Ever wonder what it sounds like when two supremely talented masters of their craft unite? Look no further than today’s song by Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo. “Nothing Even Matters” is 12th track from Ms. Hill’s brilliant 1998 juggernaut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. For those of you unfamiliar with Lauryn Hill, a brief recap:
Lauryn Hill rose to prominence as one-third of the hip hop group The Fugees. One could easily argue she’s the greatest singer/rapper ever. I can’t think of another person who can spit rhymes alongside the best, then just as easily sing any kind of music you like with the best. She’s not just kind of good at both. She’s one of the greatest who ever lived at both. She became a household name when she stole the spotlight on The Fugees track “Killing Me Softly” which won pretty much every music award known to man upon its release in 1996. She followed that up with her solo album The Miseducation… in 1998. That album went down in history as the first hip hop album to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Among the brilliant music on the album is a duet with fellow late-1990s R&B/Soul phenom D’Angelo. “Nothing Even Matters” was produced, written, and arranged by Lauryn Hill. D’Angelo contributed vocals and Rhodes. The track itself is a stripped down masterpiece featuring vocal performances from two masters at the peak of their powers. Ms. Hill and D’Angelo trade lines over simple finger snaps, bass, and Rhodes piano. The result is a song that lets the singers’ voices soar over a track about being so deeply in love that nothing else matters. Not the sky falling, buildings drifting out to sea, or a natural catastrophe. It’s a gorgeous snapshot of a time when Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo were two unstoppable rising stars in music.
So what happened?
Hill has yet to release a proper follow-up to The Miseducation. She had her Unplugged album and vanished. We’ve repeatedly covered D’Angelo’s disappearance on this blog. Perhaps no two artists represent “what ever happened to?” more than the two on this track. From the outside looking (listening?) in this song appears to feature two tortured geniuses that crossed paths at the exact right time. However, I’m not sure tortured is the correct word for either of them. Perhaps troubled is a better fit, at least in D’Angelo’s case. From what I understand, Lauryn Hill continues to maintain that she left the industry to be a mother and it’s as simple as that. It’s difficult for someone like me who doesn’t possess 1/1,000th the talent of Ms. Hill to understand how someone could shine as bright as her, then just voluntarily walk away. It seems like there has to be more to it than that, doesn’t it? I know she’s been playing shows for a few years now and that she’s been on tour again with The Fugees. We still haven’t heard a proper album of new music from her since 1998.
I’ve heard others call Hill and D’Angelo “squandered potential” but I vehemently disagree with that assessment. Maybe the output isn’t where people would like it to be, but you cannot listen to The Miseducation, Brown Sugar, Voodoo, or Black Messiah, then claim that the artists responsible squandered their potential. Quite the opposite. They not only exceeded their potential, they set new bars for others to reach for with those albums. These are artists that clearly aren’t in it for money or accolades or they could’ve continued making music consistently for the past two decades. I find it frustrating when so-called fans express their frustration over artists like D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill not releasing music at a rate they they expect. They owe the fans nothing.
In fact, when you think about the music industry in general, it’s a terribly flawed system. Lauryn Hill called upon a lifetime of experience to create a brilliant piece of art. Once she poured her soul into The Miseducation people just expected it to happen again on someone else’s timeline? That’s not how art works, or at least not how it should work. Every artist doesn’t have a bottomless well of creativity, yet when you have a record deal you’re supposed to create art at a rate determined by people who are not artists and whose only interest is to monetize you. Maybe Lauryn Hill just didn’t have another Miseducation in her. Maybe she wasn’t interested in trying again. Only she knows.
Same goes for D’Angelo. Do I wish we had more D’Angelo music? Of course. It’s not up to me. Even it it was, I’d rather get what D’Angelo wants to give us than have him churn out an endless barrage of assembly line, radio friendly mediocrity to satisfy a record label. Let The Weeknd do that.
I have to admit, as a D’Angelo fanatic and someone who has been riding for him for the better part of three decades it hurts just a little bit to see that his top song on Apple Music is a duet with Lauryn Hill that’s not even on one of his albums. I love “Nothing Even Matters” but D’Angelo has better songs. I get that Lauryn Hill was a more popular artist than D’Angelo, but it stings just a little bit to see that ahead of “Untitled” and “Brown Sugar” on that list. Maybe D could release some more music and have a new top song. On his time and only if he wants to, of course : )
Hearing “Nothing Even Matters” leaves me scouring the internet for live versions or anything else featuring Hill and D’Angelo together. No such luck. The closest I can find is earlier this year when D’Angelo appeared on Verzuz and was joined briefly by H.E.R. H.E.R. came out of the gate throwing incredible heat. She started with “Best Part,” a song she sang with Daniel Caesar. I assume that she was hoping for D’Angelo to join her on the track but it was clear to me early that D wasn’t familiar with the song. It’s too bad because “Best Part” is similar to “Nothing Even Matters” in that it’s a stunning duet so gorgeous it’s tear inducing. Seeing that D’Angelo wasn’t picking up on her attempt to lure him into a duet with “Best Part” she seamlessly transitioned into “Nothing Even Matters” and the two of them delivered a jaw dropping performance. It was easily the highlight of the night. H.E.R. continues to prove that she could be one of the artists that pushes music forward the way D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill did before.
That concludes the penultimate D’aily post. 48 down, one to go. I’m going to save this story for the final post tomorrow, but the only hint I’ll give about tomorrow’s track (if you haven’t already figured it out) is that I think it’s a perfect ending to this series of posts. Come back for a special Thanksgiving Day post tomorrow and check it out. Thanks, once again, for stopping by and enjoy your Wednesday. If you’re traveling for the holiday, stay safe.