Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 9: Fugees, "The Score"

Artist: Fugees
Album: The Score
Year: 1996
Label: Ruffhouse

Much like rock "supergroups," when more than one "great" rapper is on a single track, the results are usually less than stellar, as the emcees are too busy competing with one another as opposed to working together to make a single great song. The rhymes are usually short and uninspired, and the song itself fades quickly into obscurity. Bucking this trend, the trio of outstanding emcees that made up Fugees work brilliantly with one another, and their second record, 1996's The Score still stands as one of the best hip-hop records in history

Yielding a pair of #1 singles and grabbing the 1997 Grammy Award for "Best Rap Record," The Score is nothing short of hip-hop perfection. Fugees consists of Pras Michel, Wyclef Jean, and Lauryn Hill, all of whom met whilst in high school in New Jersey. In retrospect, it is amazing that all of this talent co-existed in the same group at one point, as all three emcees achieved great solo success after Fugees broke up. However, Fugees are not about three individuals showing their personal skills. The Score shows that there is an undeniable chemistry between the trio, and they play brilliantly off of one anothers' rhymes and ideas.

A group that is musically eclectic as their lyrics, The Score pulls influences from blues and gospel to doo-wop to what is, in fact, a sample of new-age singer Enya. This wide range in influence reflects the group members and their personal tastes, yet their shared love for smooth, soulful moods, as well as their clear knowledge of their Haitian ancestry are apparent. Understanding their own history and paying homage to it are clear throughout The Score, most clearly in the fact that two of their biggest hits are older songs that they've re-worked with new lyrics. Presenting a dark tale of urban strife, Fugees brought their own view to Bob Marley's classic, "No Woman, no Cry." In a song that still stands as "classic" today, The Fugees garnered a second #1 single (the first being "Fu-Gee-La") with a brilliant revamp of Roberta Flack's disco hit, "Killing Me Softly."

It is impossible to discuss Fugees without taking a moment to speak specifically about the woman they call "L Boogie." Smart, strong, and fearless, Lauryn Hill is nothing short of a trailblazer, and she uses The Score to begin making her case as one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) female emcees in rap history. Though a handful of female rappers had found a decent amount of success, until Lauryn Hill came onto the scene, the reality is that female rappers simple were not given the respect of their male counterparts. Her ability to write a mind-blowing rhyme, as well as sing gracefully soulful melodies sets her high above all of her peers. Having experienced her solo masterpiece, the Grammy winning Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, it is now quite clear that The Score was a preview of the genius that lies within this phenomenal artist.

This is not to say that one can overlook the work and talent of the other two-thirds of Fugees. Wycelf has similarly achieved worldwide acclaim with a number of hits, as well as notable appearances with artists like Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Wyclef as written some of the most conscious party anthems and is constantly pushing the envelope on what can be considered hip-hop. The Bob Marley cover/rework, "No Woman, No Cry" can now clearly be seen as a preview of what Wyclef would gain notoriety for as a solo artist. Pras has made himself into one of the most highly sought after and respected producers in all of hip-hop, and has had a part in nearly a dozen chart topping songs. Again, it is mind-boggling that these three world-class talents were able to co-exist in the same group for so long, and more specifically, share the spotlight with one another.

Truthfully, not enough can be said about the rhymes found throughout The Score. Flipping some of the most complex, original, consciously minded rhymes ever heard, Fugees were a breath of fresh air in an era dominated by gangsta rap. All three emcees have undeniable skills in both their writing and delivery. In both content as well as delivery speed Fugees are among the best, proving that one can deliver quick, potent rhymes, WITHOUT sacrificing clarity or content. Name checking everyone from Connie Chung to Elliot Ness to Newt Gingrich to Nina Simone, making scathing observations about the state of world economies, and commenting on the pitfalls of the slums of New Jersey and New York, The Score is peerless when it comes to lyrical content.

A majority of the rap and hip-hop records released in the 1990's were "gangsta rap" releases, sharing similar themes and becoming increasingly boring over time. Presenting a wide range of styles and influences, Fugees were proud to stand out from the crowd, and their undeniable skills and top notch rhyming quickly catapulted them to the top of the music world. Bringing eclectic, original, fresh music and beats and topping them with clever, honest lyrics, Fugees remain unparalleled to this day. Though only releasing two albums before breaking up, their 1996 record, The Score, is, was, and will always be one of the finest records ever recorded and provides a flawless blueprint of how to make a hip hop masterpiece.

Standout tracks: "How Many Mics, " "Zealots," and "Family Business."

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