Rewind: Lauryn Hill—“To Zion”

By Alexander Si

When I first saw the gracious Lauryn Hill affectionately stamping on the stage of 1999’s Grammy, performing this poignant ballad in an ivory pantsuit and two romantic trains, I was mesmerized, enchanted, and brought to my knees. I have nothing in common with this song’s strong Christian faith, or Hill’s motherly love to her first-born Zion; notwithstanding, I felt a subtle and inexplicable kinship with this song.

The song she performed – “To Zion”, coming from her magnum opus The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, won this fresh-faced twenty-three-year-old songstress the coveted Album of the Year shortly after the performance. It was a well-deserved validation to her mastery over a wide-ranging genre of sounds. Primarily a neo soul singer, Hill chose to introduce this song with an exotic classical guitar performed by the legendary Latin musician Carlos Santana, and gently segued into a beat that incorporated jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. All of the instruments underlie her angelic, sonorous voice. Written by Hill, the lyrics cleverly unfolds a young mother’s persistence in keeping her child, despite many advised her to abort Zion; but the lyrical genius for Lauryn Hill packaged her personal journey of this pregnancy in a greater, and more universal journey of a faithful Christian “marching to Zion”. Further, these magical words seem to have a deep-seated penetration to its audiences. Anytime I feel lonely or insecure, her maternally murmur is always my greatest remedy, and her Grammy performance never fails to empower me. Lauryn Hill proved that music’s cathartic connection is ubiquitous, overlooking any sociocultural boundaries.

After she gave birth to Zion, Hill quickly poured her heart and soul into making this album. Writing, producing it solely by herself, she sang the most soulful ballad about life, and rapped the slickest verse on love. Her rich life experience and incomparable versatility were at odds with her age, but what really earned her the most prestigious recognition of the music industry is her potent comprehension and masterful delivery of emotion that transcends boundaries, and touches “the rawness inside” everyone.

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