“Mystery of Iniquity” by Lauryn Hill explores the topic of the United States legal system, and the injustices the people have faced by it. In all honesty, there are not many songs specifically about this subject matter. After digging further into Hill’s lyrics, one can find some of the roots that she’s getting to, which forms a clearer lineage. Hill brings into the song not only injustice from the legal system, but focuses on the corruption and the mistreatment of people of color.
One of the lines in the song specifically references a song of lineage, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Hill says:
“Burnin’ up the branch and the root
The empty pursuits of every tree bearing the wrong fruit”
This is a direct allusion to “Strange Fruit” and ties in her discussion of racism within the legal system. “Strange Fruit” discusses the horrendous lynchings that took place in the South at the time of the song’s release. Billie Holliday was said to have performed to that with nothing being served, and only a light on he, the lights going down, and saying nothing after. Lauryn Hill had this in the middle of her set, so it couldn’t have the same effect, but unlike most of her songs in this album, she didn’t say anything about the subject matter before or after, she just went into this song, and I believe there is a reason for both of their performance choices.
I think both of these songs inspired Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves,” which samples “Strange Fruit” and discusses modern day racism. West has discussed Hill being his biggest inspiration many times also, so this song feels like a direct part of “Mystery of Iniquity’s” continuing lineage.
Another song that could be seen as lineage to Hill’s “Mystery of Iniquity” is the Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Hill actually married into the Marley family, and expressed how much of an inspiration Marley was to her in interviews. The songs contain some similar themes with many biblical references and the theme of “mental slavery,” a repercussion of modern day racism. Both songs are looking for redemption and a solution to injustice, Marley just took a more peaceful approach, and Hill’s is more frustrated.
The final song of lineage that works with “Mystery of Iniquity” is “Changes” by Tupac. This song also expresses frustration with similar social issues such as racism and poverty. Tupac expresses his anger and restlessness that no matter what happens nothing ever changes with the injustices he’s speaking about.
All of these songs discuss similar themes in several different ways of expressing it through their performance and lyrics. As Tupac’s song describes though, nothing ever changes, and all of these issues are still relevant today, with new protest songs being made about it, but no progress legally or socially.