Lauryn Hill concert review, Diaspora Calling Tour
When It Hurts So Good
by Addi Stewart
Lauryn Hill concert review, Diaspora Calling Tour
@ Massey Hall with Emmanuel Jal and Paul Beaubrun
Friday October 16th, 2016
I walked into the historic Massey Hall to see the Right Honorable Emmanuel Jal shirtless on stage with a white peace symbol painted on his chest, singing pleas for peace, which was a righteous way to begin such a momentous occasion. Soon after, brother Jal turned the seated and polite crowd into a Senegalese discotheque, and got people off their asses and practicing rhythm with some simple and fun African 1-2 dance steps and hip thrusts. "We are going to teach you how to twerk." is how Emmanuel deadpanned his intro to this segment before the beat dropped hard. Bure jokes a gwan. Yet with the immaculate Tanika Charles melting the microphone with magnificent soulful vocals beside him, Jal seemed like he could do no wrong, considering the level of positive energy radiating from his frenetic body and honest voice. He also had a solo dance with a sexy woman in the audience before he invited specifically 'sexy couples' on stage to dance to the Afrobeat with him, doing the best he could with a shortened set time, still promoting music from his new album 'The Key' as well as his last album, 'See Me Mama' and with the definitively diverse crowd vibing and happily unified, he opened the show as best as one could expect from a tour called 'Diaspora Calling'.
A four-foot lion's mane of rastaman regalness stepped upon stage next, and his name was Paul Beaubrun. If you love music, know the name ~Paul Beaubrun and the Soul Rebels~. I had no idea who this humble Haitian guitar hero/god is, but I will send anyone who seeks genuine musical artistry his way, if they so inquire. Mixing his Creole patois with seriously playful spoken word blues, his vocals blurred the lines of borders and boundaries around the world, and pushed the connections between various factions of the audience as close together as the guitar strings he so effortlessly wielded with jaw-dropping precision. Teaching the crowd a Haitian word to sing along profusely was another entertaining segment of his set, as chants of "aye-bobo!" punctuated the proceedings non-stop, and considering the word meant "blessing", it was a tender sentiment for Paul to ask others to cheer for. There was no style of music he wasn't capable of smashing with: blues, folk rock, reggae, jazz, calypso, Afrobeat... the man could do no wrong. On top of that, he truly orchestrated one of the BEST call-and-response segments with each half of an ecstatically-singing crowd, let it be known. Pitching the notes of people's voices up and down and playing them like a saxphone's stabs was just too fucking awesome to explain clearly. You had to be there. And if you were, you saw a man at the top of his guitar-shredding game, tearing that muthafucka up while laying on his back during his solo, and just having his way with the axe like nobody's business. Paul Beaubrun, my friends. That's a superstar in the making right there.
And now for the main event: Ms. Lauryn Hill.
This is where everything gets extremely SUBJECTIVE. Every fucking sentence from here on out can probably have a hundred different opinions, thoughts, feelings and reactionary responses about the subject of said observation. And that's probably the best as well as the worst thing we can experience as individuals absorbing artistry from other individuals performing artistry. I'm an artist myself (not only in music, but in visual art, erotica and cinema) so my perspectives and observational faculties may be slightly askew to yours, but we shall see the differences between what you see and what I saw when I express the agony and the glory of which I chose to bear witness, zeen? Ha. And make no mistake: it is a -personal decision- and a gamble like few others in live modern entertainment, to try give a Lauryn Hill Concert Experience to yourself. Word to brother Talib Kweli: I tried.
A glistening white, ornate, Victorian powder-room chair sat front and center on the crowded stage, replete with all manner of musical instrument. The tension was building, the venue was rammed. Old, young, White, Black, Asian, South Asian, North American, international, kids, parents... Saint Lauryn still has the power to attract all types of faithful believers to her sonic congregation. The second of two nights at Massey Hall for the 'Diaspora Calling' tour, she unfortunately did not have the divine force to bend the universe enough to bring Nasty Nasir Jones, Seun Anikulapo Kuti or Kehlani to Toronto with her as she has on some other tour stops this year, but kanyeshrug. In a year where Prince is no longer strutting with us earthly peasants, EWF's Maurice White is singing in the choir of the stars, and Phife Dawg's passing has essentially retired A Tribe Called Quest forever: we take what we can get these days. Yeah sure, we all heard/know/experienced some shitty thing at a previous Lauryn Hill concert: she was 2 fucking hours later than diva queens are allowed, she was testy with the crowd, she walked off mad early, she was erratic... what haven't we heard yet about a Lauryn Hill concert experience? Meh. You either take the gamble or you don't. Musicians are magical and unpredictable creatures. If you go see a concert where you can anticipate every single thing that the performer does before they do it, I'm not so sure you will have seen or heard anything special or meaningful, and you're going to go home feeling both smug and empty. Fuck all that shit. I feel like Lauryn Hill is probably the closest thing I will ever witness to a tortured genius like Nina Simone in my lifetime. So, it's still worth it to me. A lil suffering never killed anybody.
About fifteen minutes after the last set: the lights went low. (And let it be known: it was about 9:45 on Friday night. This was NOT one of those "Lauryn Hill made us wait four hours before beginning!" concert experiences, no thank you very much! She was on-time. Regular human time!)
Thirteen musicians began gathering around the crowded stage, overflowing with every type of instrument and digital contraption one could imagine. Horns, keys, drums, percussive stuff, turntables, tablas, guitars, Serato, a box drum and a few other random soundmakers were all wielded by the confident crew, as the vibes of the people raised sharply and the cheers began to bubble. It was about to be SHOWTIME, yo.
And then, it was Go Time. Dope-ass music begins playing. For the record: I've seen so many live concerts, it's impossible to count now. But I will say: as far as introductions go, THE DIVAS make the world WAIT for it to begin. It's like we're living in the intro to 'Black Republicans' by Jay-Z and Nas. They ain't gonna just give it to you because you're here and you're screaming your head off for them. Naaah, yo. They make you wait for it even more, still! Even when you can see, hear, smell and even taste that It Is About To Happen. No business like show business.
And as I was saying: NOBODY has ever had their introduction music play SO LONG, and made me wait as much as Lauryn Hill.
Actually, only ONE other artist did. You know what her name was? ARETHA 'Put Some Respect On My Name' FRANKLIN, for god's sake. (!!!)
THAT'S what kind of night it was going to be, folks.
The band played some jazzy, Shaft-like, lets-get-ready-to-rummmmble introductory vibes to warm up and prepare the people... for quite a while.
With one big dutty security guard clearing the way on stage for her, FINALLY: The. Queen. Named. Lauryn. Is. Here!
Confidently, She walks in, and grabs the microphone as the delightful keyboard melodies are swirling around the air, now, it's officially LAURYN HILL TIME. Grab your soul and come get your life, righteous and evil party people alike. The Moment We Barely Believed Would Happen Was Happening Right Fucking NOW!
A long brown dress and matching jacket with sharp-shoulder cuts, she looked both earth motherly and militant, a fitting balance for L. Boogie. Proper tings.
"Torontoooo! How you feeling, everyone, how you feeeeling??" AAAAH!!! is the reply. "Oooh ooh ooooh yeah" sings her three I-Threes like back-up singers. And she dives into the stream of speedy, sweet, sparkling soulful funk flying around the air... and it sounded DOPE. True musicianship was being displayed here.
BUT: there is no question, the music, as nice as it sounded, was NOTHING close to the original tempo, melody, or structure of 'Everything Is Everything', except for the eight-bar breakdowns. The concert was underway, Lauryn Hill was right here, singing strong and rocking on, but this is exactly what a certain type of critic is criticizing when they express frustration with Lauryn concerts: sounds pretty damn good... but what the fuck version is this??? It wasn't perfectly clear what song she was performing until the melody dropped out and she said: "I wrote these words... for Toronto..." in the familiar refrain from that hit. It was also MUCH too fast for anyone to sing along, which was the OTHER main problem. The rich and warm music kept pouring over us all, but it was shifting, floating and happening too fast for it to be deeply and completely appreciated to the fullest... and this is exactly how it has been for me for the last four or five Lauryn Hill concerts I have experienced, more or less. It just was NOT connecting to the heart and body like it should, could and might have, if she didn't rush so much. Kanyeshrug!
By the time she got to the rhyme verse for 'Everything is Everything', I couldn't even tell which lines she was spitting until "...more powerful than two Cleopatras/ bomb graffiti on the tomb of Nefertiti" part, it was being delivered so fast! What the fuck?! I wanted to rhyme along with you, sis! Why are you performing your verses like this now? Does she just want to get through the show and get it over with? "She's just doing this for the money" is what someone said to me when I told them how I felt about the off-putting delivery of this amazing music. On one level, maybe. Especially considering she hasn't performed any new songs (not that I've seen) in years, not 'Consumerism' or 'Neurotic Society' or 'Fearless Vampire Killer', not even a verse. Just these timeless 'Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' songs that most of the people in the world will love forever, no matter how crazy, frustrating, confounding, irritating, or aggravating she may act or behave at the best or the worst of times. That's the world we live in now, I guess.
Regardless of how remixed her version of 'Everything Is Everything' was, the shit was still majestic and glorious in its horn-tastic climax. Damn.
Assuming her spot on the regal white chair behind her, she was handed an acoustic guitar, to which she prepared to pour out some marvelous little licks and soft strums, gifting the peoples dem with her astute and eloquent "The Mystery of Iniquity", a song that in all incarnations is more tangible and grounded than most of her post-Miseducation work. Its familiarity and unfuckwittable frequency of fearless analysis of self and all else in the world made for a resoundingly raw leap forward for the special event that was Lauryn Live. Not too fast, and not too tweaked, her sing-songy black sugar syrup soulful scorching pulled every piece of harmony and heart from the guitar Lauryn cradled gently like a Marley baby. Feeling elevated from great to MUCH GREATER when she jammed straightforward into "...and when it allllll/ all falls down...", the crowd went wilder like Gene (RIP), tickled by the popular snippet made more ubiquitous by Kanye West & Syleena Johnson on his 'All Falls Down' jawn. It was essentially the only moment she gave the people exactly what they expected to get from, and it felt real fuckin good. It also felt like a rare surprise we weren't supposed to get used to feeling, and without saying so, I got this sense from her. Lauryn comes to do what SHE wants to do, WHEN -she- wants to do it, and never get it twisted that anything else is about to happen on stage. Her controlling ways were well evident. Still, the rhymes in 'The Mystery of Iniquity' are pretty much bulletproof b-girl bible verses of virtuous vocab, and it was revitalizing to hear.
Slowing it down (to disco tempo) and tinting the room blue, she shifted into another drastically revamped version, this time, "Ex-Factor", that was nothing like the original until the chorus, and even that was only familiar in word, not phrasing. A wave of sacred sound and feline fury named Lauryn was what was felt if not clearly comprehended, and hearing such an extremely adjusted take on 'Ex-Factor' just was not hitting that sweet spot you NEED that floating, bouncing, collapsing magical melody to float, bounce and collapse like. She "...let me know it ain't working..." in the strangest of ways. Oh the irony, Lauryn! I couldn't even let my pain dance with hers, she was singing it so differently than the original. I could barely hear the room singing along too, which is kinda what you want to hear and feel with a timeless torch like this, no? Am I crazy, Lauryn? Am I psycho to want to sing with you: "no matter how I think we've grown/ you always seem to let me know: it ain't workinnnnn...." Why do you do this to us? Why is this song so fast and weird right now?! I am only getting fragments of magic... sigh.
"Why does it feel like you want me to feel so bad? Sooo bad? Soooo bad?" she went on to sing coo and croon in a suspenseful breakdown of the Damnation of Wyclef Jean, and those words felt like how I felt towards Lauryn for wanting her to perform 'Ex-Factor' more like the original. But the things her and her choir did with those piercing words? Glory glory hallelujah, it became undeniably magical when they repeated it in layers upon layers of sacred penetration... SIGH.
Plus, seeing Lauryn throw down and do a two-step dance with her back-up singers is a sight to behold, quite equal to silver and gold for the eyes, truss.
Next up, it was time to enjoy enduring the originally-DJ Premier-assisted "Final Hour", yet tonight it revealed itself to us as a blistering, super-sped-up jazzanova remix with calypso boogie back beat, and it was nearly impossible to discern half the lyrics as well, until she flipped the line "Miss Hill: from ~Toronto~ to Israel", which got rants and raves, because of course. "You can get the money/ you can get the power/ but keep your eyes on/ the final hour/ hour" was about all anyone could grasp, and not even chant along. Lauryn Hill seemed like she was auditioning to get signed to Strange Music with Tech N9ne, or do a project with Twista and Busta Rhymes (which wouldn't be a bad idea at all, actually... ha.)
You know what I loved about 'Lost Ones'? It was like a Lady Saw version of a hip hop skankin dubbin jam. It was slow enough to hear everything, and it still bopped along. Sooooo.... um, this 104 BPM track that sinisterly ingratiated itself into the proceedings like "WHA GWAN, YOW?!" was funky as fuck.... grooving as hell... but, nothing near equal to O.G. status! Thus, when she rushed into "it's funny how money changes situa-SHUNS!", it was a bit of a jumble and a blur. Of course, people caught enough of it to cheer loud and clear... but it absolutely could have been delivered with more punch, power and less perplexity. "My emancipation don't fit your equation/ I was on the humble, you on every station/ some wan play Ms. Hill like she dumb..." Lauryn spit, and I wondered: "does she not even refer to herself as Lauryn anymore? Damn daniel..."
A double-time jazz hand clap over jangly country guitar breakdown in the middle was a peculiar but entertaining enough transition towards the pinnacle of this big bad chune, even though it only felt about 65% like the 'Lost Ones' we all know and love. And even though she spit all the lyrics, NOBODY could rhyme along with her, as she did them far too fast for any of that crowd-singalong shit. Lauryn does NOT want to hear your vocals singing along with hers, that has become clearly evident in many shows I've witnessed. And the not so delicious irony of her doing this to this here song of hers was not lost on me, as she rode a galloping crescendo upwards to bliss, and ended off with: "you might win some but you just lost one/ you might win some, but you just lost one/ you might win some, but you just lost one/ you might win some, but you just lost...... ME."
Yeah, I'm sure that's exactly how a few diehard Lauryn Hill fans feel about what her concerts are like these days. But some people also were enjoying it, for sure. because it's not like she's not a powerhouse on stage, or has lost her stunning voice, or can't do the damn thing. Nah, bruh. She still slays. It's just, the WAY she does it, leaves something more to be desired... and THAT's why people are like "what happened, Miss Hill?"
A curious turn into her catalogue came next, when she asked "Is there any Fugees fans in the house?" which ignited a roar of applause. How cool is she with Wyclef and Pras now, though? Is this disingenuous of her? I felt both happiness and slight unease with this, as I don't appreciate artists pretending friendships for whatever reason. But maybe they are cool, and they're just not interested in making new music together, which I respect, word to EPMD. But she had NOTHING else to say about the Fugees future or present situation, that's for sure. She just got the confirmation we knew she was going to get by asking that question, and then rocket launched into a super-duper sped-up version of "How Many Mics". Skipping occasional words, spitting as fast as humanly possible, and actually spitting all three verses, hers, Clef's and Prakazrel's as well, it was an experience, that was for sure. Barely breathing between words, it wasn't all that it could have been; the Rambo machine-gun bust style wasn't hitting points like a Deadshot assassin's approach would have, licking lyrical shots with more boom bap accuracy along with the original stylee. Not tonight, decrees Lauryn. Don't you even go there.
"Toronnnntooooo..." she sung about five or six times, before saying "I want you to help me with the next one, Torontooooo..." then unleashed the 'Fugee-la' beat... AT A HUNDRED AND TEN BPM. This time, the original record played in the background, as the band embellished overtop of it lavishly, which was a moment of semi-satisfying connective grounding. The pleasant little lilt of that catchy ass record is instantaneous delight. But when it's chipmunk-souled-out, then it's Arsenio Hall time on some "things that make you go hmmmmm...." shit. Yet again, Lauryn rocked all the lyrics, hers and her ex-Refugee Camp Tranzlator Crew bredren. Mad fast. She asked Toronto to help sing along, but ain't nobody got time for that when they can't catch up to Lauryn flying thru her songs, and not even keeping a consistent flow that can be followed. "Armageddon come, you know that we soon done..." and the next four bars are some of the most direct Fugees lyrics ever, and Lauryn STILL mutated them enough to frustrate in a funky way. What's going on, sweet ting?!
Whappen in the classic banger 'Ready Or Not'? Same dyam ting! Except it was ALMOST the original speed of the record. But it's a mid-tempo hip hop song! Whyyy does Lauryn have to manipulate every little moment to something just a bit beyond any of our expectations or happily familiar experience? This may be the place and time to articulate maybe THE most irritating aspect of the entire show for me, and I have seen, spoke and written about this in previous Lauryn Hill concert reviews. She is a control freak to the highest micromanaging power. And it's exhaustingly frustrating to watch. Almost every fifteen or twenty seconds, she was demanding things from her bandmates and the soundman. During. Every. Song. And in the middle of her vocal performances, too! NON-STOP extra-orchestrating and altering the setlist of what we would THINK is already a world-class rehearsed ensemble of thirteen instrument professionals that don't need their sound adjusted every twenty seconds. Seriously, it was maddening, what with Lauryn incessantly motioning for the guitar to go up, or the drums to cut off a bit, or the horns to turn up, or the percussion to soften, or this, or that or this orthisthathatisthiatsiahiastha
sioethawoehtaowehaiohwoaeraaaa aaaaaaaa! STOP!
Someone stop her, please. Lauryn: focus on the song and the audience more than the musicians and the micromanagment of what we should safely assume are musicians you've rehearsed with thousands of times. So please, don't spend half the show adjusting everything! Just rock out. Anything less would be uncivilized.
I'm glad I got that out of my system. Because I love Lauryn. This is constructive criticism, not haterism. And I believe there are others that might feel the exact same things I am expressing here. I'm not even saying it was a bad show, cause Jah! Rastafari knows, this was a good ass show. But there were a few issues I had, because there is a notable and tangible difference between good and great, and great and timeless. This show was just great, not timeless or classic.
One of the closest moments to timeless, was her introduction of 'Killing Me Softly'. Running notes up and down the range of her voice, Lauryn took a good minute to rinse the bloodclot sky out with some diamond-sparkling immaculate acapella note blowing that brought the house down long before the first drum beat dropped. "Telling myyyyyyyyyyyy whole life/ with his words... /killing meeeee softlyyyy/ wiiiittthhh hissss... hiiiissss..."
...pause for dramatic effect...
~perfect moment of silence~
...then, small laughter in crowd...
She knows this is her money maker. Can't toy with the big breadwinners. She delivered a respectable facsimile of 'Killing Me Softly', got people singing "la la la laaa laaaaa la", and thus ended the Fugees Tribute segment of the Diaspora Calling Tour. It was mostly wonderful, and also not.
There were only a few moments of pure unscripted humanity for us to devour. Between songs at one point, after wiping sweat from her brow like Jully Black after a bashment workout, she said this to us all: "This here is an occupational hazard. I grab the mic and put it up to my mouth, and then lipstick gets all over my face. So you're gonna let me know if i got make-up on my forehead up here, okay?" As she points to the top of her head above her eyebrows, and causes nuff laughter. Moments like these are far too rare. She kept bustin jokes: "It's like clown style. Ringling Brothers!" Hilarious, self-deprecating, and possibly keenly aware of how she is perceived publicly (remember that one picture with the black hat on? Oy!) Still, it was hilarious and heartwarming to hear Lauryn talk to us like the equal people we are between songs. More next time, please? Thanks, bae.
The next four songs were a very clever choice to make for various reasons, and it was about as subjective as this very soul-wrenching concert experience could be. Familiar melody floated into the sky to the Massey Hall massive, as Lauryn then looked around, and picked up the words of a VERY familiar groove that we all felt in our soul, and then did the one absolutely unprecedented and new thing I've never seen her do before, as it was announced in the most immortally sophisticated and glorious way: by singing her way into the sacred space of our soul with these key words:
"YOUR LOVE IS KING...."
A Sade cover by L. Boogie? I'm clutching my pearls and fainting in the fucking aisles right now!
Yes. Lauryn Hill was singing a Helen Adu hit from the 80's? How is this not some form of Heaven?
I have nothing bad to say about this moment. It was pretty unbelievably dreamy, without question.
And THEN what did she do?
Turn that diamond life gold into more magic, shifting the tempo up a bit and giving us "The Sweetest Taboo"!
There are NO words. For real music lovers, THIS is all we live for. Lauryn's heavy harmonious vocals shined through the healing vibes of Sade's timeless jewels, and couples were slow-dancing in their seats, in the aisles, everywhere, just loving it all! This is when all the stars aligned. The band was scorching hot, the back-up singers were icing on the icing, and Lauryn was in The Zone. Nothing could go wrong at this point. Sade songs made sure!
Lauryn chose very wisely where to select as the next destination of vibration: the Yard of Robert Nesta Marley. She took us all there, one time.
We wanted to jam with her, so we ended up "Jammin". A faithful cover was rinsed out fi di people dem. Straight to Holy Mount Zion wi a guh.
Gwan, Lauryn! And yah yeh gyal, where yuh a guh tek us next? Into the shelter of my single bed. Niiiice. "Is This Love?" kept the cover chunes dem hotta den July inna Ochi! "I want to love you, and treat you right!" was what she sung, and that's what she did, f'real. A pretty perfect version of another Bob jam lit up the whole place, ta rattid. C'yant say nuttin dutty bout Lauryn right now, no sah! Gunshots and fyah fi blaze up!
Okay okay, everyting criss and curry now... a calm, mi a calm. Whappen next, mi seh. And logically, a layback-and-max-out version of "Turn Your Lights Down Low" came thru like a cool breeze and a British butler with a glass of Wray and Nephews rum and ginger beer pon di rocks. Lauryn really does emit Marley-taught rasta-ooman vibrations like the greats. She may do reggae/dancehall music better than she does hip hop now, it's debatable, I would suggest! With these live instruments gwanning like so, it sure sounds like it. But it's all African-based drum music, anyways, so whatever. Hip hop is reggae's little brother, so it's cool.
From Robert, she did the unthinkable yet obvious: one last cover, a gut-wrenching deliverance of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by Nina Simone, where she not only seared souls with her wailing vocal gymnastic magic, but she scatted, stuttered, bebopped and strutted her way into her own parallel but personal version of that time-eclipsing tortured genius anthem. I consider Lauryn Hill the closest thing I might see to a Nina Simone in my lifetime, so hearing this was pleasing to the ear like nothing else. The band extracted the social urgency and anxious emotion in every note, and the excruciating energy of Nina was masterfully reminded back to us by a fascinatingly focused Lauryn. It was quite insightful, peculiarly noteworthy, and intriguingly odd, that Lauryn Hill's cover songs were NOTABLY more satisfying, crowd-connecting, and fundamentally flawless than much of her own Fugees and Miseducation material. It's funny how something changes situations...
Nevertheless, this was a Massey Hall show, not the Sound Academy show she did a few years ago (where DOZENS UPON DOZENS of people were streaming out the venue in absolute disgust at the Ms. Hill performance being given. It was a shitshow a few years ago, and this was levels better.) I saw just a couple people get up and leave tonight, but for the most part, people enjoyed the Lauryn they were receiving tonight. It wasn't going to go on forever and a day, and it felt like we were very close to the end of everything being everything.
Now I have to say: my absolute very favorite moment of the night, had to have occurred when Lauryn gave one of the most sublime renditions of 'To Zion' a dreaming hopeful could wish for. Oddly enough, this magisterial version was completely bereft of the Spanish guitar lick and drumroll shuffle that mesmerizes all listeners so marvelously. This was just different. Cool, compassionate, calm and clear, Lauryn finally remixed a song differently in a way that was BLISSFULLY CREATIVE, nothing else. There it was. FINALLY. The merciful middle between new music for Lauryn's creative juices, which have spent 19 YEARS performing 'Miseducation' songs, and giving the people something they want when they see her. This version of 'Zion' was a blessing from another dimension of musical pleasure! Slow, sincere, and sacred, it made the night perfect. Beautiful, beautiful Zion. Word life, star.
The last story she told was the most revealing of all, and she probably saved it til the end because of the stark meaning of it. Lauryn said "Last night, a sister came up to me at the end of the show and screamed out: "I want you to do 'Ex-Factor'!" And Lauryn, ostensibly aware of the drastic alterations she did to most of her classic chunes, said "But we already did 'Ex-Factor'!" And the girl said "NO, YOU DID NOT!" (Hilariously, Lauryn did this in a Ghanain accent, which was very fucking comedic to hear as well.) From that point, I hope Lauryn really realized that her fans want her to meet them a bit closer to half way between wherever Lauryn the Artist has evolved to today, and where she was when she made her greatness in 1998. So, Lauryn granted our wishes, and performed 'Ex-Factor' AGAIN, at the end of the show... except a LOT more similar to the original version, with the slow, oozing melody and the "Care for me/ care for me/ I know you're there for me" layers strengthening the pleas to heal the heartbreak. The bass was presently felt like a heavy hand on the waist, the mood was closer to our souls and it was all around just more acceptable to the ear. 'Ex-Factor' is one of the greatest break-up songs of all-time. OF ALL-TIME! I don't want to kanyeshrug her interpretation of a song that special. Care for me, Lauryn!
She doesn't really have time for that, though. Lauryn Hill cares for herself, first and foremost. She does what she wants, how she wants, and people either take it or leave it. The Diaspora Calling! Tour was a musical smorgasbord of Black music artistry and it fed everyone's multicultural beings with overdosages of soul food deluxe, delivered with impeccable and exquisite poise and grace. There were times that Lauryn hit notes that damn near NOBODY is hitting these days, fuck the world. There were times when she spit so crazy, all these new school trap-era rappers need to study HER, cause if you're gonna spit too fast to comprehend, then at least be sharp, skilled and subliminally scathing with your gibberish! Her scattered conductor/control freak stage actions sometimes threw off her verses here and there, but meh. The verses still slay, from back in the day til today. And those muthafuckin hard four kicks that signal the start of "That Thing", after the horns blare through? Daaaamn, homie. Yeah yeah.
"Don't be a hardrock when you really are a gem..."
Still pretty fuckin fast, Lauryn banged out one last hit for the people, and they were as into it as possible at this point. A few people walked out, not as many people were screaming along as possible, and some of it was just indecipherable, but all in all, Lauryn Hill did what she does best. Singing, rapping, and even scatting on this doo-wop b-girl banger was a sweet grand finale to the whole affair, and even though there are a few prevalent idiosyncrasies that may delay Lauryn Hill from returning to universally adored and supported status (not that she cares for it, either way, but still, Snoop Dogg kinda has it and it looks pretty nice), we still have Lauryn with us, and she is still giving us what she can give.
But whether it applied to herself, or any of us in the audience singing it, I had to stop and reflect on everything, before she said goodbye to Toronto graciously, and repeatedly expressed what is maybe one of the greatest hip hop lyrics ever, when The Queen Lauryn Hill said:
"How you gonna win when you ain't right within? How you gonna win when you ain't right within? How you gonna win when you ain't right within?
...uh uh, come again."
You're singing it to us.
And we're saying it to you, too, Lauryn.
See you next time.
from the City of Toronto