It’s not often that a group comes along that makes an impact equal to that of the Fugees. Comprised of artist/producers Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, and Pras, the trio from out of New Jersey are behind some of the biggest rap hits of the mid-to-late ’90s and helped lay the foundation for other rap acts such as Outkast to have crossover success while still retaining their credibility. Forming as a unit in 1990, the Fugees would record demos under the moniker Tyme alongside their band, Tranzlator Crew, and score a record deal with Ruffhouse/Columbia. Changing their name to the “Fugees,” the group released their first album, Blunted on Reality, in 1994, the group caught the ears of boom-bap enthusiasts with tracks like “Nappy Heads” and “Vocab,” but failed to achieve any considerable mainstream success and was deemed just short of a flop.
Taking a year off the scene to regroup and retool, the Fugees returned in 1996 with their sophomore effort, The Score, which would even their own score with detractors who had written them off following their lackluster debut. Released on February 13, 1996, the album – which was recorded in the basement of one of Wyclef’s uncle’s homes – was a stark contrast to their debut in terms of commercial appeal and political undertones. While Blunted on Reality touched on these issues, The Score saw the three rappers delve into the sociopolitical subject matter that has helped set The Score apart from the run of the mill album and given it more substance in the eyes of critics and fans.
But the album also contained its fair share of flair, notably on the singles that helped push it to multi-platinum and make it one of the biggest selling rap albums of all time. The Fugees may have never recorded together as a full unit following Lauryn Hill’s departure from the group following the album, The Score remains one of the definitive albums in hip-hop history and marks rap’s emergence as a genre with growing crossover appeal. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, we’ve selected five tracks from The Score that best stand the test of time.
The Fugees keep the features to a minimum on The Score, but one cut that sees the trio outsourcing verses is “Family Business,” a brooding selection that serves as a battle royal of rhyme spitters. Featuring John Forte and Omega, the latter kicks the track off, rapping “Where I was born, nothing is promised /My life is filled with less hope than the prophecies of Nostradamus / Omega marks the ending of predictability, birth of agility / Who will it be to test me and expose their futility,” before passing the mic off to Wyclef, who also turns in a verse full of dexterous couplets. While all four rappers come with admirable performances, Lauryn Hill takes poll position with lines like “My circle it can’t be broken open, cut-throatin’, provokin’ / Record promotin’, tokin’, chokin’ on they words like smoke, and / Cause we soft spoken, doesn’t mean that we’ve forgotten / Your booty smells rotten and one day you will be gotten,” while John Forte closes out the proceedings with a stellar anchor a verse. “Family Business” may be unheralded in comparison to the massive hits featured on The Score, but remains one of the more memorable moments from the album that will whet any rap fiend’s appetite.
One of the more potent offerings on The Score is “Cowboys,” which links the Fugees with fellow New Jersey rappers Outsidaz for a battle of the wits. Produced by the Fugees, John Forte, and Jerry Duplessis, the beat contains a sample of “Something ‘Bout Love” by The Main Ingredient and is tailor-made for the bruising bar-work that’s put on display by all parties. Wyclef and Pacewon trade rhymes on the opening verse before the main event that is Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga takes place on the second verse, with both ladies proving their worth and engaging in some friendly lyrical-jousting. “Cowboys” stands as one of the premier tunes on The Score and is among the most vicious posse cuts of its era, hands down.
“Ready Or Not”
“Ready or not, here I come, you can’t hide / Gonna find you and take it slowly,” Lauryn Hill croons on “Ready Or Not,” the third single released from The Score. Produced by Fugees and Jerry Duplessis, the beat samples “Boadicea” by Irish musician Enya, who was prepared to sue the group over the uncleared sample, but settled out of court. Wyclef bats lead-off and Lauryn Hill comes through with the clean-up on the following verse, spitting “
I play my enemies like a game of chess, where I rest
No stress, if you don’t smoke sess, lest
I must confess, my destiny’s manifest
In some Goretex and sweats I make treks like I’m homeless” and bragging “
I can do what you do, easy, believe me
Fronting niggas give me heebie-jeebies” while comparing herself to Nina Simone. “Ready Or Not” failed to match the blockbuster success of “Killing Me Softly,” but was a hit on urban radio and spawned an accompanying music video that was a big hit on MTV and helped to further cement the Fugees status as the biggest group in all of hip-hop at the time.
“Killing Me Softly”
Prior to rising to prominence in the rap world as a member of the Fugees, Lauryn Hill was an accomplished actress with a role in Sister Act 2 as a teenage vocalist to her credit. While her singing talents weren’t a secret to those in the know, the whole world would be put on notice when she displayed her vocal prowess on a song titled “Killing Me Softly,” from The Score. Released as the follow-up single to “Fu-Gee-La,” “Killing Me Softly” samples “Bonita Applebum” by A Tribe Called Quest, who lifted the original riff from psychedelic soul band Rotary Connection’s 1967 song, “Memory Band.” Singing “Strumming my pain with his fingers / Singing my life with his words / Killing me softly with his song /Killing me softly, with his song telling my whole life with his words / Killing me softly, with his song,” Lauryn’s infectious pipes enchanted rap and r&b fans alike, allowing the Fugees to cross over in a way that few rap groups have to date, or since. Peaking at No. 1 on the U.S. Mainstream Top 40 chart, “Killing Me Softly” would become the Fugees most successful single and make The Score one of the biggest albums of the year.
“We used to be number 10, now we’re permanent one /
In the battle lost my finger, Mic became my arm,” Wyclef Jean raps on “Fu-Gee-La,” the lead-single from the group’s sophomore LP, The Score. Produced by Salaam Remi, the beat contains a sample of “If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want To Be Right” by Ramsey Lewis and is matched with metallic drums and flutes, over which the three MCs drop fluid flows and __. Crafty couplets like “Yeah in saloons we drink Boone’s and battle goons till high noon / Bust rap tunes on flat spoons, take no shorts like poom poom’s / See hoochies pop coochies, for Gucci’s and Lucci / Find me in my Mitsubishi, eating sushi, bumping Fugees” – spat by Lauryn Hill on the track’s second verse – showcase the adept lyricism and skill that made them underground stalwarts. And when you add in Hill’s vocals on the hook, the recipe is the quintessential song by the Fugees and an undisputed rap classic.