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The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’s Fans

Last week, Lauryn Hill announced the birth of her sixth child, a son, and then somehow found the strength to perform in LA just days after. Of course, this newest edition to Hill’s family surprised very few, since photographs of her on stage during her Moving Target tour last spring led to speculations that she was pregnant–a rumor she later confirmed. As is the tendency when news of Hill’s personal life emerges, the commoners side-eyed, sighed, smh’d and almost angrily mumbled about Lauryn running game like the Knicks/build[ing us] up only to lose the championship. Would she still appear at Rock the Bells and perform 1998′s axis-altering solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as had been planned? Would we ever hear that follow-up studio album? This latest pregnancy put everything (the fans wanted) in jeopardy.

And then, Rohan Marley, son of the legendary Bob Marley and the father of Hill’s five other children, deflected our attention back to Hill’s pregnancy. Almost as soon after we got that Lauryn Hill is pregnant again? look off of our faces, Marley turned to Twitter and denied paternity, his fathering this child, too, being something many had simply taken for granted. The vitriol with which many responded to Marley was palpable through our keyboards, and, perhaps, not unwarranted. After all, how many of us considered Marley an inherent part, if not the entire reason for Hill’s “fall”? Wasn’t he the one who started seeing Hill when he was already married? Did we not blame Hill’s failure to come back on her seemingly constantly being pregnant…by Rohan Marley?  What (career) woman would have that many kids voluntarily? He was keeping her from us, right? And here Rohan was publicly denying Lauryn and their unborn child. How dare he?

Many of us responded similarly last week when Rohan, again on Twitter, congratulated Ms. Hill on the birth of her new son. And again: How dare he disrespect Hill by claiming denying that he was the father of this latest child? Our righteous indignation, it seems, was somewhat misguided. In a surprising move, Lauryn Hill responded to fans decrying Marley’s denial of paternity, stating (you guessed it, via Twitter):

“Mr. Marley and I have a long and complex history about which MANY inaccuracies have been reported since the beginning. To speculate without the facts can only cause people to form WRONG conclusions. We both value privacy and for that reason defend and preserve our right to it. Contrary to numerous reports, Mr. Marley did not abandon me while pregnant with his child. We have had long periods of separation over the years but our 5 children together remain a joy to both of us. Thank you for you concern and I appreciate all the well wishes regarding the birth of my new son.”

I guess we were wrong in our assumption(s). Our bad, Rohan.

Now, I’m not attempting to absolve Marley or his tweets. I found Marley’s words of denial and later congratulations reeking of the stench of passive-aggressiveness. As part of such a private couple, it seems odd that Marley would be so public in his remarks–congratulatory or otherwise. And in both cases, Marley shot first, if you will, responding to rumors through a not so subtle invocation of Hill’s sexuality and sexual practices. Marley’s tweets seemed insincere and particularly tasteless, especially since they were directed towards someone he had been involved with since the late 1990s and has children with.

Yet news that Marley is not the father of Hill’s newborn is what hardly interests me in this story. As I hinted to above, it seems to me that one of the narratives that has been constructed about Hill’s private life is one that places Marley at–or at least near–the center of Hill’s alleged downfall. That somehow, Hill would produce The Miseducation… Part II if she hadn’t gotten caught up in some real basic shit would just stop having babies with Rohan. This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the story we tell ourselves about Erykah Badu who, although we still position ourselves as judge and jury of her sexual practices, has garnered some sort of mythical status when it comes to sexual encounters. The story we’ve created for Lauryn, however, is one where she is sort of endlessly dealing with Rohan, waiting for him to stop stunting like his daddy, cavorting with ex-wives or Brazilian models, and just come home. This may have something to do with the vulnerability and subject matter on The Miseducation and the way we came to understand Hill’s relationship with fellow Fugees band member, Wyclef Jean. It also probably has to do with the fact that we just can’t help but monitor black women’s sexuality. The title of CNN’s article about the matter, “Who’s Lauryn Hill’s Baby Daddy?” is proof enough of this point.

The mere suggestion, by Hill herself, that her relationship with Marley is complicated to say the least, that he is not the father of her child–thereby suggesting, for the monogamous persons paying attention–that during those lulls she was engaged with other(s) and not necessarily waiting for Rohan to act right, nuances overly simplistic stories Hill’s (alleged) fans have been circulating amongst each other. Perhaps the correction issued by Hill not only shows us how wrong we are and how we really just need to shut up about such things, it also exposes the level of difficulty the public have in properly computing non-normative relationships. Hill’s statement demands a re-evaluation of our motives behind constructing her as a non-agent wasting her immense talent by allocating her time to fraught romantic relationships. Such tales only distract us from other, perhaps more honest assessments of her reclusiveness: that she wanted to (be a) mother, or that, as Amy’s death reminded us, fame–and our demands on the famous–really, really sucks.

Not that we should be talking about any of this anyway.