Ever since I was a child, I’ve believed that inspiration is everywhere. When a new thought comes into view — if it makes you think differently about the world, or about yourself — it is magical and spiritual, regardless of what awoke it.
In this blog series, it’s my pleasure to share with you moments of inspiration from all sorts of origins: books, music, film, art… anywhere! A few weeks ago my Dad suggested I listen to an old album from hip hop talent Lauryn Hill. Not only was I floored by the vocal and musical power of her tracks but also by the wisdom she imparts through her lyrics and conversational interludes.
Now, whilst there’s little denying Lauryn Hill’s musical mastery and fierce femininity, she has, of course, made ill-advised decisions and fallen in and out of public favour since the release of ‘MTV Unplugged 2.0’ in 2002. Today, though, I’d like to put aside historical context and hearsay to focus on the album for what it is: chock-full of observations on spirituality, society, and self-image.
Throughout the course of the acoustic album, recorded live at in New York, Lauryn’s voice gets raspy, it breaks and, on occasion, she cries. She’s real and raw and makes mistakes. Unapologetically representing her own truth is a reoccurring theme; you get the feeling that she’s putting her foot down and calling “time” on any insincerities and falsehoods in her life.
In the first track – titled ‘Mr. Intentional’ – she sings, “The only help I need to live is unprofessional, the only wealth I have to give is not material and if you need much more than that, I’m not available”. This line is met by applause from the studio audience, with whom it clearly resonates, as it did with me. Any fellow people-pleasers reading this will empathise with the struggle of feeling able to say “No” when you’re asked for too much. Personally, I need these lyrics written down and kept with me at all times, to remind myself not to over-promise or under-value my choice to do what I want, rather than what I think people want me to do.
Lauryn doesn’t shy away from making political statements during the performance either, and she speaks specifically of the case of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed immigrant who was shot by plain-clothed NYC police officers in 1999.
Track 9, ‘I Find It Hard To Say (Rebel)’ – inspired by Diallo’s case – implores her audience to fight against injustices: “And what I gotta say, is rebel. While today is still today, choose well”. Although in everyday life, few of us are actively protesting social, political or environmental issues, we are always voting with our wallets and generally have things we care deeply enough about to debate with friends and spend time becoming more educated on. So, I choose to take Lauryn’s words on a more generalist level here: to mean why wait to stand up for the things you believe in? There’s no time like the present to “rebel”, as she puts it, and “choose well”. Have you been meaning to sign up for volunteering, or try Meatfree Mondays or become more engaged in local politics? Do it, “while today is still today”.
Towards the second half of the album, Lauryn spends more time talking to her audience between tracks and showing her vulnerability. Track 1 on Disc 2 (or whatever you’d call that in Spotify terms!) is titled ‘Interlude 5’ and during 12 minutes of monologue, Lauryn shares what I’d consider to be three major life lessons on self-worth, individuality, and authenticity.
- “You are already the standard. What are you trying to fit into a standard for? We were each created to be individual standards, you know? And we’re trying to fit into a standard. It doesn’t make sense”
- “You can’t get [truth] from the outside in. Truth is from the inside out”
- “Anything that’s not growing is dead, so we better be changing… who wakes up and is the same way tomorrow and the day after that? Nobody is”.
Yoga and similar disciplines, teach us that life is a journey of self-development, that for any question we may have, an answer exists inside of us and to respect and love our individual bodies and minds. I’m thrilled that these themes are echoed in Lauryn’s prose. And who would have thought you’d find them here?
By now, I must have listened to ‘MTV Unplugged 2.0’ at least five times all the way through. The combination of music and spoken word makes it sound part playlist, part podcast and I found it entirely inspiring.
Whilst researching this post, I found an article claiming that the less-than-positive reaction to the album back at the time of its release was because “we simply just weren’t ready for it”. I do wonder whether we need to hear Lauryn’s words more now than ever.
To hear it for yourself, you can find ‘MTV Unplugged 2.0’ to stream on Spotify, Tidal or YouTube and to buy through iTunes.