amendment.
Kanye West is NOT the male Lauryn Hill. But this comparison sheds light on the unbelievably high (and unbalanced) standards to which we hold Black women. The public support that Kanye has received over the years would never have continued had he been Ms. Hill. The desire to understand where he’s coming from would not be extended to him were he Ms. Hill. Questions about his mental health and sincere calls for him to get help would not be asked or made if he were Ms. Hill.
We hold Black women to such a standard that repeatedly being late to concerts is equated with dangerous idolization and rhetoric that could potentially influence the continued marginalization and oppression of Black people. And no, I’m not reading too much into the suggestion that Kanye West is the male Lauryn Hill. We’re not reading enough into the subtle ways we tell Black women their behavior and words must always be impeccable in order to deserve a modicum of the support that we give Black men. We have canceled Black women’s careers for behaviors that we rationalize with Black men (e.g., Chrisette Michele told us she was no political genius, and we still give her the side-eye.). We have canceled Black women in our communities for behaviors that we forgive when demonstrated by Black men.
Kanye West is not the male Lauryn Hill because he’s been coddled, supported, and prayed for – in spite of and because of his words and actions.
Maybe Lauryn Hill should be the female Kanye. At least then she’d get to be late to and cancel concerts and be coddled, supported, forgiven, or pray for.
It’s time we Black men to the same high standards to which we hold Black women and nurture Black women the same way we nurture Black men. It’s time.
-Qiana M. Cutts