LAURYN HILL, lead singer with the Fugees, has created an extraordinary solo album that defines her life as well as her music.
Hill is at times bitter, disillusioned and bewildered but always in touch with her emotions in this bold look at her career and the music business in the late '90s. "Lost Ones," the opening song, is a virtual declaration of independence.
"It's funny how money changes a situation/Miscommunication leads to complications/My emancipation don't fit your equation," Hill sings in a soft rap on the opening track. She adds with a touch of irony, "You might win some/But you just lost one."
Hill seems fed up with the system of musical stardom. She should know. The Fugees began as a socially active and aware group but became best known for covering songs. Hill was in the forefront of the group's biggest single, "Killing Me Softly," a remake of the old Roberta Flack hit.
The Fugees second album, "The Score," sold 17 million copies, and that made Hill and fellow group members Pras Michel and Wyclef Jean stars.
Now Hill appears liberated, and gender may be part of the reason. She not only sings on the new CD, Hill also produced it. "Men have a hard time taking direction from women," Hill said in a press statement. "Music is important to me and how I come across in music is so important. I'm a perfectionist."
Hill's quest for perfection is on display on such stunning numbers "Ex-factor" and "Doo Wop (That Thing)." The former is a slow, stylish ballad, and Hill's vocal is intoxicating, reminiscent of a young Aretha Franklin. "Doo Wop" finds Hill shifting to a biting hip-hop mood, cutting loose with a horn section and sultry rap.
The most touching number is "To Zion," a tribute to Hill's son. A smooth beat ticks away as Hill, in a mellow mood, offers an R&B lullaby to her child. The song has a spiritual quality with Hill pouring out her heart in parental love, singing that the joy of her world is in her son.
Hill changes once more with an assault on the state of hip-hop. "Music is supposed to inspire/How come we ain't getting no higher," Hill chides the rappers who prefer to cover other artists and live without morals. Hill's vocal shimmers throughout, a silky but edgy scolding of hip-hop status symbols and lack of spirituality.
Hill then thoroughly castigates the macho, sexist, materialist and violent rap world. It's an astounding piece of work. That can also be said for Lauryn Hill's CD, which is already one of the best of 1998.
Seldom has a youthful artist released a CD that combines lyrics, commentary and emotion as Hill. Judging by this album, Hill's education is nearly compete. Rating: **** 1/2 .
Maybe Hill had rappers like Snoop Dogg in mind when she dissed them. Snoop came straight out of the Compton, Calif., a few years ago, pushing blunts, guns and sex. Predictably, Snoop's music infuriated adults and sold millions of CDs for Death Row Records.
Snoop, though, was more than just posturing. He had a smooth rap style and with Dr. Dre's slick production, Snoop had a string of hit CDs that, at times, harked back to a '70s style R&B and dance sounds.
Snoop, though, fell victim to his street persona. Death Row Records went through a morass of legal and financial problems, and so did Snoop. Now he's back with a new label and under the guidance of one of hardcore rap's hottest producers, Master P.
Snoop has sold more than million records and still can rap with style and talk trash. He now owes his soul to Master P, and much of the new CD is the self-serving hype of Master P and No Limit Records.
"P gave me a second chance," Snoop has said. "This is an opportunity to get into the game one more time with a whole new situation."
Despite Snoop's resurrection, a weary, time-worn attitude permeates the CD. Snoop is in hardcore form, but he's done it all before.
Such tracks as "Snoop World," "Gin & Juice" and "D.P. Gangsta" seem to have Snoop pulling away cobwebs to get one last mile out recycled material. Rating: ** 1/2 .
Elliot Smith's new CD is a blend of soft pop and rock. He sounds as though he would be right at home singing with Cosby, Stills and Nash. Smith, though a bit sappy, can make pleasant melodies and tunes.
"Baby Britain" finds Smith sounding like an old Eric Carmen record in a bouncy, light number. "Waltz #2" lives up to its title, though it's a challenge to stay awake through the number.
Just when you're read to dismiss Smith as fluff, he comes along with some brooding numbers and beguiling sounds, such as "Independence Day" and "Bled White."
That's when Smith clicks and his music gains depth. He has a sense of melody that sneaks up on a listener and is delicate but revealing. Rating: ***.
Halloween is around the corner, and Rob Zombie is back to celebrate. The leader of White Zombie returns to freak out adults and turn kids on with tales of evil monsters.
Rob is the nastiest rocker this side of Marilyn Manson and can actually be refreshing to a lot of the mellow modern rock acts of today.
Zobmie is not pleased about what's going on in popular music: "I remember when I was in high school and AC/DC. . . . What are they listening to today? The Wallflowers? What the hell happened?"
Zombie rocks his way through "Call of the Zombie," a freaky rocking number with Rob adding a techno touch to his vocal.
Listening to Zombie scream his way through "Superbeast" and "Dragula" is like watching a cheap, horror double feature at the drive-in.
Zombie's style hasn't changed much; he still combines punk, hardcore rock and Satan. Rating: **.
LAURYN HILL The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse 69034)
SNOOP DOGG Da Game is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told (No Limit 5000)
ELLIOT SMITH XO (Dreamworks 50048)
ROB ZOMBIE Hellbilly Deluxe (Geffen25212)