My musical exploration is generally guided by one principle: the quest to find another Lauryn Hill. Except one who still makes music and isn't, you know, crazy. Apparently, I'm not the only one looking for a new Lauryn.
I came across Estelle a few months ago in my Google News update that sends me news articles that include the words lauryn hill. It's not uncommon for female singers or rappers to be compared to Ms. Hill, as the comparison has become just another way of saying "She's good." What caught my attention in this case was that the person making the connection was Ms. Hill's fellow former Fugee, Wyclef Jean. "I have never worked with a young artist that reminded me so much of Lauryn Hill," he said. And there's good reason for the comparison--the relatively new British artist sings and raps over old school hip-hop, jazz, reggae, and r&b beats similar to the ones that made The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill one of the most commercially and critically successful albums ever.
On Estelle's new album, Shine, technically released tomorrow but available as of about 7:30 PDT tonight on iTunes, Wyclef has produced two tracks. On one of them, "So Much Out the Way," the music varies between a doo-wop beat that easily could have been on Miseducation and a riff of a Bob Marley song that Ms. Hill covered on her MTV Unplugged album, while Estelle smoothly transitions between singing, rapping, and chanting reggae-style. Wyclef seems to be beating us over the head with the comparison, as if to say, "Hey! Look! She can do everything Lauryn can do!"
Does it work? I don't know. It's been rumored that Wyclef is trying to put together a new Fugees-like group with Estelle and singer/rapper Akon, and I have to say that if he did, I'd buy the album, and maybe I'd enjoy it as much as I'm enjoying Shine right now. It wouldn't be the Fugees and Estelle is not Lauryn, but I guess there's room in the world for good musicians who aren't.