Fugees – The Score (February 13, 1996)

The last time we checked in with the Fugees was in 1994 with their debut album, Blunted On Reality. The album had a few bright moments, but the bulk of it was hot garbage, and I’m sure the Fugees themselves would concur (Wyclef and Pras are actually on record for saying, in so many words, that the album was underwhelming). Despite the lukewarm reception and disappointing record sells, Columbia/Ruffhouse would continue to believe in the Fugees, as they would return in 1996 with their sophomore effort, The Score.

Like Blunted, The Fugees would handle most of the production work on The Score (without the assistance of Khalis Bayyan (rip) this time around, but he does receive a “inspiration” credit during the album’s “Outro”) with a couple of special guests contributing instrumentals as well. Thanks largely to a couple of huge singles, The Score would be a commercial success (to date it’s been certified seven times platinum), earning the Hattian threesome the award for Best Rap Album at the 1997 Grammys and it’s widely considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all times.

And the church said: Amen.

Red Intro – The first voice you hear is that of the legendary, DJ Red Alert, who gives a brief introduction to welcome the listener to this “feature presentation”. Then, stripped-down drums, accompanied by sorrowful piano chords come in and Ras Baraka (who is now the current mayor of Newark, New Jersey) laments about the plight of the black man in the inner city and the need for a revolution; and he cleverly references a bunch of the album’s song titles while on his soapbox. FYI, The Score is littered with short Ras’s rants, and I don’t plan on mentioning every single one.

How Many Mics – Simple drums, a sneaky sounding sample and a dense plotting bass line make up this instrumental, as a much-improved L-Boogie rhymes first and completely annihilates this laidback bop. Wyclef and Pras do their best to reconstruct the mic that Lauryn just destroyed and manage to turn in decent performances, but the fellas definitely should have warmed things up before the Queen knocked this shit out the park.

Ready Or Not – This was the third single released from The Score. The Fugees build the backdrop around a soothing Enya loop to create a somber atmosphere, and Ms. Lauryn Hill taps an old Delfonics song (of the same song title) for the hook and blesses the track with her warm soulful voice, as our Haitian hosts warn the world of their looming global takeover. Wyclef kicks things off with an interesting abstract verse, followed by L-Boogie, who continues to spew shear brilliance, and Pras wraps things up and manages not to embarrass himself. This is a great record that could be released today and would still sound relevant.

Zealots – Wyclef and ’em loop up The Flamingos “I Only Have Eyes For You”, turning what was originally a beautiful love song into a creamy otherworldly battle ground that finds Wyclef, amusingly, lamenting the death of his rivals in between verses. Clef rhymes first and turns a bunch of mythology, pop-culture and science references into some abstract emcee shit talk that I thoroughly enjoyed (He also taught me a new word: cacophonic”; I guarantee you that you’ll never hear another rapper use that word in a rhyme). Lauryn’s up next, as she starts her verse off singing about her lyrical greatness, then she drops sharp bars (which includes a quick lesson on physics) to prove it. Clef and Pras tag team the last verse, with Clef firing darts at Vibe Magazine for their critical critique of the Blunted album, while Pras chooses to take a shot at Jeru The Damaja (Pras rhymes on his final bar: “No matter who you damage, you’re still a false prophet”, referencing part of Jeru’s moniker and his song “You Can’t Stop The Prophet” from his debut album The Sun Rises In The East. Jeru would fire back on “Black Cowboys” off his second album, Wrath Of The Math (“I heard some emcees wanna bring it, but a female is one of their strongest men, when I step to you, don’t seek refuge”). I’m not sure what sparked the beef, but ironically, Pras’ voice and cadence resemble Jeru’s, in a much less effective way. This is probably the most eloquent battle record in the history of hip-hop, and I loved every second of it. Definitely one of my favs on the album. A quick Ras Baraka interlude sets up the next song.

The Beast – This one is dedicated to the government officials, crooked cops and media personalities who use their authority to infringe upon the pursuit of justice and liberty for black folks in America. It almost plays like a duet between Wyclef and L-Boogie, as they take turns spitting verses, calling out everybody from Newt Gingrich to Bill Clinton to…Connie Chung? Pras, oddly, appears at the tail end of the song and drops off a quick eight bars that neither add on nor subtract from the song. Is it just me or does it sound like Sticky Fingaz is chanting the hook? Regardless, this is a solid record, and the content is just as relevant today as it was twenty-five years ago. This song is followed by one of the funniest interludes in hip-hop history, which features the comedian, Talent playing a Chinese Restaurant owner who has to serve-up a couple of “bitch ass niggas” who get a little too spicy.

Fu-Gee-La – This was the lead single from The Score. Salaam Remi (who helped create the first real magical Fugees moment with the “Nappy Heads (Remix)” on Blunted On Reality) hooks up an instrumental with mystical vibes and a bending bass line, while Lauryn, once again, blesses the track with her wonderful vocals to form the simple but catchy hook. Each of the trio get off decent verses (with L-Boogie‘s being the most impressive, of course), completing this classic track.

Family Business – Over an emotional and dark backdrop, the Fugees invite Omega and John Forte to join them on the mic, as they all take turns rhyming about the perils of life in the hood and pledge their allegiance to the Familia, and ironically, Pras is completely absent from this family affair. This is about as gangsta as you’ll ever hear the Fugees, and I enjoyed it. The song concludes with the now retired boxer, Shannon Briggs talking big shit, followed by a couple of soundbwoys doing their reggae ting to set up L-Boogie and the next song.

Killing Me Softly – This was the Grammy award-winning second single from The Score and the song that would take Lauryn Hill from dope emcee to superstardom, as she remakes the Roberta Flack classic of the same name. Clef and the team hook-up a simple drumbeat, accompanied by a well-distributed dense and bouncy bass line and the same quirky Rotary Connection guitar loop that A Tribe Called Quest used for “Bonita Applebum” (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check). Ms. Hill sings from the bottom of her soul and you can feel the pain in her voice as she delivers each heartfelt word; it’s almost as if she’s experienced the heartache that she sings about (*cough Wyclef*). Mary J. Blige might be the Queen of Hip-hop Soul, but this is probably the greatest hip-hop soul song of all time. Yeah, I said it.

The Score – Our hosts follow-up one the biggest pop records of all time with some classic boom-bap shit. Diamond D builds the instrumental around a couple of funky guitar loops and turns it into an infectious groove, as the self-proclaimed “best producer on the mic” joins the Fugees and gets off a verse as well. Naturally, Lauryn spits pure fire, but Clef and Diamond do their thing as well; and Pras…does Pras. This brilliant banger is easily my favorite song on the album. The song is followed by the Talent conceived “Michelle Leslie Brown” skit, which is hilarious.

The Mask – The Fugees dedicate this one to everyone that’s ever had to front or simply fake-it-to-make- it to get through the day. All three of our hosts share interesting storylines (with Clef’s coming wildly out of left field), but the slightly quirky, almost circus like feel of the instrumental is the driving force behind this record. I absolutely love the zany tuba sprinkled throughout the song and the sad trumpet chords brought in at the beginning and end of Pras’ verse.

Cowboys – Clef and the crew conjure up western movie vibes, as the Fugees invite John Forte and the Outsidaz (Pacewon, Young Zee and pre-Flipmode Squad, Rah Digga) to dress up in cowboy hats and boots and partake in a lyrical shootout at the O.K. Corral. Clef is paired with Pacewon (who’s line, “I pull out my gun and plug two like Trugoy” makes me chuckle every time I hear it) on the first verse, L-Boogie and Rah Digga represent for the ladies on the second, Pras and Young Zee (whose flow reminds me a little of Redman’s) on the third, and John Forte goes on a solo shooting spree with his rapid-fire flow on the song’s final verse. Wyclef’s comical hook is the icing on top of this entertaining posse joint.

No Woman, No Cry – Wyclef takes on the Bob Marley classic and makes several lyrical changes to it. Clef’s version ain’t got nothing on the original, but it’s still cool. Completely random side note: I just found out that Wyclef played the classic bass line on Eric B & Rakim’s “Don’t Sweat The Technique”. If you watch the video, you’ll see a facial hairless Clef strumming the strings in the opening scene.

Manifesto/Outro – The Fugees bring back the drums and the sorrowful piano chords from the intro, but up the bpms this time around. Clef spits a verse from the perspective of a modern-day Jesus, L-Boogie plays a woman scorn (*cough Wyclef*) and I have absolutely no idea what Pras is talking about. The song is followed by another random rant from Ras Baraka, before DJ Red Alert wraps up the proper album by reading the album credits, and of course he slides in his signature adlib.

The following three records are listed as bonus tracks on the cd version of The Score:

Fu-Gee-La (Refugee Camp Remix) – The Fugees hook up a laidback funk groove for this remix, make several alterations to the original lyrics and add an altogether new verse from John Forte. This remix isn’t as impactful as the o.g. version, but it’s still dope in its own right. Side note: There is also a “Refugee Camp Global Mix” out there (readily available on all DSPs) that uses a stripped-down version of this instrumental and features the trio spitting some of their bars in French.

Fu-Gee-La (Sly & Robbie Mix) – The Jamaican production duo, Sly & Robbie, put a dark dancehall twist on the “Refugee Camp Remix” version, and a young Akon adds a short chant at the end of the song (I believe this is Akon’s official debut). Yet another dope remix; and rest in peace to Robert “Robbie” Shakespeare who passed away in December of 2021.

Mista Mista – This bonus track finds Wyclef somberly strumming his acoustic guitar as he sings about drug addicts begging for money to feed their addictions. The song’s a bit of an enigma, as the music and subject matter take on a serious mood, but Clef delivers his content in a humorous fashion (though I’m not sure if he intended to be comedic), leaving the listener wondering if they should laugh or cry. Me? I laughed, hysterically. 

Like I mentioned in the opening of this post, the Fugees debut album, Blunted On Reality was mediocre at best (and that’s being generous), but the trio did show promise with the Salaam Remi produced “Nappy Heads (Remix)”. The Score is the Fugees making good on that promise, as they deliver an undisputed hip-hop masterpiece. The album comes equipped with five weapons of mass destruction (see “Fu-Gee-La”, “Killing Me Softly”, “Ready Or Not”, “Zealots” and “The Score”) nestled in between album cuts that range from solid to great, and a few of the most entertaining interludes in the history of hip-hop. Wyclef and L-Boogie sound like they were eating their artistic spinach during the album’s creation, as Mr. Jean masters his “abstract raps, simple, with a street format”, while Ms. Hill’s in a complete zone throughout the album, and right before our eyes, transforms into one of the illest lyricist of all-time. The Fugees also do an excellent job of masking Pras (who is clearly the weakest link in this chain), limiting his mic time so not to fuck things up, and sprinkle in the perfect number of guest cameo appearances as well. While The Score is hip-hop at its core, it dabbles with r&b, doo-wop, reggae, country and pop elements, but brilliantly keeps an eclectic cohesiveness from beginning to end, resulting in arguably, the best hip-hop album released in1996, and a strong candidate for top ten hip-hop albums off all-time. Yeah, I said it.

It’s unfortunate that things crumbled before the Fugees could give the world a proper follow-up to this classic. But at least they got a chance to settle the score, once and for all.

-Deedub

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6 Responses to Fugees – The Score (February 13, 1996)

  1. Vinny says:

    I slept on this album I will have to check it out. I heard all the hits from the album but have not heard it in its entirety. sometimes when I hear Pras rhyme it sounds like blah blah blah

    • Anthony Shoo says:

      The whole album in its entirety was a great album….production ..originality..concepts….allure all the things you need to create a masterpiece

  2. Kensaro says:

    Completely random side note to your completely random side note: I didn’t know Wyclef was in Eric B & Rakim’s video but I do know he didn’t actually play the bass on “Don’t Sweat the Technique”. This truly classic bass line is sampled from “Queen of the Nile” by Young-Holt Unlimited, so the credit for that goes to Eldee Young.
    But to get back to the topic: This was really an outstanding album. And once again a great review from you, thank you!

  3. Daniel Blake says:

    In many ways the Fugees are/were the Fleetwood Mac of Hip Hop with the various love triangles etc. Great album and great review!

  4. REG says:

    pretty much regarding the fugese vs jeru. They did not like how Jeru was talking about women on Da Bitchez from Sun Rises in the East and thats what happened.

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