Lauryn Hill was twenty-three years old when her 1998 solo debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, burst upon the global music market and swiftly became one of the most acclaimed and popular hip hop albums in history. Heralded by a hip hop beat, crooning love songs and rally cries, beaming black pride, and clamoring womanist wisdom, Hill scaled the treacherous summit of global pop stardom and was hailed as genius and prophetess. However, within four years Hill fell from the favor of much of the mainstream market. To have many pundits tell it, she veered across the thin line that supposedly separates genius from madness and prophecy from lunacy. This essay explores how various publics and pundits impute madness to Lauryn Hill and--most centrally--how Hill herself produces, mobilizes, and brandishes madness for radical art-making and self-making. Toward these aims, I closely examine her 2002 Unplugged 2.0 live album, as well as other performances, interviews, and media accounts. Her voice tuned to a mad pitch, Hill speaks truth to power and issues a sound that sometimes booms, sometimes sputters. Ultimately, this meditation upon Hill's life and work yields rich insights on black womanhood, performance, protest, and madness in American popular culture and beyond.


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pp. 371-389
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