December 28, 1998 12:00 PM

Watch your back, Madonna; Lauryn Hill is restless. “I’m always on my toes,” she says. “I’m always moving. I’m never still.” This year, at the tender age of 23, Hill wrote, produced and performed on her first solo CD, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, a mix of hip hop, soul, reggae and gospel that made its debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and sent critics to new heights of hyperbole. The New York Times pronounced the triple-platinum Miseducation “miraculous,” and ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY dubbed Hill “the Aretha Franklin of the new millennium.”

Certainly she preaches the hip-hop version of R-E-S-P-E-C-T in a medium better known for its violence and misogyny: “Don’t be a hard rock when you’re really a gem/ Baby girl, respect is just a minimum,” she advises in the hit single “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Spirituality crops up too. “Talking about God doesn’t embarrass me,” says the lifelong Methodist. “It doesn’t make me less cool or less popular or corny.”

At the very least, Hill’s energy level seems evidence of divine intervention. Did this kid ever sleep? At 15, while already part of the Fugees, the Grammy-winning trio that raised the bar for hiphop music (and muscled into pop with their 1996 remake “Killing Me Softly with His Song”), Hill was also appearing as Kira on As the World Turns. While racking up straight A’s at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., she played a conflicted teen opposite Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act II: Back in the Habit. More recently she wrote and produced tracks for gospel-R&B stalwart CeCe Winans, as well as Whitney Houston, Carlos Santana and Aretha Franklin. “Lauryn saw the project through from A to Z,” says Franklin, “and at midnight she was still on her feet working.”

Hill has put college on hold (until 1994 she was studying history at Columbia University), and she did take two weeks off in November to give birth to daughter Selah, her second child with fiancé Rohan Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley. (The couple’s son, Zion, is 16 months.) But even at home in her native South Orange, N.J., she keeps busy, setting up a U.S. tour and fielding calls from Hollywood. Whatever happens, she has the appetite for it. “I was never one of those shy girls that just wanted a salad,” she recently told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. “I would be, like, ‘Whatever you’re having, I’m having double.’ ”

You May Like