April 15, 2008

Fugees - The Score (February 13, 1996)


File this one under "Rap Music Anomalies". The Fugees, made up of Lauryn Hill, Wycles Jean, and Pras Michel, released their debut album Blunted On Reality onto deaf ears in 1994, and regardless of what anyone may have said otherwise in the comments of my original review, that shit sucked, son. Except for on one fucking song (the remix to "Nappy Heads"), the rapping was unpolished, but not in a charming way; in fact, with the amount of shouting that took place, I'm surprised that Wyclef and Pras didn't rip their throats into obscurity. The beats were also awful, and those two ingredients should have reserved the Fugees a spot in the "Who the fuck are...?" clearance bin.

Still, Ruffhouse/Columbia put up the budget for a second album, lest they be accused of violating the terms of their own contract. (I'm sure that the label was appeased by the fact that Lauryn Hill was easily marketable, what with her being pleasing on the eyes and all, and most importantly, not yet crazy.) Sensing that it was time to put up or shut up, the group pulled out all the stops: the trio fine-tuned their musical ears to procure better beats, and Wyclef even took a correspondence course on how to spit rhymes properly and more effectively. (Sadly, Pras was unable to afford the class, as working the night shift at Chick Fil-A doesn't pay as much as you would hope.)

I was shocked when the group unleashed The Score upon the world in 1996. Although the first single was actually "Fu-Gee-La", "Killing Me Softly" became a freaking inescapable Cloverfield monster; it's actually kind of sad that a Roberta Flack cover has had more of an impact on the music industry than any of the Fugees's original compositions. I have a distinct memory of standing in line at a snack bar (probably in a movie theater) while a young girl, about my age, told her older brother to not forget to pick up The Score at Best Buy later that day, and then proceeded to sing "Killing Me Softly" in almost its entirety. (It was a long line.) I imagine that an awful lot of copies of The Score were sold to teenage girls in a similar capacity.

In looking through the liner notes, I'm surprised at the sheer audacity of Pras specifically. Inarguably the least talented member of the crew, his final comments in his "Thank You"'s is fucking hilarious: "I hope everyone got tired of sucking dicks in '95"? Who the fuck are you talking to, Pras? Your brand new teenage girl fanbase? The guest stars on The Score are also slightly obscured: you have to dig through the credits to even catch a glimpse of the Fugees's admitting that they had assistance on their tracks. To that end, the unofficial fourth Fugee, John Forte, appears on a handful of tracks, and producer/rapper Diamond D and various members of Tha Outsidaz pop up as well. There's even a secret uncredited guest star on one of the bonus tracks that shocked the shit out of me today in 2008, someone whom I won't even name right now, in a vain effort to get my two readers to read the rest of the review.

The Score, although both a critical and commercial success, would be the first and last bit of success for the Fugees as a group. Shortly after its release, they began work on solo projects, which led to infighting amongst the crew, eventually causing the group to disband. And even though they reunited for Dave Chappelle's Block Party (a great film, by the way), toured a little bit, and even recorded a couple of singles, the odds on the Fugees getting back together are grim; your money would be put to better use betting against Britney Spears getting into at least four more car accidents before the end of the summer.

And here we go.

1. RED INTRO (FEAT RAS BARAKA & RED ALERT)
I find it hysterically funny that zillions of people bought The Score based on "Killing Me Softly", and they are immediately greeted with this aggressive-as-fuck rap album intro. The storybook "dings" are a nice touch, and I appreciate the effort put in to trying to incorporate all of the song titles in one long rant. Don't get me wrong, it's still a ridiculous rap album intro, but it goes a long way toward explaining the use of The Godfather's font on the cover.

2. HOW MANY MICS
It's telling that Lauryn Hill is the first rapper you hear on the album. A simple melody with the backing of a drum machine can go a long way toward capturing Max's interest. While Wyclef has stepped his rap game up considerably (being granted a second chance can cause miracles), Pras sounds about as terrible as a platinum-selling bag of defective hammers would on the mic.

3. READY OR NOT
Just like with the Wu's "Careful (Click, Click)", I always picture being on a submarine when I hear this song. Of course, it doesn't help that the video for this third single takes place on a fucking submarine. This is also the first track in The Score's sequencing that showcases Lauryn's singing voice. There's a reason she went solo, my two readers.

4. ZEALOTS
Uses a sample from one of my wife's favorite songs of the moment, The Flamingos's "I Only Have Eyes For You". Once, while listening to my iPod on shuffle in the car, this song popped up right after the Flamingos song. True story. I immediately purchased a single lottery ticket,, and am currently writing this post from my secluded tropical island, which is located right next to Mel Gibson's anti-semitic dumb ass. I like this track, and not just because Clef mentions Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me", a song that I actually love, corny as it sounds.

5. THE BEAST
This song actually kills the momentum created by the previous three tracks. Everyone probably recalls the ridiculous pseudo-racist skit that follows the song; once again, it's hilarious that zillions of people were exposed to this shit. It's painfully obvious that the Fugees didn't create The Score for mass consumption, but it happened anyway, and I guess that's a gold star on the board for them.

6. FU-GEE-LA
I loved this song when it was released as the first single, and I still love it today. From Salaam Remi's beat, to the short brown skirt that Lauryn Hill wears in the video (which itself was inspired by the flick The Harder They Come), the song just sounds good, and I especially loved the fact that radio deejays didn't catch on to Lauryn's use of the term "n----s" in her verse, letting it play out in its unedited glory right up until "Killing Me Softly" dropped and radio programmers started to give a fuck about the Refugee Camp.

7. FAMILY BUSINESS (FEAT JOHN FORTE & OMEGA)
John Forte, the unofficial fourth Fugee famous for releasing Poly-Sci (an album that I'm still pissed didn't hold up over the years) and for catching a bullshit drug distribution charge, makes his first welcome appearance on here, along with Omega, a guest rapper who sounds good here, but I have no idea who he is. The set-up to "Killing Me Softly", which is the coda to this track, was apparently a snippet of the original version of the track, which wasn't intended to be a straight-up cover of the Roberta Flack song. I've heard the original song (about killing soundbwoys and the like) and let me tell you: you ain't missing much.

8. KILLING ME SOFTLY WITH HIS SONG
No joke, that's how the title is written in the liner notes, although it appeared on MTV and such in its abbreviated form. You already know this song, and your opinion was forged long before you discovered my blog. Just know that I was never much of a fan, although I liked how the video was essentially the Fugees in a movie theater watching an aborted first version of the video.

9. THE SCORE (FEAT DIAMOND D)
I don't actually think that D.I.T.C.'s Diamond D is the best producer on the mic, but he clearly outshines his hosts over his own instrumental creation.

10. THE MASK
Wyclef's verse about his past life at a Burger King is intriguing, but as a whole, the song isn't that great.

11. COWBOYS (FEAT PACE WON, RAH DIGGA, YOUNG ZEE, & JOHN FORTE)
I first heard this song in its video form, as it was the poorly-marketed fourth single (Ruffhouse/Columbia had already moved on to their Bootleg Versions EP). I was drawn in by the fact that the Fugees were in the same movie theater as in "Killing Me Softly", but the song was completely different. I've mentioned before that I feel this song is highly underrated, and every rapper (yes, even Pras) keeps the pace with Tha Outsidaz in an admirable way. Highlights include Rah Digga's love of "inhaling large clouds of smoke through [her] chalice", Rah Digga's baby daddy Young Zee's assertion that "there be more n----z than the NAACP" whenever his crew and the Refugee Camp get together, and shit, even the guy in the video spitting out his drink when Pras brags about pissing in his wine. John Forte's final verse is the rug that really ties the room together.

12. NO WOMAN, NO CRY
Wyclef shines in a mostly solo showcase, both covering and updating Bob Marley's classic track, and while this sounds pretty good, this isn't the version that Ruffhouse/Columbia shot a video for. (That version, with Steven Marley, can be found on the aforementioned Bootleg Versions EP.)

13. MANIFEST/OUTRO (FEAT RED ALERT & DJ SCRIBBLE)
Meh. Although the reading of the credits at the end of the track/album/flick is a nice touch. (I just noticed that the bonus track "Mista Mista" is referenced during the outro; I wonder if this was also present on the cassette tape versions of The Score, or if the comment was caught and edited out.)

The final three songs on The Score are labeled as bonus tracks:

14. FU-GEE-LA (REFUGEE CAMP REMIX) (FEAT JOHN FORTE)
I like the original much more, but I appreciate the fact that the lyrics are different, and I approve of any situation that results in John Forte clocking another cameo spot.

15. FU-GEE-LA (SLY & ROBBIE MIX) (FEAT JOHN FORTE & AKON)
Yeah, you read right: motherfucking Akon, who had to have recorded this cameo prior to getting locked up for grand theft auto and, consequently, turning his life around and becoming famous for being the guy that T-Pain mimics on a daily basis. Sadly, there is essentially no melody on this remix, which uses the same lyrics as the previous track. (EDIT: In case you haven't read elsewhere, Akon's already been exposed as a fraudulent gangsta, per The Smoking Gun: I'm sure this will go a long way toward rebuilding that career.)

16. MISTA MISTA
A deliciously profane Wyclef Jean on the acoustic guitar. I like the overall message of the song, but completely agree with the business decision to keep it from the original sequence of The Score. Who the fuck knows how the teenage girls would have handled this shit had it appeared right after "The Mask".

FINAL THOUGHTS: Not wanting to waste their second coming, the Fugees somehow pulled a good album out of their collective ass. Surprisingly, they did so without betraying their original vision (which was glimpsed, in horrible fasion, on Blunted On Reality); they just expanded on it, bringing in various different musical influences and guests, and in the process, becoming better musicians. This wouldn't have been my choice for Hip Hop Album That Transcends Genres And Sells Seventy Gazillion Copies Worldwide, but you could do a lot worse. (*cough* Pras's solo album *cough*)

BUY OR BURN? You probably already have this one, but if you were sick that year, you should pick it up. This is definitely an consistently entertaining listen. Too bad the group will never get their shit together long enough to see if a third album would be worth the effort.

BEST TRACKS: "Cowboys"; "Fu-Gee-La"; "Ready Or Not"; "Zealots"; "Mista Mista"; "Family Business"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Fugees - Blunted On Reality
John Forte - Poly-Sci

16 comments:

  1. that clark Kent remix was super duper too. They were great live for this album too, but part of that was I went with my girlfriend at the time who looked a lot like Halle Berry in The Last Boyscout and we had sex later but I pretended she was Lauryn.
    I also co-sign "Somebody's Watching Me", a song that I actually love, corny as it sounds.

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  2. "(Sadly, Pras was unable to afford the class, as working the night shift at Chick Fil-A doesn't pay as much as you would hope.)"

    Ahaha.
    Fucking love this blog, homie.
    Good work.

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  3. I was shocked back in 1996 when the R&B song with the Bonita Applebum beat helped to sell a zillion copies of this CD. And then I had to debate every non hip hop loving person I knew about how this was not the best hip-hop album in '96. It's amazing how being blatantly unoriginal can help you get paid in music.

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  4. yeah man, they had the bit about mista mista on the tape version: always confused the fuck outa me!

    vince man, this album is far from unorigianal. name an album that came before 'The Score' that drew solid elements from so many different places, worked as a concept album, provide 3 excelent rappers, and two excelent vocalists. Also whoever chose the guests on this album was on-sight. Akon oviously has talent although he is a retard now, but it was recognised. And the outsiders where given a chance here before D12 were even ever heard of.

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  5. Fuck you MAX!!! This album suxxx!!! Blunted On Reality was da shit you sucker ass nigger!! You can't rate for shit!!! U PUSSY!!!

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  6. what the bludclaat this bredda talking bout "blatantly unoriginal"...wicked album allround, the beast prolly being the only filler..and why max still sleeping on "vocab"? that was the other decent track of blunted on reality...

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  7. Good review again Max. Though not a big fan of the Fugees I'd still bumped this one quite a few times. And how about a Pacewon review sometime in the future?

    EyeSee.

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  8. Marlo - Blunted On Reality didn't have the version of Vocab that was any good; I addressed that on the original Blunted On Reality post. But "Vocab (Hip Hop Mix)" is my fsvorite Fugees song of all time.

    ag - I think I have a Pace Won disc somewhere in my boxes. I'm in the middle of packing right now, but I'll do what I can.

    jamu - Thanks for reading! Comments are always appreciated!

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  9. Dis album suxx mo ballz den u max.

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  10. ah finally found the time to review my request Max ?
    Thx bro, nice write up

    this is a cd that after all these years i can still easily listen to from begining till the end and there aren't that much around of those are there ?

    the ones that are are to be found on our wu-forum lol ... Max bro, when are we going to see you there ???

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  11. Pras, Pras-Pras!!!! If it were true that a chain is as strong as it's weakest link, againg I say, the Fugees would be up there (at the top of the wack list)with Wu-Tang (think U-God). I never thought much of "Killing Me Softly" either, however, adding "Nappy Heads" onto the single converted me towards their music and led me to getting into the album. Pras will forever go down in history as the rapper that makes other equally less gifted brothers and sisters think that they too can have a mic and a dream! So sad...

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  12. one weird shit about forte is that he sounds just like Rock from Heltah Skeltah, it seemed that he tried to copy his booming voice or something, about the CD, its a fucking classic, thats all i gotta say

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  13. The Big Lebowski reference - nice.

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  14. I thought you'd mention that Pras lyrics on Zealots were clear shot at Jeru - "And for you bitin' Zealots, Your rap styles are relics, No matter who you "Damaj", You're still a false prophet."

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  15. so many better albums that deserved even more praise than this did in 1996

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  16. AnonymousJuly 31, 2015

    The Score was an overrated hip-hop album. It basically just had some catchy big radio friendly songs that allowed the album to sell a ton. Most headz around my way weren't really feeling it. How Many Mics is dope tho and is the best track on the album.

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