When the credits for A$AP Rocky's third studio album were released on Thursday, everyone invested in the A$AP mythos, and many who aren't, were surprised and excited about the very last song on the album, "Purity," which features Frank Ocean and Ms. Lauryn Hill.
In the last few months, multiple rappers have used Hill's voice and melodies to convey their own messages: Cardi B interpolated "Ex-Factor" on her emotional warning shot "Be Careful," and Drake looped the same bit of the song to lend credibility to a disingenuous women-first agenda on "Nice For What." On "Purity," which samples "I Gotta Find Peace Of Mind" from Hill's 2002 MTV Unplugged album, Rocky and Ocean speak about their disillusionment with fame, using a moment that signaled the beginning of Hill's retreat from the public eye to get vulnerable about what their listeners don't see.
Ocean's fraught relationship with his celebrity has been dissected to death, as has, to a lesser extent, his fight for control over his art. "Fired the label like fuck brands/ Comfortable low nigga, fuck Xans," he rattles off after detailing his luxury transient lifestyle. If he can't direct our consumption of his public persona, at least he can be the only one making money off it. Rocky, on the second verse, talks about his sister's death in 2016. "Lose someone every release, it feels like the curse is in me," he raps.
From the outside looking in, Hill has never been able to find peace, and, in the context of their open verses, Ocean and Rocky seem to be saying their celebrity might never allow for it. But 16 years after MTV Unplugged, Hill, who has long been dismissively cast as our generation's cautionary celebrity tale, has appeared on three major songs in the last few months and, this summer, will embark on a massive world tour. Maybe these things just take time.
Thumbnail image: Pascal Le Segretain and Mike Coppola for Getty Images.