The Fugees' "The Score" turns 19 today, so let's take a look back...
The Fugees second album, The Score, has garnered a significant amount of critical acclaim over the years. The LP turns 19 today, February 13th 2015, and we wanted to take a look back at the record’s creation, influence, and above all: music.
The Score has been called one of the best hip-hop albums of all-time, right up there with the likes of Illmatic and Ready to Die. The album peaked at #1 on the hip-hop charts and overall on the Billboard 200 charts.
The laidback feel of The Score wasn’t a conscious decision, but a matter-of-fact byproduct of the album’s creation. Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill and Pras Michael began recording the album in June of 1995 in Wyclef’s uncle’s basement, but didn’t finish it until November. Wyclef described the process as a relaxed pace by stating, "It was done calmly, almost unconsciously. There wasn't any pressure - it was like ‘let's make some music,’ and it just started forming into something amazing. It sounded like a feel-good hip hop record to us, and it was different than what anyone was doing at the time. It was three kids from an urban background expressing themselves."
Their label probably wasn’t too thrilled about the lackadaisical approach to recording, especially after their debut album Blunted onReality flopped. Nevertheless, Ruffhouse Records’ Christ Schwartz gave the Fugees a $135,000 advance for them to do work on a sophomore LP, proving that some times the suits DO know what’s best for hip-hop.
The album’s first (real) song, “How Many Mics?” brings a simple, eerie beat and an opening verse from Ms. Lauryn Hill that crushes almost anything that has been made in the past 15 years.
“I get mad frustrated when I rhyme
Thinkin' of all the kids that try to do this for all the wrong reasons
Season change mad things rearrange
But it all stays the same like the love doctor Strange
I'm tame like the rapper
Get red like a snapper, when they do that
Got your whole block saying true dat
If only they knew that it was you who was irregular
Sold your soul for some secular muzak that's whack
Plus you use that, loop over and over
Claiming that you got a new style
Your atempts are futile, oooh child
Your puerile brain waves are sterile”
The verse is fierce, and still holds its own after 19 years of constant rotation. In 2015, female MCs are rare, but in ’96 they were really rare. Foxy Brown definitely spit some sick rhymes, and Lil Kim did her thing too, but Lauryn Hill took things to a new level. If that wasn’t clear enough in “How Many Mics?” then the next song will certainly make you a believer.
“Ready or not, here I come, you can’t hide…” the three, three-word phrases that make up one of the great hooks in hip-hop history. The song is an absolute classic through and through, but it actually owes a bit to an old 60s track of the same name.
And to the multi-instrumentalist, new-age musician Enya.
But don’t let this take away from the track’s greatness. Most hip-hop songs derived from something from the parent generation, and this one is no exception. The creative juice that melted the Delfonics, Enya and some Brooklyn-based refugees is very much a cause for celebration. “Ready or Not” is one of the greatest moments in rap history.
The verses are emotional, urgent and flawless. Some of the most interesting moments include…
“But no don't weep, Wyclef's in a state of sleep
Thinkin' 'bout the robbery that I did last week.
Money in the bag, banker looked like a drag
I want to play with pelicans from here to Baghdad
Gun blast, think fast, I think I'm hit
My girl pinched my hips to see if I still exist.
I think not, I'll send a letter to my friends,
A born again hooligan only to be king again. “
“I play my enemies like a game of chess, where I rest,
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
Rap orgies with Porgy and Bess,
Capture your bounty like Elliot Ness, YES
Bless you if you represent the Fu
But I'll hex you with some witch's brew if you're Doo Doo
I can do what you do, easy, BELIEVE ME
Frontin' niggas give me hee-bee-gee-bees
So while you're imitating Al Capone
I'll be Nina Simone
And defacating on your microphone. “
“I refugee from Guantanamo Bay
Dance around the border like I'm Cassius Clay.”
“Zealots” continues the string of near-perfect songs, and although this one didn’t have the same mainstream impact as its predicessors, it is still a thoughtful track. “And even after all my logic and my theory, I add a muthafucker so you ignint niggas hear me,” is a clever commentary about rap music that still rings true today.
“The Beast” sees ultimate chemistry between Hill and Jean. The two got the start to their long, interesting and fruitful careers in The Fugees, and although the group hasn’t done much since 1997, the project still acted as the springboard to a ton of great music that the artists have been involved in. “The Beast” also sort of confirms Praz as the least prolific of the three artists, but, he did his thing in movies and music following The Fugees’ disbandment.
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” is the first of two 'official' covers on The Score. Lauryn Hill’s ability to cover Roberta Flack’s 1972 song is one of the greatest covers you will ever hear, and that is a promise. The hip-hop beat works perfectly with Hill’s sexy voice, and the melody she kicks at 3:15 could be her best performance ever.
Perfect displays of 90s hip-hop fill up the rest of the album, including the likes of “Fu-Gee-La,” “The Score,” “The Mask,” and “Cowboys.” "The Mask" plays on the idea of working at Burger King, while "Cowboys" talks about the gunslinging life. It's all told in such a way that keeps it timeless.
The Fugees take the main credit as producers on all these cuts, making them as revolutionary in their music as their words. Peep the beat on "Cowboys" and tell us it isn't one of the hottest beats you've ever heard not made by a dude named J Dilla.
The album keeps that rough ‘n’ tough Brooklyn style until you get to the Bob Marley cover: “No Woman, No Cry.” As it turned out, Wyclef loves his acoustic guitar, and thank God he picked it up to record the cover of Marley’s classic. Changing around some lyrics cleverly to fit where he was at (“…when we used to sit in a government yard in Brooklyn”) they were able to put their own spin on a legend’s work.
The Score is worth the hype, so whether it is one of your favorite albums or you’ve never heard it, February 13th is a good time to give it a spin. Happy 19th birthday, The Score, thanks for all the good times.