Welcome to Timeless Affairs, the corner within Steppin' Into Tomorrow, where we'd like to shine a spotlight on essential albums that have shaped our culture (and lives in some cases). We lovingly revisit, explore and zoom in on these gems in their entire length. Digging out stories and fun facts from the making of the masterpieces that have built the foundation of music today and continue to shape the future.
This Valentines weekend, let’s give some love & flowers to the people behind the album that re-defined the culture forever, shaped a whole generation, and proved that as long as you stay true to yourself, greatness knows no boundaries. Talk about essential. 26 years have passed since the release of ‘The Score’ on February 13th. Major anniversary and the greatest triumph of the incredibly talented group, The Fugees, that brought us timeless classics like ‘Fu-Gee-La’, ‘Killing Me Softly’ and ‘Ready Or Not’, to name a few.
‘The Score’ was the 2nd and final release of The Fugees that included Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill and Prakazrel ‘Pras’ Michel. Hailing from South Orange, New Jersey, the gifted trio formed in the late 80’s during their High School Days. Wyclef and Pras were both Haiti born and relocated to the U.S. before they were teenagers. Lauryn was schoolmates with Pras and after he introduced her to Clef, one thing lead to another and they’ve formed what was originally called the Tranzlator Crew, later turning into the renowned Fugees (short for refugees). Their first album on Ruffhouse Records called ‘Blunted On Reality’ was not warmly accepted by the public per se, however, the label decided to give them $135K dollars advance and creative freedom to do their thing on their sophomore album. They’ve used the money to buy equipment and set up a studio in Wyclef’s uncle Jerry Wonder’s basement — called Booga Basement Studio — in New Jersey. The whole album was recorded in this tiny space, however, the spot was definitely a significant factor to the overall magic of this record.
They were all in their early 20’s at this time, Lauryn being the youngest of the three, even working on the beloved film ‘Sister Act 2’ during the making of this record. Each member participated on the production. Pairing with Salaam Remi on their first successful hit ‘Nappy Headz Remix’ has led to their further collaboration and him playing a big part on the success this album. He’s also produced the first single of the album ‘Fu-Gee-La’, that was originally made for Fat Joe.
“Ooh la la la, It’s the way that we rock when we’re doin’ our thing. Ooh la la la, it’s the natural La that the refugees bring.” -L Boogie
Setting the scene with the first track on the album called ‘Red Intro’, we hear the voice of Ras Baraka, current mayor of the city of Newark, New Jersey and son of the poet Amiri Baraka. The track contains vocal samples of every song on the entire album. Title album track, ‘The Score’ has been produced by Diamond D, Bronx emcee and producer, and founding member of the D.I.T.C. collective, while also gracing the track with his own 16 bars. Another classic track from The Score is ‘Cowboys’, one of the greatest posse cuts in hip hop with a Wild West theme. It features John Forte and the Outsidaz, an iconic verse with Rah Digga rapping alongside Lauryn. Wyclef plays the guitar on ‘Family Business’, police brutality is addressed on ‘The Beast’ and some legendary verses go off on ‘How Many Mics’. And you gotta love the ‘No Woman No Cry’ joint. The original version of the song, probably one of the most acclaimed songs in reggae music, was written by the legend, Bob Marley. However, the songwriter credits were given to a childhood friend of Marley’s, Vincent Ford from Trenchtown, Jamaica, who ran a soup kitchen where the song was allegedly composed. The Fugees song was later officially remixed in collaboration with Stephen Marley, Bob Marley’s son. Then there’s ‘The Mask’ that cleverly covers the topic of concealing one’s true emotions, however, listening to this track after 2020 does happen to strike all sorts of different chords on many levels.
The videos are definitely a big part of the legacy of this masterpiece as well, and speaking for myself, my gateway drug to the Fugees from daily nearly religious watch of MTV back in the days. The ‘Ready Or Not’ movie-like video was amongst the first audiovisual pieces that helped usher in those big-budget music videos that became such a standard in hip hop later. The whole production is on another level. There’s explosions, chase scenes, helicopters… and a receipt for $1.3 million. I was most definitely too young to understand the lyrics at the time, or even catch it when it was brand new, but the music had a power that translated across realms and I still remember the effect it had on me when I’ve seen it for the first time. It took many of us by the storm at the time. It made you feel something, put you under a spell.
The Fugees have managed to birth a sound that was fresh, unapologetically their own and absolutely contrasting to the music that was out there at the time. Singable hooks weren’t really a thing in hip hop before their arrival and the eclectic flavor has definitely unleashed a wave of creativity within the genre. After all, this album did come out on the very same day as ‘All Eyez On Me’ Tupac’s last album, to put things in perspective, and same year as Jay Z’s ‘Reasonable Doubt’, Nas’s ‘It Was Written’ and ATCQ’s ‘Beats, Rhymes & Life’. ‘The Score’ took home two Grammy’s, became 6 times platinum, and in 2008, Barack Obama has listed ‘Ready Or Not’ as his #1 favorite song when running for presidency. The record became one of the best selling albums of all time and unfortunately also their final work as a group.
I have to add that I’m personally very fond of the choice of samples on this album, like ‘The Flamingos — I Only Have Eyes For You’ on ‘Zealots’, Ramsey Lewis’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Right’ on ‘Fu-Gee-La’ or Roberta Flack’s incredible version of the ‘Killing Me Softly’. According to Jerry ‘Wonda’ Duplessis, Wyclef discovered the Delfonics sample from their 1978 soul classic Ready Or Not, Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love) while learning how to use an MPC. The same song was also sampled in Missy’s track ‘Sock It 2 Me’, which was later remixed by Kaytranada. I’ve got this weakness for everything to do with that Delfonics song.
But that’s a whole other rabbit hole for another day.
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