In Defense Of Ms. Hill
Talib Kweli Greene
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I call bullshit on Talib Kweli

I am allowed to give a shitty show or not even show up if I feel like it.

That is an actual thing written by an actual recording artist. Specifically, New York rapper Talib Kweli, who last week published an extensive piece in defence of singer/rapper Lauryn Hill.

(The post is, obviously, above. Medium are testing out their new Response feature, and suggested I might like to post this here. I wrote it a day after Kwe’s original post appeared)

Hill has been getting a lot of flack lately, particularly from reporters like Stefan Schumacher, who have excoriated her for her dodgy live shows and apparent disregard for her fans. It’s been a long, long time since the days of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, her one truly outstanding album, and Schumacher wrote a piece entitled It’s Finally Time To Stop Caring About Lauryn Hill: I Used To Love Her. I Don’t Anymore.

Kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

In response, Kweli’s piece – also published on Medium – put forward a mostly eloquent response about why we should leave Hill the hell alone. He “call[ed] bullshit” on Schumacher. Lauryn Hill had a right, he said, to create music in any way she saw fit – more importantly, she had a right to treat her back catalogue in the same manner. These are all good points.

Except somewhere along the line, Kweli’s argument dives headfirst off the crazy cliff.

I’m going to quote the entire paragraph that line appeared in, to give it a little bit of context.

However fans are not your boss, and listening to them when it comes to creative decisions is a slippery slope. I am not obligated to make the same album over and over again just because fans demand it. I am allowed to try new things, succeed at them or fail at them. I am allowed to not make music anymore ever, if that’s what I choose to do. I am allowed to give a shitty show or not even show up if I feel like it. Hopefully that will never happen, but if it does, it will never take away from the quality of the work I’ve already put out into the world.

You can’t see it, but I’m doing my best confused John Oliver face right now.

A show is, at its heart, a business transaction. I am paying a certain amount of money to see a musician perform. It’s that simple. In what universe is a musician allowed to take my money and then not deliver?

I’m not talking about content here, necessarily. Kweli Is absolutely right when he says that musicians are entitled to make new and different music, and are entitled to change their live show in any way they see fit. But what they are not – absolutely not – entitled to do is piss all over their fans.

The best analogy I can think of for this is newspaper writing. If I’m commissioned by an editor to write a story, and I am to be paid for writing that story, then I am expected to deliver it. The editor accepts that they won’t know the exact contents of the story until they read it. They may have some idea, but there will inevitably be pieces of the story they disagree with, or want rewritten, or otherwise wish to discuss further. But if I take Kweli’s weird belief, and treat those editors with a giant “Meh”, then they will quite rightly take their business elsewhere.

Hill’s artistic side is actually irrelevant. You cannot leave your fans waiting for hours at a show they have paid for, as she has done many times in the past. I’ve seen this personally, when she toured South Africa in around 2005, then left a few thousand of us at the Coca-Cola Dome waiting for two hours while she did God knows what. You cannot present a show which hasn’t been rehearsed, where the sound is shoddy, where you refuse to engage with the crowd. These are all basic requirements for this particular business transaction, and Lauryn Hill repeatedly fails to deliver them.

I’m going to quote Bill Simmons here. He once said that going to see Allen Iverson play basketball guaranteed a world-class performance, no different to reservations at a particularly good hotel or restaurant. When I go to see someone like Lauryn Hill play, why on earth would I not expect the same thing? When Talib Kweli comes to town, and I shell out my money to see him, I expect to come away feeling that it’s been well spent (and to be fair, that usually happens).

It’s why artists like Tech N9ne have such an astounding reputation: his show is impeccable, perfectly put together, and even if he changed up his entire repertoire, he’d still make the time to put together a show his fans would enjoy.

In a way, Kwe is right. He’s allowed to play a shitty show, or not show up, in the same way that I’m allowed to take all my clothes off and dry-hump a fire hydrant. Frankly, the outcome of neither scenario is a good one.

I call bullshit. I call bullshit in a big way.