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

The Fugees

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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

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards