Has Grammy winner Lauryn Hill come under the influence of a cultish Svengali? People around her say she has, and that he accounts for her strange behavior and equally weird new album of songs.
The 27-year-old singer-songwriter, once part of the Fugees, surprised her fans this spring when she followed up her Grammy-winning debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill with a double album of morose acoustic songs, some of which sound unfinished and many of which are inexplicable.
The songs were recorded last summer for an episode of MTV Unplugged, and then released last month on CD. So far the album has not been much of a hit.
Hill’s friends point to someone whom they refer to as a "shaman," a self-appointed religious man who's invaded Hill’s life and become her adviser — as well as possibly her lover.
Hill, who lives in Miami and Jamaica with her two children and their father Rohan Marley, son of the late Bob Marley, has apparently become so enamored of this swami that she's doing everything he says — and then some.
Hill — who is mostly reclusive now — alluded to this fellow in an interview with MTV Online when she was promoting the Unplugged special.
She said: "I met somebody. That person had an understanding of the Bible like no one else I ever met in my life. I just sat at their feet and ingested pure Scripture for about a year. I started to see I was my worst enemy. I was the problem, my own self-image, who I thought I should be, as opposed to who I really was. I just ate it up.
"I started to see that my concept of spirituality was totally wrong," Hill continued. "Real religion is no religion at all. Truth is the true covering, and when I started to see that, two things happened. My creativity came back in an overflowing abundance, and I got into direct confrontation with everybody I love."
According to sources, Hill may have left Marley — who is still married to another woman — and is now possibly married to her "religious adviser."
"This started right after Miseducation came out, and it's only gotten worse," says my source.
With Wyclef Jean and Pras, Hill formed the Fugees several years ago. The group was a huge hit with the album The Score and the single "Killing Me Softly."
But Hill broke away from the group and went off to do her own album — and has never returned. Jean has parodied the situation on his own solo albums. Now there's at least some explanation of what's happened to Lauryn Hill.
"She's not in touch with her parents," says my source of Hill's New Jersey family. "This guy has separated her from everyone."
Hill told MTV Online, which did not pursue the line of questioning, about her Svengali: "I don't speak about him publicly, because he is a good friend of mine. He's not an ambitious person. He just shares, and people want truth. I believe God will make a way and he is going to identify [the man] ... I saw somebody living what he was saying. It wasn't a bunch of jargon. His life was a living testimony of faith and of passion and systematic rebellion ..."
What's really upsetting in all this is that Hill also told MTV Online that she has consequently shuttered her charity called The Refugee Project. The foundation started in 1996 was designed to help the underprivileged. Hill's mother Valerie was president, and the charity ran a summer camp for impoverished kids and donated money around the world.
Raquiba Sealy, Hill's friend, said in a 1999 interview with Umagazine.com: "Lauryn will tell you herself, 'Long after I'm done singing and rapping, the Refugee Project will be here making a difference.' The passion has always been there. She loves people, and she wants to see a better world."
Last month however Hill told MTV: "I had a nonprofit organization and I had to shut all that down. You know, smiling with big checks, obligatory things, not having things come from a place of passion. That's slavery. Everything we do should be a result of our gratitude for what God has done for us. It should be passionate."
I’m still trying to figure out the story in yesterday's New York Times about Disney and its prospects. For some reason the piece ignored entirely the current Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer release Bad Company, which debuted this weekend with a paltry $11 million.
Bad Company is the latest and worst release under the Bruckheimer contract — the truly detestable Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Coyote Ugly and Gone in 60 Seconds having preceded it.
For a short time in the late '80s and early '90s, Disney seemed to be on a roll making smart live-action films. Pretty Woman and Down and Out in Beverly Hills were just two of these.
Now the studio is alarmingly adrift, hoping its animation department will keep it afloat. Alas, it's not possible. In the meantime the studio has ceded the making of intelligent movies to its Miramax division.
What a shame — and what an equal shame the Times seemed to miss this entirely. (There is however a reference to the "Oscar-nominated Royal Tenenbaums." Huh?) Last year it was Disney that passed on making Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. Now Miramax will more than likely have a substantial hit with this gamble, and Oscar nominations all over the place.