August 4, 2009

Fugees - Bootleg Versions (November 26, 1996)

In 1996, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras Michel released their sophomore album The Score to an unsuspecting public. While it took a small miracle to have the album see the light of day in the first place (their debut, Blunted On Reality, didn't exactly scorch the Billboard charts), it ended up selling nearly twenty million copies worldwide. making it one of the most successful albums ever recorded. So naturally, their record label, Ruffhouse/Columbia, wanted to cash in on that success.

After releasing The Score, all three members began to work on solo projects, but during the time that the label was working the album to media outlets, the trio recorded several remixes in an effort to push the sales. The label collected some of these tracks (and some older remixes that they found in someone's waste bin) and released Bootleg Versions, an official EP featuring different versions of songs that you may be familiar with.

Bootleg Versions didn't sell nearly as well as The Score (how could it?); in fact, I'm hard-pressed to find someone that actually is aware of this disc's existence. Since the trio has effectively broken up for good (barring some divine intervention), Bootleg Versions inadvertently became the Fugees swan song (although all three members did report for work on Wyclef's solo album The Carnival, the first Fugee solo out of the gate).

Sadly, there are no additional John Forte verses to be found on Bootleg Versions.

After a goofy intro that features "Cowboys" (a single from The Score that doesn't get much credit for being an entertaining trifle) playing in the background, Clark Kent's remix to "Ready Or Not" kicks in with a beat that isn't on par with the original, but to be fair, it now sounds more like an actual rap song. Wyclef, Lauryn, and Pras all contribute new lyrics, as well, which was very nice of them. If you treat this as an entirely original effort and not a remix to an already established hit, you'll be better off, but this is still really fucking good.

This must have been included as a practical joke on the fans, but it isn't an especially funny one. Reggae artist Mad Spider, who appeared on Blunted On Reality but mysteriously disappeared by the time The Score was recorded, hijacks the instrumental from the seminal remix to "Nappy Heads" and refuses to let any of the other Fugees appear, making this song a waste of your valuable time. I appreciate the fact that they were trying to help out their friend, but this could have easily been replaced with an actual Fugees song, like, say, "Rumble In The Jungle" (their collaboration with John Forte, Busta Rhymes, and Q-Tip that appeared on the soundtrack to When We Were Kings).

The lone all-new song on Bootleg Versions begins with thirty seconds of Wyclef explaining that the group is about to "set it". (Set what? Set the clock? Set it on fire? Set it and forget it?) Then Lauryn Hill spits a verse and all is forgiven. This wouldn't have been a good fit on The Score, but it's still entertaining enough to make you long for the Fugees reunion that will never fucking happen. Hell, even Pras sounds more than decent on the mic, and that's saying a lot.

Salaam Remi loops a harder drumbeat around the pre-existing guitar plucking from the other, more well-known remix to "Vocab", and thanks to some creepy background effects that kick in midway through Clef's first verse, this track sounds much darker than any previous incarnation. This should he seen as an official remix to the remix, one with no prior knowledge of the original song. This alternative version is fucking good, folks.

So far I'm liking these alternate universe versions of Fugees hits a lot. This is ultimately weaker than the Clark Kent remix I mentioned above, but I'm left wondering why the Fugees haven't just commissioned someone to remix the hell out of The Score: if the results are anything like this EP, that would make for some entertaining listening.

Plays exactly as it reads, although the backing instrumentation is much different than the A Tribe Called Quest samples from the album version.

The Fugees remixed the album version of this song for the video, a decision which I've always questioned, because I feel the track from The Score is far superior and that this remix tacked on a guest star just to simply capitalize on the Marley lineage. Then again, Stephen Marley is a talented musician in his own right, and he's also the uncle to the five (seriously) children Lauryn has with Rohan Marley, so maybe this was just intended to be a family affair. Nevertheless, I don't care for this version, but I'm sure a lot of my two readers do.

This is the version of "Vocab" that Fugees loyalists have been clamoring for on a proper release for years, even back when the trio used to also refer to themselves as Tranzlator Crew. This is also the version of the song that a video was shot for, and Lauryn Hill was front and center in the video, singing and rapping as the new leader of the pack: remixing this was probably one of the smartest decisions that Columbia Records has ever made (well, that and selling suckers twelve compact discs for a penny, plus shipping and handling). If only they had re-released the album with this song in place of the original, then I may have done more than just a Drink Coaster review of the Refugee Camp's first album. This is actually my favorite Fugees track of all time. Lauryn's presence on the mic elevated her to new heights, and Pras and Clef even sound really fucking great. In contrast, the version of "Vocab" that appeared on Blunted On Reality sucks worse than a desperate crackhead with crooked teeth.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Bootleg Versions is a pretty good companion piece to the breakthrough album/hip hop monster The Score. The Fugees provide creative reinterpretations to some of their best-known songs and are almost consistently successful. It's too bad that the crew would later fall apart, but Bootleg Versions is as good a farewell as one could expect. My only complaint is that this should have been a full album release and not just an EP, as there has to be more Fugees remixes lying around in a vault somewhere.

BUY OR BURN? You should pick this one up while you're out picking up your dry cleaning or your girl's feminine hygiene products. The remixes on here are worthwhile additions to the Fugees catalog, and they deserve to be heard. Plus, this will only set you back a couple of bucks, seeing that it's an EP and all, so forgo that Super-Sizing and pick this one up.

BEST TRACKS: "Vocab (Refugee Hip Hop Remix)"; "Ready Or Not (Clark Kent/Django Remix)"; "Don't Cry Dry Your Eyes"; "Vocal (Salaam's Remix)"

- Max

More write-ups on the Fugees can be found here. Also, read up on Lauryn Hill's debut album here.


  1. buy this but not follow the leader. you really don't have a clue

  2. "Don't cry dry your eyes" was the third chapter of Fugees vs Jeru beef. Jeru fired back on Black Cowboys, but I think Pras killed it here with "niggas jealous for what I say on Zealots but let me tell, without Premier you wouldn't sell". Probably Lauryn wrote it, lol, but that was nice.