Although this statement reeks of cliche, for me it actually has been true that the best music --- and "best" in this sense is "the music that made the greatest impact on your life" --- takes you to a particular place. Smokey Robinson's "Crusin" puts me back in the passenger seat of my dad's car, as we listened to Smokey, Marvin, and other 70's icons while he shuffled me back and forth to Diocese basketball games and 13 and under AAU tournaments. Wu-Tang's "Wu Forever" was released a week before my high school graduation, and I remember chillin in my boy's basement that summer, getting into ridiculous arguments trying to prove that Inspectah Deck was a better rapper than Silkk the Shocker.
When listening to L-Boogie's classic remake of the already classic "Killing Me Softly," I'm reminded of my first job: a junior counselor at the Lillian Taylor summer camp. At the end of every week, we'd have the kids (who ranged from 6 to 14) put on a talent show at one of the pavilions. And --- and this is no hyperbole --- maybe 40% of the acts all summer consisted of the kids choosing to lip-synch or dance to "Killing Me Softly," a surprisingly entertaining phenomenon that was as sweet as it was bizarre.
In hindsight, it also serves of a great example of Lauryn Hill's almost unparalleled level of popularity at the time. I can't think of another artist since then whose resonance was so universal. Kids, parents, teens, critics, historians, grandparents, backpackers, hood cats, and even other entertainers all seemed to love L-Boogie.
Her decade-long fall from grace hasn't been as sudden as her rise, but it's made just as great of an emotional impact. The joy we felt when first hearing "The Miseducation..." is, for many long-time fans, matched by the pain we feel when contemplating the very likely possibility that she may go to prison. With this in mind, I can't help but think that this is (at least) partially our fault. Not necessarily because of the demands we put on her as an artist, but our collective willingness to continue to make excuses for her progressively erratic behavior instead of trying to help her.
I realize that, when speaking about "helping" a celebrity in someway, their friends and family will always hold more responsibility than their fans would. And, the responsibility the fans do possess is limited by our lack of access. Also, the term "help" is extremely arbitrary. What exactly would it entail, and how exactly would we go about doing it?
But, in L-Boogies case --- and you can substitute Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, and possibly even Rihanna if you wish --- I wonder how differently her life would be right now if her diehard fans didn't circle the wagons whenever someone even dared mention that she may need some serious help. Maybe she would have read the tea leaves and heeded the advice. Maybe she would have ignored us. Who knows? I do know, though, that while "Killing Me Softly" will always take me back to the summer of '96, I will always wonder if I could have done something, anything, to help her in the 16 years since.