By Giselle Zado Wasfie
JANUARY 8, 2007; 1:23 PM. The corner of 5th and Molino is mostly barren and bleak—more like a ﬁlm lot than an actual location—and right now, all the cast and crew are on a mandatory union break. The intersection is situated in the heart of what Kor Group real estate developers want to incessantly remind your hip, brand-obsessed ass is “LA’s Art District,” which is actually a bit funny if you know that the lofts in this warehouse building cost $300,000 to $1 million each (take that, Williamsburg).
The other thing the Kor Group wants you to know is that this habitat is renovated from “classic,” “authentic” 1920s lofts. To Lauryn Hill’s credit, this is no Bedford Avenue; between the seafood warehouse up the block and the I.M.C. toy factory, this area is almost deliberately dismal and full of cred—nary a hipster café or quaint independent bookstore in sight. It’s alarmingly desolate, out of the way and, ultimately, sad. The building Hill recently inhabited? Industrial, gray, cold.
And yet it’s 86 degrees in January. The midday sun beats down and I begin to sweat beneath my wifebeater and wonder what work e-mails are accumulating at my desk in West Hollywood while I chill somewhat aimlessly, solo on this block searching for someone—a ﬁgure—who feels like a faint memory. But it’s those buzz words that keep repeating like a mantra. Classic. Authentic. Mysterious. Classic. Authentic. Mysterious.
What am I looking for? Apparently, someone who doesn’t want to be found. URB’s attempts to have Lauryn Hill participate in this story were unsuccessful. “I haven’t gotten any response at all,” says a manager after numerous attempts at securing an interview. The right price for a payout might have nudged her (it’s been reported that in the past she demanded upwards of $10,000 to participate in one magazine’s cover story), but…sometimes it’s easier to just pace the sidewalk. At the very least, it’s a cheaper exercise.
The Molino Lofts, as they are known, are the last place in Los Angeles where, I’m told, Hill kept residence before moving “south of Huntington Beach,”according to an insider. Since she very deliberately withdrew herself from the fame whores of the music industry and public eye, the impact of Ms. Hill—as she insists on being referred to now—persists. She’s an enigma. A fantasy. A living, breathing Rubik’s Cube.
Talib Kweli’s poignant homage, “Ms. Hill,” from his mixtape Right About Now, dealt with both personal and publicized events. “That song is based on experiences I had with Lauryn early in my career, and how influential she still is,” tells the rapper. The moment of inspiration came when he was at the BET Awards in 2005. “She was supposed to come back and perform after everybody else. I thought about how they always want Lauryn to come perform, but they are never satisﬁed with what she wants to perform.”
** BUILDING A MYSTERY **
It’s hard to reconcile Hill’s image with her public actions; her spiritual side with her professional reputation; her warm baby face, sweet, soulful voice with the harsh adjectives and phrases some who know her or have come into contact with her use. How can one who claims to be so anti-materialistic consistently demand monetary compensation for coverage or interviews? (So do some of those near to her, by the way.) Hill’s ﬁrst concert with a live band in ﬁve years, back in October 2006, was for a corporate group of American Express’s best customers at the ultra-chic W Hotel on Lexington Avenue in New York City. You can believe she got paid for that.