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Fugees - The Score Music Album Reviews

Fugees - The Score Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today we revisit the 1996 album from the hip-hop trio, a socially conscious blockbuster grounded by the realities of the immigrant experience.

In the summer of 1994, the Fugees were in danger of getting dropped. The New Jersey hip-hop trio’s debut LP Blunted on Reality, produced by Kool and the Gang’s Khalis Bayyan, was a misguided effort to conform to the aggressive street sounds that, while popular at the time, failed to capture the multi-faceted perspectives of Prakazrel Samuel Michel, Wyclef Jean, and Lauryn Hill. After the first single “Boof Baf” whiffed on commercial radio and record sales flagged, the Fugees appeared to have flopped. Were it not for remix guru Salaam Remi, they just might have.

The 22-year old producer had made his name crafting records for hip-hop OGs like Kurtis Blow and Craig G, and remixing dancehall tracks by Shabba Ranks and Super Cat. A master at blending the sounds of the Caribbean with breakbeats from the streets, Remi was recruited by Columbia to remix the next two singles in hopes of landing a hit. For the first, “Nappy Heads,” they shed the shouty rapid-fire flows of the original, giving Wyclef and Lauryn Hill’s bars room to breathe, slowing down the tempo and rebuilding the bassline with a jazzy swing. Having stripped away the tough guy façade from the album’s original recordings, what remained was a more accurate representation of their energies; Wyclef’s goofy charm, Lauryn’s effortless cool, Pras’ precocious wisdom. It quickly caught fire at New York’s Hot 97 (where Remi worked on Funkmaster Flex’s show) and cracked the Billboard 100. Columbia finally got the hit they had been looking for, and the Fugees got to make another album.

The Score was birthed at those early sessions with Remi. Not long after the “Nappy Heads” remix dropped, he played a beat originally made for—and snubbed by—Fat Joe, flipping a Ramsey Lewis sample into a boom-bap film score that inspired Wyclef to spontaneously shout his prophetic opening bar: “We used to be number 10/Now we permanent at one.” It was Lauryn that brought the “La,” riffing on hooks until she landed on Teena Marie’s 1988 hit, christening the ineffable “Fu-Gee-La.” The song would serve as the spiritual center of the new record, and their new sound.

Armed with a $135,000 advance and complete creative control, Pras, Lauryn, and Wyclef retreated to the Booga Basement, the makeshift studio in Wyclef’s uncle’s house that had become the home base for their Refugee Camp crew. They invested the advance in professional studio equipment and founded a creative hub for the constellation of artists in their orbit (including Rah Digga, John Forté, and an extremely young Akon), a home base from which Wyclef and his cousin Jerry Wonda would produce hits that would be heard around the world. They spent five months in 1995 writing and recording The Score, freed from the ticking clock of rented studio time and the watchful eye of label executives. 

For Wyclef, the endeavor was a 24/7 lifestyle. He had moved into a bedroom upstairs after being kicked out of his home in Newark by his religious father for creating sinful music. The lyrical themes weren’t that different from their debut, but in the Booga Basement, the Fugees finally sounded like themselves. “Problem with no man, before Black, I’m first human,” Wyclef spits on “How Many Mics,” offering a glimpse into how the Fugees viewed their connection to the world at large. As “refugees” or even “hip-hoppers” they’d grown accustomed to being othered, but those experiences evoked as many commonalities as they did differences. From their perspective, everyone seeks refuge from something; their jobs, their families, police, or their own neighborhoods. The Fugees found it in music; the ’70s R&B and soul of Lauryn’s youth, the rock and pop Pras and Wyclef gravitated to while living with their rap-hating preacher fathers, and the Caribbean-influenced hip-hop they wanted to make themselves. All of this can be heard in The Score. At the time of its release, there was little else like it.

The group managed to balance these three volatile personalities by carving out distinct roles that naturally highlighted their strengths while covering their weaknesses. Pras was smart enough to recognize he was the weak link musically. His verses are always the shortest, and while he had an ear for pop hits, he could neither sing nor play any instruments. But his business acumen was sharp: he’s the one who got them the record deal and was trusted to handle the finances. (It was also his idea to cover an early-’70s ballad, one that would catapult them into the Top 40.) Wyclef, ever the daydreaming troubadour, brought an element of musicianship the others lacked. Adept at both guitar and piano, at Fugees shows he would spin street tales alongside screeching solos, viewing himself as equal parts Melle Mel and Jimmy Cliff.

Then there was Lauryn Hill, the virtuoso: The best singer, the best rapper, the coolest, calmest, and most collected. Her singing balances sweetness with strength, with just a touch of the vulnerability she would later explore on her solo opus The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. But Lauryn the MC was untouchable, a confident woman unfazed by her status in a man’s world. Throughout The Score, she dismisses sex pests (“The Mask”), wannabe mafiosos (“Ready or Not”), and creatively bankrupt biters (“How Many Mics”) with equal aplomb. And never has a rapper been so unbothered by so-called competition as Lauryn is on “Zealots”:

So while you fuming, I’m consuming mango juice under Polaris    
You’re just embarrassed 'cause it's your last tango in Paris    
And even after all my logic and my theory    
I add a ‘motherfucker’ so you ignant niggas hear me

Haiti’s refugee crisis, fueled by political unrest and state violence, hit its peak in the early ’90s with the coup d’etat that deposed the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Haitian-Americans, already callously branded by the CDC in 1982 as one of four groups determined to be "risk factors" for HIV infection (the others being “homosexuals, heroin addicts, and hemophiliacs”), were being repatriated en masse as they fled the violence by boat, and those that made it ashore were detained indefinitely. Many Haitian-Americans understandably kept their ethnicity secret, allowing people to mistake them for Jamaicans or immigrants of other Caribbean nations.

When the Fugees first got together, “refugee” was most likely to be heard in a derogatory context. But Pras and Wyclef chose to embrace the culture, and seek common ground with refugees worldwide. It was genuinely wild to see the “Ready or Not” video in rotation on MTV, with Pras rapping “I, refugee, from Guantanamo Bay/Dance around the border like I’m Cassius Clay” from a submarine, a million-dollar Hollywood production depicting Caribbean outlaws openly flouting racist—and illegal—U.S. border policies towards those they slurred as “boat people.” Their effect on the palpable stigma towards Haitians may not be quantifiable, but at a time when Haitians had trouble selling their homes and Haitian goods could not be sold in stores, it was a strong statement of identity and a rejection of the status quo. Wyclef would later squander that goodwill in the wake of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince after his Yéle Haiti Foundation was accused of misappropriating what amounted to $16 million in donations earmarked for humanitarian efforts. But in the ’90s, Pras and Wyclef were some of the only high-profile Haitians in the public sphere, and it’s hard to understate just how radical it was for a crew of mostly Haitians to call themselves the Refugee Camp.

But beyond their ethnicity, the record manages to strike the elusive balance between mass appeal and street authenticity. Mainstream media at the time tended to highlight the dynamism of their impressive live performance, with their hits interwoven with medleys of classic tunes played on live instruments standing in stark contrast to their peers’ hype men and backing tracks. But the record was made of, for, and by the hood, yet it wasn’t gangster; it was socially conscious but grounded in the street by the realities of the immigrant experience. The Fugees brought a remarkably diverse set of references to a hip-hop record—Lauryn’s R&B & soul, Pras’ rock and pop influences, and Wyclef’s Caribbean flair.

“Fu-Gee-La” may have been the spiritual center of The Score, but its biggest hit was a cover, wasn’t even officially released in the U.S. as a single, and was the last song they recorded for the album. It was Pras who suggested they cut Roberta Flack’s 1973 hit, but “Killing Me Softly With His Song” ultimately served as a vehicle for Lauryn Hill’s debut to the world at large, and was the catalyst for The Score’s unprecedented commercial success. Wyclef wasn’t convinced of its potential as a single, but radio programmers had other ideas, pushing the song onto the singles charts without an official release. It sold millions of copies in Europe, but in a calculating move, the song was never released to the U.S. market. The label was banking that it would force fans to buy the album to hear it—a scheme that would be impossible to repeat in the streaming economy.

Upon its release, few would believe that The Score would represent nearly a quarter of Lauryn Hill’s creative output. She had long been identified as the group’s breakout talent, fending off suggestions—and offers—to leave her group behind long before it eventually dissolved. She seemed to have been anointed for stardom from a young age; Before graduating high school she had already acted in an Off-Broadway play (Club XII, the hip-hop Twelfth Night), daytime soap (As the World Turns), and two feature films (Sister Act 2, King of the Hill), as well as releasing the Fugees debut. In the face of the undeniable talent on display on The Score, she grew tired of feeling that people (and press) assumed that her male collaborators were largely responsible for her—and the group’s—success, tired of being seen as Wyclef’s girl.

And while she would evolve into something bigger than hip-hop on her 1998 solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, her work on The Score remains unparalleled in the genre; no MC has ever sung with such soul, power, and grace, nor has any singer ever spit as hard as she does here. If that statement sounds histrionic, just try to come up with a list of her peers that sing and rap even remotely as well as she did. Cee-Lo? Pharrell? Drake? It’s laughable. There’s a reason why everyone freaked out when Azealia Banks dropped “212”; the skillsets just do not often intersect, despite the AutoTune crooners that have since flooded the pop charts. And even the OGs place her at or near the top of their best-ever MC lists. Yet even after all the praise and recognition, she still felt somewhat unseen, somehow unappreciated. This would manifest itself in Miseducation, both in its powerful expressions of vulnerability and in her tyrannical exclusion of her collaborators from that album’s writing and production credits.

The Fugees recording career barely lasted three years. Flooded with offers and opportunities in the wake of their multi-platinum opus, the group began to fracture. Wyclef began recording The Carnival, supported—both emotionally and creatively—by Pras and Lauryn, who both make guest appearances. But when Lauryn started writing songs for her own solo debut, Wyclef gave her the cold shoulder, a stinging rebuke in the wake of the many solo opportunities Lauryn had spurned in solidarity with her group. The dynamic was made all the more awkward by their clandestine romance, despite his marriage to another woman, and later, Lauryn’s with Bob Marley’s son Rohan. And when the birth of Lauryn’s first child became embroiled in a paternity scandal, the fracture became a fissure, ending hopes of a prompt reconciliation.

The Score was the product of chance alchemy, made by three artists whose independent visions coalesced just long enough to create something remarkable. In the process, they laid out a template for hip-hop’s cleared-sample era, where the curation of old records was more important than how you chopped it up and disguised it. Rappers and producers quickly realized that if you had to pay for it, you might as well make the sample recognizable to those that remember the orginal, and court that new audience in the process. “Killing Me Softly” exists across several decades: It borrows from the Roberta Flack version, which itself a re-arranged cover of the Lori Lieberman original; the Fugees version adds the boom-bap drum beat from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum,” which itself samples “Memory Band” from Minnie Riperton’s Rotary Connection.

The Fugees managed to diversify the voice of the ghetto, one often depicted in a single dimension. They reclaimed pride for Haitians worldwide, a heritage maligned for its postcolonial poverty and strife but still remembered as the setting for the new world’s first successful revolt of enslaved people against their oppressors. Their sound was multifaceted because they were, too, their music diverse, just like the Black experience.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Fugees - The Score Music Album Reviews Fugees - The Score Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Sunday, May 23, 2021 Rating: 5

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