#4: The Rap Group Everyone Loved

May 8, 2004 (Updated May 8, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The Fugees went for a universal flava, and this album universally pleases.

Cons:I could have done without the two remixes and the Bob Marley impersonation.

The Bottom Line: Love Lauryn Hill and love the Fugees no matter what, okay?

What Didn't Make the Top 10
10: Me Against the World
9: E. 1999 Eternal
8: 93 'Til Infinity
7: One for All
6: Doe or Die
5: Enter the Wu-Tang

Nobody in hip-hop’s history has ever made music both as entertaining and intellectual as the Fugees, and that's why they are the best hip-hop group of all time, even though they were somewhat only like a duo, and they only released one groundbreaking album before forever splitting. Few people know that the Fugees’ musically arcane debut, Blunted on Reality, is intellectually superior to The Score, because The Score is the album that brought the group’s music to the mainstream in a fashion I don’t think we’ll ever see in hip-hop again. Even though the separated components of the Fugees’ greatness can still occasionally remind us of the united Fugees Camp of yesterday, no single group member can come close to personifying the whole group, which was simply magical even if the magic was so sadly ephemeral.

The Score, like Enter the Wu-Tang, features unique, instantly identifiable production on an album that stays faithful to one style throughout, making for a rare cohesive CD, where one track can be placed in the context of all others. What’s drastically different, of course, is the style brought by Wyclef & Lauryn, and the style brought by RZA. Whereas RZA basically defined modern hardcore hip-hop by producing Enter the Wu-Tang, the Refugee Camp production is far more acceptable to the general listener, as Wyclef introduces us to his fixations to the Pink Floyd song, “Wish You Were Here,” and some Kenny Rogers (bizarre, but effective, indulgences he continues in his solo efforts). Unless your circle of friends consists entirely of hardcore heads, you’ll agree that, mainly because of its diverse sounds, there has never been more enjoyable hip-hop than the tracks on The Score.

1: Red Intro – 1:51 (*****)
2: How Many Mics – 4:28 (*****)
3: Ready or Not – 3:47 (*****)
4: Zealots – 4:20 (*****)
5: The Beast – 5:37 (*****)
6: Fu-Gee-La – 4:20 (*****)
7: Family Business - 5:43 (*****)
8: Killing Me Softly with His Song – 4:58 (*****)
9: The Score feat. Diamond D – 5:02 (*****)
10: The Mask - 4:50 (*****)
11: Cowboys feat. Pace 1, Young Zee & Ra Digga – 5:23 (*****)
12: No Woman, No Cry – 4:33 (***)
13: Manifest/Outro – 5:59 (****)
14: Fu-Gee-La (Refugee Camp Remix) – 4:24 (****)
15: Fu-Gee-La (Sly & Robbie Mix) – 5:27 (***)
16: Mista Mista – 2:42 (*****)

The Score is propelled into the highest echelon of rap album sales (over ten million) by three monster singles, “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” “Fu-Gee-La,” and “Ready or Not.” But the album also anchors itself as not only one of the best-selling hip-hop albums of all time, but one of the best period with brilliantly produced, sublime tracks such as “Zealots” and “The Beast,” where Lauryn Hill’s striking R&B vocals do not make the actual rap verses an afterthought, as is the case with the singles.

But allow me to write a few paragraphs about Lauryn Hill because the lady deserves it. I’ve heard too many girls proclaim how they like Beyoncé, “because she’s hot.” That’s something I can tolerate with guys, not girls. And whereas it’s a general given that Beyoncé is hot, Lauryn is beautiful and unimaginably talented; by being adept in producing, rapping, and singing, it's no wonder she doesn't have to resort to stripping as much as MTV will allow. Thankfully, there are also plenty of women who like Lauryn Hill and the common thing about every cool gyal I’ve met is that they all worship Lauryn and pick up that mic at the Karaoke every chance they get, and start off with those lines, "Strumming my pain with his fingers..."

The quintessential Lauryn Hill song, and perhaps of all modern R&B, is the soulful resurrection of “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” which is one of those ubiquitous tunes that an entire generation grew up with, regardless of the individual’s musical preferences. And unlike, say, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” Lauryn delivers powerful emotions without the aid of intrusive, affected, power ballad production. There is a simple beat, a few notes plucked out of ATCQ’s timeless “Bonita Applebum”, and with that, Lauryn just rends the soul with a simultaneously tormented and joyous vocal performance. “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” is not a difficult song to sound euphonious while singing, but it’s probably impossible to sing it like Lauryn (unless you are her) - which is most likely why so many love attempting it.

“Ready or Not,” and “Fu-Gee-La,” further showcase Lauryn’s voice, but the two songs also have healthy rap helpings. As sad as everyone is about the Fugees’ breaking up, I don’t particularly blame Lauryn for leaving – she is not only the soulful singing voice behind the hooks, but also the best lyricist of the Fugees, as is demonstrated by these incredible lines from “Ready or Not,”

”Yo, I play my enemies like a game of chess.
Where I rest no stress if you don't smoke cess, lest
I must confess my destany's manifest
To some gortex and sweats. I make tracks like i'm homeless.
Rap orgies with Porgie and Bess,
Capture your bounty like Eliot Ness – yes!”

This is, of course, added on to the catchy chorus and the classic “Ready or Not” beat, arguably the perfect R&B beat – something that P. Diddy has unfortunately figured out. But if “Killing Me Softly,” and “Ready or Not” are Lauryn’s signature songs, then “Fu-Gee-La” is undeniably the signature song for the Fugees as a group. Guest producer Salaam Remi for Dashiki Productions Inc. immaculately blends hip-hop and reggae and all three primary Fugees members flow flawlessly over the soothing beat. But, in the end, it’s still Lauryn who sells this Fugees anthem with her enthusiastic delivery of the infectious hook.

Despite all the attention Lauryn Hill rightfully received after The Score, Wyclef Jean was still the leader of the Fugees and he does have plenty of talent to back up his role. Even though Wyclef is primarily an amazing producer (one of the best in the business) and his producing skills far exceed his emceeing, singing, and guitar-playing skills, he is crazy enough to continually attempt the latter three and talented enough to be at least respectable in those areas. Wyclef has an air of confidence about him, as if he believes he is the best at everything, but unlike many arrogant rappers, he seems more interested in showing he’s the best at everything, instead of just saying.

A perfect example of Wyclef’s confidence, and perhaps overconfidence, is in the song “No Woman, No Cry.” He must have figured that if Lauryn got to shine in a solo redoing Roberta Flack, he can shine in a solo redoing Bob Marley. Wrong. “No Woman, No Cry,” is as close to a bad track as The Score gets, and listening to the song, it’s obvious that Wyclef tried to imitate Bob Marley. It never appears like Lauryn tried to imitate Roberta Flack. Still, if there’s one man who has a voice even slightly resembling The Legend, and can match The Legend's intensity at the same time, he would be Wyclef. And while Wyclef’s rendition of the reggae classic is no where near the quality of that famed live performance by Bob, credit has to be given to Wyclef for at least not maiming the original song.

However, Wyclef is much more at home bringing his unique style of rapping: spitting many eclectic references and occasionally breaking into a lyrical narrative in the third-person. A reoccurring theme the Fugees, and particularly Wyclef, examines in The Score is the issue of image, and how people, and particularly other rappers, are too concerned with creating a false image. “The Mask,” as the song title suggests, directly deals with this topic. Although the track is one of the weaker lyrical efforts on The Score, the saxophone in the beat is brilliant and it’s great to see one of the most pervasive problems in hip-hop culture be dealt with internally from people who truly seem real.

”M to the A to the S to the K,
Put the mask up on the face just to make the next day.
Brothers be gaming; Ladies be claiming.
I walk the streets and camouflage my identity.
My posse uptown wear the mask;
My crew in the Queens wear the mask;
Stick up kids with the Tommy Hil wear the mask.
Yeah everbody wear the mask but how long will it last?”

But the two best pure hip-hop tracks on The Score are, unarguably, “Zealots” and “Cowboys.” On “Zealots”, Wyclef and Lauryn deliver metaphoric gem after metaphoric gem, and Lauryn spits one of my favourite rhymes from any rap album, ”And even after all my logic and my theory / I add a motherfucker so you ignorant niggaz hear me.” Actually, I don’t know if using profanity in a hip-hop song to attack profanity in hip-hop is ingenious or inane, but it does get you thinking. And while, “Zealots” is a very insightful track, “Cowboys” is simply fun. Seven different rappers exchange sometimes esoteric, sometimes hilarious lines in rapid succession, with Ra Digga and Lauryn making for an incredible female combo; but Praz gets the best line of them all: ”Fuck the sheriff – I shot John Wayne.”

And then there’s the title track, which I feel should have been the first track on the album (well, second, after the intro). “The Score” does nothing special lyrically, but it does bring cohesion to the album by taking memorable snippets from the other tracks and lacing the braggadocio verses with them. Diamond D does a very nice job producing the song, but it’s amusing that he would come on the end and spit a short verse that includes the line, ”Cuz by far I’m the best producer on the mic.” He’s not; but “The Score” still demonstrates the kind of unified effort put into The Score not seen in hip-hop albums today. Many tracks on The Score end with timely, hilarious, and worthwhile skits that allow some sort of sensible transition between tracks, and those skits and “The Score” demonstrate how this album is better than just all its tracks added up because the entirety, despite mixing so many musical styles, is almost like one long and beautiful track, with the exception of the three bonus tracks at the end.

It is never a good idea to include a song and two remixes to that song on the same LP. The original “Fu-Gee-La” may not have had as much international appeal as the group wanted, but it was a great song. With the two remixes, the group tries harder and harder to instill some dancehall flavour into “Fu-Gee-La”, and the song sounds worse every time. The Sly & Robbie Mix was actually recorded in Kingston, but the subdued beat is inexplicably missing any of the bossa nova style that defines dancehall – not that a dancehall beat is suited for “Fu-Gee-La” to begin with. But after two remixes (and perhaps two remixes too many), three unforgettable singles, and many hip-hop treasures, it is the final track “Mister, Mister,” that blew me away, and gave me a new perspective of The Score as a dark comedy of rap albums. “Mister, Mister,” allows Wyclef to shine far brighter than he did in “No Woman, No Cry,” and even than Lauryn did in “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”

The separate lives after the dissolution of the Fugees are fun to follow; initially, it seemed Lauryn would make Wyclef eat her dust, but now it seems Wyclef’s savvy will have the last laugh at the expense of Lauryn’s boldness. But the ultimate reason we continue to follow them is that we hold the faintest of hopes at the backs of our fanciful minds that the bickering will one day end, differences will one day be resolved, and the greatest rap group of all time will one day make a comeback.

(Coming up in #3: It's ill and it's automatically in the top 5 of any best rap albums of all-time list.)

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