Lauryn Hill’s ‘Neurotic Society’: Force The Hand, Get The Finger

Lauryn Hill rages back with an angry new single, one that shows she hasn't lost a step.

Lauryn Hill doesn’t do deadlines. A cursory glance at her career over the past decade proves that.

So when reports began circulating that she’d signed a $1 million deal with Sony — one that stipulated she release five new songs (and an album) — well, most folks probably rolled their eyes. But then, on Saturday, she up and released “Neurotic Society,” her first bit of new music since “Repercussions” leaked in 2010 … and one couldn’t help but think that perhaps Hill had changed her ways. Or maybe she was really hoping to avoid going to jail over her unpaid taxes .

You get the feeling it’s more of the latter. Why? Well, for starters, there’s the fact she’s added a rather biting addendum — “Compulsory Mix” — to the title of her new song, which strongly suggests she was forced to release the track to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. And as if that point wasn’t quite clear enough, consider the note she penned to coincide with the song’s debut, which read, in part:

“Here is a link to a piece that I was ‘required’ to release immediately, by virtue of the impending legal deadline. I love being able to reach people directly, but in an ideal scenario, I would not have to rush the release of new music.”

So, yes, Hill was coerced into releasing the song, either by her new label, her legal woes, or both. But as she’s proven time and time again, if folks are going to force her hand, well, she’s going to give them the finger. And “Neurotic Society” is most certainly one giant extended middle-digit, a rattling, rambling shard of stone-y paranoia that’s bound to make the shareholders sweat. Over spiraling electronic burbles and rat-tat-tat drumming, Hill dismisses 2013 as “a joke time, [a] metaphorical coke time,” jabs at corporations’ “strategies, domination and mastery,” and drops missives like “Quiet victims with no defense portrayed over dollars and cents/Maladjusted ignorant malediction and dissonance.” Needless to say, this isn’t the kind of song that shifts units.

But if you think Hill’s concerned with that, well, you haven’t been paying attention. Like she said in her note, “Neurotic Society” was also released in memory of her former labelmate Chris Kelly who succumbed to the societal ills she’s vivisecting on the track (“I am even more pressed to YELL this to a multitude that may not understand the cost of allowing today’s unhealthy paradigms to remain unchecked,” she wrote). Given that — and, really, everything that’s happened in her career over the past 10 years — it’s not surprising that Hill sounds so angry, so disenfranchised, so overwrought on the track. It was probably inevitable.

More importantly, the song’s sonic and lyrical heft remind us that Hill is a positively vital artist, the kind of mercurial talent capable of disappearing for a decade, then re-emerging to serve notice that she’s been watching us all along, and she doesn’t like what she’s seen. If she has to play the game, she’s going to do it on her terms, by her rules. Don’t try to fit her into a box, because she’s just not going to fit.

Will “Neurotic Society” satisfy Sony? Sure, on a contractual level. But you get the feeling there are more than a few panicked meetings happening in boardrooms today … which was almost certainly Hill’s goal all along. Force the hand, get the finger. Or, more appropriately, the fist. Welcome back, Ms. Hill.