It has been thirteen years since the first time my thumb hit play on an iPod classic and the iconic hip-hop album The Score by The Fugees began to play. This debut by New Jersey trio Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras Michael was unlike most hip-hop at the time. The predominant sound for hip hop at the time was heavily contrasting between jazz/G-Funk/boom bap sounds. Hip-Hop, at the time, was becoming over-reliant on the complex percussion patterns and soulful pianos, enveloped by themes of success, violence, and the grandeur scheme of life. This sub genre of hip-hop known as gangsta rap was about to overtake the radio waves and caused strife in politics because of the influential nature behind the lyricism at times groovy and charismatic delivery. It grew from the west and the east tried to distinguish by using the word mafioso in relation to the predominant mob culture in NYC. But as The Score turns 25, there was a lot to remember about the time of its release and the amalgamation of its contextual socio-political undertones and unique production that made it one of the best albums of the 90s.
In the 90s, artists like Tupac, The Notorious BIG, Big Pun, Mobb Deep, and Snoop Dogg (to name a few), were gaining momentum, while other artists were trying to make way with the sounds that made them, them. There were artists like Jurassic 5 and De La Soul, who never grew to be worldly recognized, but The Score was unlike the projects released by artists like them at the time. This was due to the focused nature of sampledelia, conscious lyricism, and rhythmic patterns. They carried their own similarities with these rappers, like anti-police, but they weren’t as threatening as rappers like Ice-T, who made a song called “Cop Killer,” under his band Body Count.
The other themes always relate to this certain heroism refugees and immigrants bring to infuse themselves energetically into the system and play by the rules. But the “white Americans” of the United States was never adamant about seeing the equality. It was like they were huge in beyond the hip-hop barrier. They speak to those with minimal voice, but all the while the topics they talked about were big social-political concerns here.
The thing is, Hip-Hop was and still is seen by the many as this “evil” music that influenced negativity in escalating crime rates. It would be used as evidence to make an example of artists who retroactively rapped about the context in their rhymes.
For example – rapper Mac Phipps, who was signed to Master P’s label – No Limit. The prosecution used his rap lyrics to portray a lifestyle to further incriminate him in a club shooting where he was performing that night.
There was and still is this misconception of the understanding behind the notion that his and the others music was representative of the life seen in front of them. They perpetuate the stories to show the aggressive discern for people never having a level of equality other communities have. They in turn create this illustrious lyrics that make them out to be these mythological speakers for the people, which they would use. They’d still represent anti-system in their own way.
“I refugee from Guantanamo Bay
Dance around the border like I’m Cassius Clay (Yes, sir)”– Ready or Not (Pras Michael)
The Score represented more than a sense of unity from the listeners, it represented themes and ideas that are simple, but made complex by the lyrics. “Family Business,” for example, tells us the importance of family. It could be best explained by the Fast & Furious movies and the stuff Vin Diesel goes the lengths for, for his family. But I digress.
The Score builds upon this (and more) and constructs bombastic tales that plays like the soundtrack to a film yet to be filmed that empowered minorities and refugees. The Fugees (Lauryn, Wyclef, and Pras) bring different elements to the album, all of which resonate with the sounds they grew up with. These sounds include, but are not limited to neo-soul, reggae/Caribbean, and old school jazz hip-hop. They made the music of their people more prevalent today with these instrumentations.
You can hear it within the instrumentation/production by the three along with co-collaborators, John Forté and Salaam Remi to name a few. The lead single, “Ready or Not,” brings in a culmination of soul and jazz undertones from subtle string instrumentation within the slow clap-like percussion (like the most of the percussion on the album). Like other rappers at the time, the sample-craze was due to finding new waves to make airwaves. Biggie’s “Juicy,” was not the kind of single that the B-Side “Warning,” off another soulful single “Big Poppa,” had. It was dark, violent, and twisted tale about life during the hustle.
“The Mask,” brings the three backgrounds together with the jazz-horn and bass undertones, hip-hop centric percussion, and a soul influenced chorus. And then there is “Zealots,” that bombasts their doo-wop sample from The Flamingos throughout the instrumental add levity to the subject matter, which is them during their own nerdgasms. All the way keeping in conjunction with the sound and style representative of the first song recorded for the album, “Fu-Gee-La.”
Having these musical connections within the instrumental would eventually reach a bigger audience because familiar sounds enact the endorphins in our brain and groove. All the while keeping the percussion simple enough that The Fugees could enunciate with bravado.
But apart from the individualized sonic influences, the sequencing of the lyricism/verses on The Score shares the center stage with the production. And not entirely because of what they rapped about, but the distinguishing flows and energy they bring. Biggie was commandeering, these three were confident and at times sincere. Their flows were the polish to the constructs of the vehicle that was The Fugees.
Lauryn Hill, amongst others, changed the individual nuances of female rappers from the aggressive violence of west coast artists like Lady of Rage to the aggressive sexual nature and violence (of course) of east coast artists like Lil Kim. She stood out as her own person delivering on-color soulful and progressive lyricism and multi-syllabic bars, which elongated certain pentameters of the flow.
Wyclef brought vibrant energy and paint (since he created picture with his words). And Pras brought a unique take to the meaning behind “the cherry on top.” As a closer, Pras Michael’s slight calm flow made the enunciation of the words crisper, allowing them to marinate, like the intricate metaphors at the end of “The Beast.” Pras raps about the differentiating levels of power and showing how police officers handle arrests or searches with a Black American, giving a different perspective from Lauryn whose angle is reflective of gender and race (mostly race).
“High class get bypassed while my ass gets harassed (Bang)
And the fuzz treat bruhs like they manhood never was”– The Beast (Lauryn Hill)
Wyclef Jean is one of the champions of the refugees he speaks of, implementing them into these connotations of success and survival like on “Fu-Gee-La,” where a scene is painted about the latter.
“What’s goin’ on? Armageddon come you know we soon done
Gun by my side just in case I gotta rump
A boy on the side of Babylon
Tryin’ to front like you’re down with Mount Zion”– Fu-Gee-La (Wyclef Jean)
But this track further expressed this championship, by correlating themselves with refugees. The huge platform this track was given gave them the voice to feel like they have a chance and people like them has many options. Though it was more than just the words and the music, it was the kind of people they represented, especially Wyclef’s background and Pras strong understanding and diction.
“It’s the way that we rock when we’re doin’ our thing
It’s the natural la that the Refugees bring”– Fu-Gee-La (Lauryn Hill)
Other rappers have brought their own perspectives to similar themes, but the instrumentals were bouncy and groovy and others weaved dark tones into the complex gritty percussion and string instrumentations. These made the sound come off as more important than the context of lyrics. Many artists were able to mend the two together and create their own style, like Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, but The Score was one of the best albums to implement it well.
So as we sit back and remember the 25 years of existence The Score has had in our world, lets never forget the influence their music with the multi-dimensional messages in threw in our ears and brain.