For The Record: How The Fugees Settled 'The Score' 25 Years Ago

The Fugees


For The Record: How The Fugees Settled 'The Score' 25 Years Ago

When they first approached creating 'The Score,' The Fugees were hoping to win the battle. Twenty-five years later—as the latest episode of For The Record demonstrates—we see now that they won the war

GRAMMYs/Apr 6, 2021 - 06:19 pm

When The Fugees released their second album, The Score, the timing felt eerily perfect. As hip-hop's East and West Coasts continued their tussle, their lighter-hearted approach to socially conscious rap curtailed any overarching assumptions that hip-hop was going down a "bad road." Plus, they had Lauryn Hill, who doubled as a songbird and lyrical spitfire. Together, by juxtaposing life instrumentation, soulful melodies and abstract bars, The Fugees gave hip-hop a renewed spirit and propelled it to a different kind of mainstream. 

But above all, The Score changed the way artists made their music—even 25 years later.

By the time The Fugees released The Score, was nominated for Album Of The Year and won Best Rap Album and Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for "Killing Me Softly With His Song," they were more than ready to puff out their chests. The group checked the temperature of the streets with their debut album Blunted On Reality in 1994, almost two years prior to the day of The Score's release on February 13, 1996.

Still, their introduction left listeners a little confused by the group's collective identity. Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel were a lot of everything. They were eccentric Jersey kids—two-thirds of whom were Haitian—and were more than willing to fling art, politics, multi-culture and lyricism against a wall and record the sounds of what stuck and what slid off. 

The centerpiece of Blunted was the second single "Nappy Heads," a deeply rhythmic and melodic track with a video that takes place on the steps of the library at Columbia University, where Lauryn Hill was a student at the time. Hill was already the de-facto star of the group, complete with a lead role in the Whoopi Goldberg film Sister Act 2: Back In the Habit. On that debut album, she had a solo track called "Some Seek Stardom," which many point to as the moment they knew she would one day stand out from her comrades. Still, the group was full of promise and their evolution was quick and steadfast.

With The Score, The Fugees were arguably more focused. They were no longer working with Khalis Bayyan of Kool & The Gang (who theoretically influenced so much of Blunted's sound). This time, Lauryn and Wyclef took the bulk of the writing and production duties with the help of Wyclef's cousin Jerry Wonda and Salaam Remi as a creative consultant. They experimented with creating their own take on R&B-skewed hip-hop tracks and even reggae while adding a live element since Wyclef was a trained musician. 

Then, there was Lauryn Hill's phenomenally authentic singing voice, which lent itself to some of the more prominent hooks on the project. The Score was still an amalgam of everything the group stood for, but where Blunted chose to go more animated in parts, The Score opted to get deeper and darker in both sound and style. 

"Red Intro" sets a unique tone as the opener. The track is a monologue that challenges rappers' desires to posture themselves as gangsters and pretend to be mobsters when people are dying out in the streets. It's an unequivocal backhand to nearly everything that was happening in hip-hop at the time. 

There was a rise in neo-gangster rap, where artists like Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were poetically flaunting wealth and gun talk, woven expertly through their bars. They were the byproduct of '80s artists like N.W.A., and while that surge in gangster rap was tempered by hip-hop's D.A.I.S.Y. Age (A Tribe Called QuestDe La Soul, etc.), the '90s now had groups like The Fugees and The Roots, who stood in stark contrast to Pac and Biggie. 

But there was more to the mission of The Score, considering the group didn't want to be relegated to one corner of hip-hop. So they dropped breadcrumbs throughout the album to show they knew how to stunt, they were aware of the on-goings of the world, yet they could even be strapped… if they wanted to be. The Score is laden with innuendos, firing shots at the competition while simultaneously making biblical references about false prophets. The songs tell a story from beginning to end, with peaks and valleys.

The album's introductory track "How Many Mics" gets the chest-thumping started early, as the group details their creative superiority over so many other emcees. The concept of The Score was layered; The Fugees felt slighted by the lukewarm response of their first album and this was pure redemption. They use the title track to tie that all together by the middle of the project, by even sampling parts of the rest of the album on the song's hook.

"Ready Or Not" takes an Enya sample and transforms it into a battle cry that doubles as a love song. Tracks like "Zealots" take jabs at biting emcees who dumb their work down for mainstream attention, where "The Mask" goes in on manufactured personas. "The Beast" is a politically charged anthem that tackles political corruption and police brutality, further extended on the track "Family Business," about how being Black and in America can have you murdered for no reason.

"Fu-Gee-La" takes on more braggadocio, along with "Cowboys" which features another New Jersey rap outfit: The Outsidaz, starring a young Rah Digga. "No Woman, No Cry" mourns those who have passed due to violence. The "Manifest/Outro" has Lauryn contemplating suicide over a toxic breakup. 

Then, of course, there's "Killing Me Softly," the Roberta Flack remake that shifted gears for The Fugees and made them a household name. Thanks to "Killing Me Softly," more attention was paid to the project as a whole, so the casual rap listener suddenly became a hip-hop fan once they experienced The Score. That was The Fugees' superpower: they won over massive audiences with messaging that hip-hop was struggling to convey on a greater platform. Some saw it as a curse to the purity of the art, but in the events that followed it became a gift.

What happened following The Score's release was complicated. Tupac Shakur was murdered in September 1996, The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in March 1997, and Puffy's "Shiny Suit Era" threatened the purism of hip-hop even more. This gave The Fugees an open lane to not only secure that mainstream success, but retain some of the integrity of hip-hop's soul that they were ironically accused of snatching prior to those milestone events in hip-hop's history.

The spoiler alert here was that they were always being their true selves the whole time. The Fugees were eccentric, they were artsy, and they were messengers—of the lives they lived and of those they witnessed around them. They weren't afraid to toss around hard bars on The Score nor were they too scared to let Lauryn's voice softly coat the hooks. They spoke about anything and everything they damn well pleased. 

In the decades that followed, rappers who could carry a tune emulated exactly what Lauryn and the Fugees did by alternating between rapping and singing, and weren't afraid in one song to talk about love and society in the next. It was a lasting impression that became one of hip-hop's many archetypes, and it started with a couple of kids who loved being eccentric. 

When they first approached creating The Score, The Fugees were hoping to win the battle. Twenty-five years later, we see now that they won the war.

'The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill': For The Record

Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards


Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rolling Loud Festival Los Angeles Reveals 2019 Lineup

Doja Cat

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images


Rolling Loud Festival Los Angeles Reveals 2019 Lineup

Find out who's bringing the heat to the hip-hop fest returning to L.A. this December

GRAMMYs/Oct 2, 2019 - 12:11 am

Today, Rolling Loud revealed the massive lineup for their final music festival of 2019, Rolling Loud Los Angeles, which is set to take over the Banc of California Stadium and adjacent Exposition Park on Dec. 14–15.

This iteration of "the Woodstock of Hip-Hop," as the all-knowing Diddy has called it, will feature Chance the RapperLil Uzi VertJuice WRLDYoung Thug and Lil Baby as Saturday's heavy-hitting headliners. Sunday's headliners are none other than Future, A$AP Rocky, Meek Mill, YG and Playboi Carti.

L.A.'s own Blueface, Tyga and Doja Cat, are slated to perform, as well as representatives from the diverse rap scenes across the country, including Wale, Juicy J, Lil Yachty, Megan Thee Stallion, Gunna, Tyla Yaweh, Machine Gun Kelly and Yung Gravy.

The lineup announcement follows the successful wrap of Rolling Loud Bay Area in Oakland this past weekend. The event's flagship Miami event took place in May this year, and the New York and Hong Kong debut editions will both take place later this month.

Tickets for Rolling Loud L.A. go on sale this Friday, Oct. 4 at 11 a.m. PST. The complete lineup and more info on this event and their other fests can be found here.

Where Do You Keep Your GRAMMY: Fantastic Negrito

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images


DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2020 - 09:05 am

DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.

"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."

After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.

DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle." 

Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."

Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.

ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Ant Clemons


ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

ReImagined At Home: Keedron Bryant Powerfully Interprets John Legend's Love Song "Ordinary People"