05 September 2019

"Just Like Water" by Lauryn Hill (2001)

I decided to research this song because it's one of my favorites from back in the day, like occasionally it just randomly plays in my head.  Moreover it may be the last truly-good track that Lauryn Hill ever made.


Lauryn Hill (born in 1975) was by far the most-successful female hip-hop artist of the 1990's.  Her classic 1998 album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998), set the record for most Grammy nominations (10) and actually Awards won (5) by a female artist in a single year.  She originally came out in 1994 as a part of the Fugees, along with Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel.

As can be ascertained from the artwork above, Lauryn was a Rastafarian.  And acknowledging the spiritual side of life has always been her style.  This formula worked out well earlier in her career but not so much by the time MTV Unplugged 2.0 (2001) rolled around.

The cover to Lauryn Hill's MTV Unplugged 2.0


A lot transpired in Lauryn Hill's life between the release of the two aforementioned albums, and her work reflected this reality.  Indeed a critic from Entertainment Weekly described MTV Unplugged 2.0 as "perhaps the most bizarre follow-up in the history of [popular music]".  Or put into layman's terms, whereas Miseducation was really, really good, MTV Unplugged was really, really whack.  And the reason for such was apparently Lauryn going through a major identity crisis at the time.

So instead of sticking to the sound fans had come to know and love, she decided to re-brand herself as a "hip-hop folk singer".  And even that's a stretch, because there wasn't really anything hip-hop about MTV Unplugged 2.0, at least not from what I remember my singular time listening to it.  Indeed I think it's safe to say that many of her fans felt just as myself, that Lauryn had somehow betrayed us by deciding to transition into hardcore-folk music.  I mean it's only her and a guitar on the album.

But in Hill's defense, I imagine she must've gone through hell not only being the lead positive-role model in hip-hop but also due to the jealousy she must have faced from other artists due to her success.  But at least MTV Unplugged did produce one sonic gem, which is Just Like Water.


I'm not going to even try to breakdown all of the elaborate metaphors she uses in this track, because they all ultimately lead back to one idea anyway.  The singer is interacting with someone.  The only thing we know definitely about this individual is that it is a male.  And via her interactions with him, Lauryn Hill is undergoing some type of monumental, edifying, internal transformation.  Thus the titular "water" is an allegory pointing to what's happening to her on the inside, as in a type of purification.  And once again, the entire experience is made possible by her dealing directly with the aforementioned entity.

And the reason I say entity is because there is really only two ways to interpret who she is singing about.  The most-likely explanation would be that Lauryn is referring to some type of spiritual experience and thus is alluding to a spiritual entity.  Either that or she is singing about a romantic interest.  And honestly, the lyrics of this song are a bit to heavy-handed to be referring to a lover.


Just Like Water dropped on 7 May 2002 with the rest of MTV Unplugged 2.0, which came to us via Columbia Records.  The song was written and produced by Lauryn Hill.  And the team is basically just her and her guitar.


In reality Lauryn Hill, as historically successful as she was, only had a pop-music career which lasted less than a decade, as the release of MTV Unplugged 2.0 pretty much ended her tenure as a trending artist.  Perhaps that was the intended plan.  But at least one memorable song came from the project.  And if you aren't familiar with Just Like Water, I suggest you take a moment to give it a listen via the video embedded below, especially if you're a Lauryn Hill fan or have an affinity for a cool guitar track.