This Friday, Nas and Lauryn Hill will share the Tabernacle's stage as part of their 10-show "Life is Good/Black Rage" tour. While they've briefly performed together in recent years, this string of dates marks the first proper intersection between these hip-hop luminaries in 17 years.
In 1995, Nas and Lauryn Hill worked together for the first time on "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)," which would become the lead single for his next album, It Was Written. At the time, both the Queensbridge rapper and the burgeoning member of the Fugees were newcomers to the world of hip-hop.
Everything had changed by the time Nas and Hill's single debuted in May 1996. The Fugees seminal record, The Score, had earned the rap trio international recognition. Nas, meanwhile, finally achieved mainstream success with his sophomore record.
Not long after, Hill embarked on her solo career, releasing her powerful 1998 debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She became an overnight superstar, going on to win eight Grammy Awards for her lone studio masterpiece. Her glowing success story, however, would soon come into question, as several musicians involved in making Miseducation sued her for improper songwriting credits and accompanying royalties.
That controversial lawsuit carried on for years before ending the dispute with an undisclosed settlement. In addition, she grew weary of the music industry and expressed a growing desire to become a full-time mother. As a result, she disappeared from the public spotlight without so much as an explanation.
In her absence, she not only left an indelible impression on popular music, but also paved the way for the subsequent rise of conscientious hip-hop. She's influenced everyone from pop stars, including Adele and Amy Winehouse, to rappers such as Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and Talib Kweli — all of whom have publicly expressed their reverence for Ms. Hill.
Nas carved out a steady career following their collaboration, releasing eight albums after It Was Written. His latest three records — Hip Hop is Dead, (Untitled), and Life is Good — have all topped the Billboard charts. Although many consider his first few albums to be the rapper's best — including his seminal debut, Illmatic — it's hard to argue against his late-career renaissance.
While Life is Good has received praise as one of 2012's best hip-hop albums, his personal life hasn't faired as well. He's spent the past few years dealing with the fallout from his 2009 public divorce with R&B star Kelis. In addition, he reportedly owes upwards of $6 million in back taxes, and had his foreclosed mansion in Eagle's Landing, Ga., auctioned off earlier this year.
Hill has experienced her own share of financial woes, pleading guilty this past June to tax evasion charges on $1.8 million earned between 2005 and 2007. Over the past several years, she's revived her career as a performer. Yet return seems halfhearted, as she's developed a reputation for showing up late — sometimes over two hours past her scheduled set time — and cancelling performances.
Their careers have fluctuated more than anyone might have expected since they first ruled the world together. In a year where fellow neo-soul enigma D'Angelo has staged a successful comeback, Hill remains a mystery to most. On the other hand, Nas has personified consistency. Even their tour's name reflects on their divergent career trajectories. But with all his struggles, Nas' resounding success reflects the positive outlook alluded to in his album's title. Hill's "Black Rage" — a single rumored to come out this fall — has yet to be released.
Whether or not her single comes out is almost beside the point. For now, we'll just have to accept what Ms. Hill can offer us on stage, appreciate Nas' good fortune, and hope that their winding paths meet several more times before all is said and done.
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