How does a trio that only produced one standout album before abruptly breaking apart maintain a legacy as one of the greatest, most influential groups in hip-hop history? Is it due to eclectic sampling that has stood the test of time? Infectious hooks that blended genres and infiltrate your mind like Leo in Inception? Or maybe it’s thanks to sharp political lyrics that cut like the Slap-Chop?
For the Fugees, the answer is all-the-above. At their peak in 1997, the group inhabited unclaimed territory as a result of a combination of straightforward hip-hop from Pras, the reggae-infused rapping of Wyclef, and Lauryn. Ah, Lauryn.
Lauryn Hill is like the female Andre 3K, a rare but transcendental musical unicorn—only rarer. She brought something so unique and impactful to each of her lyrics, with a voice that could make an angel cry from feelings of inadequacy. While Pras and Wyclef each made valuable and necessary contributions, Lauryn was the heart and soul of the Fugees, and the reason why The Score, which is about to turn 20, will always be remembered.
Six-times platinum, The Score was the second recipient of The GRAMMYs Best Rap Album, besting 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me—which, incidentally, was released on the same day. Today, people still go bonkers when the needle drops on classics like “Killing Me Softly” or “Ready or Not.” But the Fugees didn’t just kill us softly with their songs, they murdered their competition with hard-hitting lyrics; they tackled social issues and walked us through their world with humor, wisdom, and a cinematic flare that perhaps only Wu-Tang Clan could match.
In celebration of the long-lasting impact of the album over 20 years, it would be a travesty if we didn’t pay homage to the Haitian-Sicilians. So ready or not, here I come, with some of the most memorable lines from The Score.
“My panache will mosh your entourage / Squash the squad and hide their bodies under the garage.”
So Pras is hardly the lyrical lynchpin of the Fugees, but every now and then he stitched together a sick flow to complement his gruff, traditional East-Coast hip-hop voice (which actually sounds really similar to GZA, to be honest). He doesn’t get much love, relative to Wyclef and Lauryn, but Pras had his moments like this one on “How Many Mics.”
“And even after all my logic and my theory / I add a ‘motherfucker’ so you ignant n*ggas hear me.”
Damn. Lauryn knew how to bring it. This is that hard-hitting shit I was talking about earlier. She followed up a whole verse of complex rhymes with a couple of bars that detonate from the pure force of her attitude. This is one of my favorite lines ever, buoyed by the dope doo-wop sample of “Zealots” and carried by the overwhelming personality of the legendary emcee and singer.
“Oh say, can’t you see cops more crooked than we / By the dawn’s early night robbin’ n*ggas for ki’s / Easy, low key, crooked military / Pay taxes out my ass but they still harass me.”
If I undersold Wyclef at all during the introduction, I’m sorry. Because this shit is ill. Twisting the proud lyrics of the our national anthem to reveal an alternate but ignored reality, here Wyclef stands up shoulder to shoulder with any of the best lyricists. "The Beast" has that perfect balance of meaning and a rhyme pattern that just hits me the right way every time. Even Dylan couldn't fuck with Wyclef on this.
“Strumming my pain with his fingers / Singing my life with his words / Killing me softly with his song / Killing me softly with his song.”
All praise due to Roberta Flack (and co-creators Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel) who wrote the original "Killing Me Softly" that Lauryn's covered for the album. It really says something about the timelessness of those words that Lauryn could sing them again more than 20 years later and they still feel so strikingly beautiful. Lauryn gave Flack's music a second life and re-introduced a whole new generation to the brilliant simplicity of those lyrics, and in so many ways that's an even more important accomplishment than if she had written them herself. Come back to us, Lauryn. All our lives are so much better when you're a part of them.
“Nothing left, he stole the heart beating from my chest / I tried to call the cops, that type of thief they can’t arrest / Pain suppressed will lead to cardiac arrest / Diamonds deserve diamonds, but he convinced me I was worth less.”
I won't lie, this line has always pissed me off. How could you (whoever this dude is) make Lauryn feel like she’s not a diamond? That aside, hearing this makes me marvel at how Lauryn could be this good, this poetic, and this real. To bear your soul like this… that is what music is about, whether it’s hip-hop, R&B, or any genre. We listen, in part, to find a connection between ourselves and this total stranger and few have been better at forging that connection than Lauryn Hill. Maybe that’s why she’s become so private over time? Regardless, those links that she and the Fugees made with millions of fans over the past twenty years will forever be hard to break.
That connection is why just the other day I heard random people singing a karaoke version of “Killing Me Softly.” It’s why the Fugees weren’t some flash in the pan that have quickly been forgotten. It’s why we keep coming back to The Score. It's 20-0, and still going strong.