Fugees -Bootleg Version (November 26, 1996)

After releasing their 1994 dud of a debut album, Blunted On Reality (which lived up to its title, even if not the way Fugees intended), the Haitian trio would go back to the lab to do some soul-searching and refining. Two years later, they would emerge with their sophomore effort, The Score. Unforeseen to the world, The Score would go on to be a monster of an album, climbing to the top of the Billboard 200 and selling over five million copies in less than eight months after its release. The album would also earn Fugees two Grammys in 1997 (including one for Best Rap Album) and is a bonafide classic that no one in their right mind would dispute. With the world in their little refugee hands, impatiently anticipating a follow-up to The Score, Fugees would end their incredibly successful year with Bootleg Versions.

Bootleg Versions is a collection of remixes of cuts from Blunted On Reality and The Score, along with a few other random records thrown into the tracklist. I believe the album had dual intentions: to wet the throats of Fugees’ thirsty fanbase while the group worked through its inner turmoil (that would ultimately break the group up the following year) and serve as a quick year-end money grab for Columbia/Ruffhouse. I’m not sure how many units Bootleg Versions sold, but the sum wasn’t enough to earn a gold plaque, which I’m sure was a disappointment for the label.

But fuck the label. Was Bootleg Versions good enough to satisfy the parched throats of Fugees’ fans? Let’s unpack this.

Ready Or Not (Clark Kent/Django Remix) – After a short interlude that tries to rekindle the playful energy of the skits that were laced throughout The Score, the legendary Kool DJ Red Alert shares a few words, followed by a few more words/melody from Wyclef. Then Clark Kent’s pensive instrumental built around a couple of slick xylophone loops gives the somber vibes of the original monster hit single a coldly solemn facelift. Speaking of a facelift, the Fugees match the renovated instrumental with new rhymes. Clef bats first and gets off a verse riddled with witty riddles, followed by a sharp conscious verse from L-Boogie (who also sings a completely new hook, mixed with portions of the original refrain). Then Pras wraps things up with a very…Pras-like verse. This was fire and a great way to kick off the album. The track concludes with another skit to set up the next song.

Nappy Heads (Mad Spider Mix) – The Fugees recycle the melodic “Nappy Heads Remix” instrumental for this remix that features reggae artist, Mad Spider repetitively chanting about weapons and police brutality. I didn’t necessarily need this remix, but it was nice revisiting the creamy instrumental. This one ends with another interlude.

Don’t Cry Dry Your Eyes – Clef and Company build this backdrop around a pulsating bass line, simple drums, and twangy funky guitar licks. Lauryn kicks things off with another phenomenal verse, as she continues to rhyme from a completely different spiritual plane than her contemporaries. Wyclef follows L with another entertainingly abstract verse before a battle-ready Pras closes the song taking another shot (which in hindsight was also prophetic) at his arch nemesis, Jeru The Damaja: “Niggas jealous, ‘cause the shit I said in “Zealots,” well let me tell it, without Premier you couldn’t sell it”(Between his obsession with Puff, and Pras and Keith Murray taking shots at him, Jeru was beginning to stack up quite a few enemies. But I digress). Wyclef’s aggressive adlibs give the record an edgy mixtape feel and complete another fire bootleg record. This one ends with words from Funkmaster Flex to set up the next song.

Vocab (Salaam’s Remix) – Salaam Remi maintains the folksy feel from the original mix but replaces its acoustic foundation with hard drums and an understated haunting vocal loop. Wyclef, Pras, and Lauryn (in that order) all spit brand new verses that are much improved from the pedestrian rhymes they spat on the original. Clef reinterprets the refrain from Dana Dane’s “Nightmares,” turning it into a cool hook, and the creamy melodic break (that sounds like what I’d imagine a heroin addict hears once the needle floods their veins with the liquid opioid) strategically sprinkled throughout the track is the cherry on top of this audible treat. This one ends with a bunch of scratchy phone conversations about Fugees’ bootleg records, while “How Many Mics” plays in the background.

Ready Or Not (Salaam’s Ready For The Show Remix) – This remix recycles the same verses used on Clark Kent’s “Django Remix,” with a few alterations made to Pras’ verse, and Clef edits his boast of “selling five million plates” to “four million.” Salaam’s dry instrumental doesn’t hold a candle to the song’s original instrumental or Clark Kent’s phenomenal remix, but I did enjoy L-Boogie’s reggae-tinged hook. This one ends with DJ Clue shouting out the Fugees and asking to hear “Killing Me Softly.”

Killing Me Softly With His Song – As requested by DJ Clue, the Fugees give us a portion of the smash hit single that would thrust Lauryn into superstardom. The audio was taken from the Fugees performing live at The Brixton Academy In London, but unfortunately, it’s not the best vocal performance from L and the audio quality isn’t the greatest. The track ends with more scratchy phone conversation skits.

No Woman No Cry (Remix) – Wyclef tackled this Bob Marley classic alone on The Score. This time around he invites one of Bob’s sons and reggae artist in his own right, Stephen Marley, to join him on the remake. Both parties do a solid job, making for good karaoke, but not a great record. This one ends with another unnecessary phone conversation skit.

Vocab (Refugees Hip Hop Remix) – This was the single/video version from Blunted On Reality that most casual fans will remember. L, Pras, and Clef offer up a stronger performance than the album version, but it’s still a far cry from the output they would give us on The Score. This track and the album ends with the legendary New York radio duo, Stretch & Bobbito, shouting out the Fugees.

Bootleg Versions starts strong, as three of the first four tracks are powder kegs, with the “Nappy Heads (Mad Spider Mix)” only being tolerable. The second half of Bootleg Versions is nearly useless, as the only track with any redeemable value is the closing “Vocab (Refugees Hip Hop Mix),” and that was even old news by 1996. Speaking of useless, the overabundance of interludes/skits (which I’m sure were intended to playfully weave the tracks together, while the cameos from respected hip-hop deejays and radio personalities were included to show Fugees had street cred) end up hindering the flow of the album, and like Christian Laettner on the 1992 Dream Team, they should have been left off.

Bootleg Versions isn’t essential listening or a must-have to complete your music collection, but for the dollar admission I paid to get in, it was a semi-satisfying experience and a stark reminder of the Fugees’ unfulfilled promise as a group.


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