CLASSIC ALBUMS features ROCK THE BELLS writers getting together to discuss some of the greatest albums in Hip-Hop history. A track-by-track breakdown of the essentials; what we like, what we don't. We explore Hip-Hop's canon without pretension or prejudice.
In 1994, the debut album from a New Jersey trio calling themselves The Fugees (aka the Refugees Camp) dropped without setting the world on fire, but made it clear that Wyclef, Lauryn and Pras may have bigger things on the horizon.
The album Blunted On Reality itself was lukewarm, but the singles (remixed for radio) proved to be a foundation on which the threesome could build their sound.
For their sophomore album, The Fugees expanded on the sound of those remixed singles ("Mona Lisa," "The Vocab") and producer Wyclef indulged in all of the soul, reggae, pop and R&B influences that shaped him. Lauryn Hill was the uber-talented lyricist and vocalist, and her talents as a singer would be pushed to the fore this time around. It all made for a heady mix that would take over the pop charts.
In the midst of the toxicity of the Death Row/Bad Boy beef, and with more mainstream eyes on Hip-Hop than ever, the Fugees delivered a massive smash. Stereo Williams and Angie C. look back at the blockbuster second album from The Fugees: The Score.
Stereo: I have a soft spot for conceptualism, and I don't know if The Score is a concept album exactly, but it feels thematic largely because of the intro and interludes like this.
Angie C: I've never thought of it as a concept album, but you're right, there is a thematic unity to it all. A live-on-the-block feel throughout the whole thing.
How Many Mics
Angie C: Lauryn did not come to play! Is this another one of those "Why isn't this in the 'Greatest Album Openers' conversation type of songs?
Stereo: Definitely. It sets up the album so well, and kind of has an ominous feel about it. Shit, the whole album has this subtle darkness, moreso in feel than subject matter.
Ready Or Not
Stereo: You can criticize the 90s for some of the blatant rehashing when it comes to popular hits from the 70s and 80s, but this was always a great song.
Angie C: The Score let you know that they weren't going to shy away from the fact that Lauryn can fuckin' sang.
Angie C: One thing that was always really cool about the Fugees to me was their ability to make radio-friendly music but hide all kinds of consciousness on the album.
Stereo: They even "hid" consciousness in those radio songs. They were able to appeal to a wide variety of rap audiences because they could be hooky without being corny, R&B-flavored without sounding like they were pandering, and "conscious" without seeming preachy.
Stereo: Lauryn snaps so hard on this song.
Angie C: I love this one. It's clearly not at all for the radio, and it was so dope to me as sa teenager that they could rap about shit from this place. Their crossover success got them in households that would've never heard KRS or Tribe, even.
Stereo: "We usedta be number ten!" I love how prophetic that line is. The first single they dropped that actually became a hit, it's like they knew what was coming.
Angie C: It's so fucking catchy and everything about it just works. I still remember the first time I saw this video; I'd missed the early stuff so this was my first real exposure to them.
Stereo: The Fugees' more "boom-bap" songs are so underrated. This is one of the most slept-on tracks on the album.
Angie C: John Forte! Talk about a Hip-Hop "what if," this announced him to the masses and everything about this track is fucking sick.
Killing Me Softly With His Song
Stereo: Is it one of the best covers of all time? Yes.
Angie C: Is it one of the most overplayed songs of the 1990s? Also: yes. But it's easy to see why. Lauryn's voice was the catapult that launched the Fugees onto the pop charts.
Stereo: I always felt like this should have been a single. It's one of Diamond D's best beats and I could see it following up on the espionage, spy themes of the other vids like Fu-Gee-La."
Angie C: Do you know how many people I know who didn't know Diamond D did this? It's the best song on the album -- even alongside all those hits.
Stereo: This was probably the most on-the-nose moment on the album. That's not exactly a bad thing, but I think it's my least favorite song here.
Angie C: I wouldn't argue with that, but I've always liked this song. It was another moment that seemed to be a breather from all the radio tracks. But the best thing about this album to me is the balance.
Cowboys feat. Pacewon, Young Zee and Rah Digga
Stereo: This is one of the best posse cuts ever and I never hear it brought up. The Outsidaz snap. Rah Digga crushes it.
Angie C: Digga makes it known she is not here to play games. I loved the video and Lauryn and Rah's chemistry is so fucking cool.
No Woman, No Cry feat. Stephen Marley
Stereo: There was some criticism at the time that Hip-Hop was becoming overly reliant on covers and sampling, but some moments, like this one, just showcased a kinship between these artists and the greats who inspired them.
Angie C: I agree. Wyclef always wore his music love on his sleeve and this was as good a cover as "Killing Me Softly" to me.
Angie C: This is the kind of song that makes me wish people still appreciated albums the way they used to. A dope closer is as important as a dope intro.
Stereo: Absolutely. I always turn off the auto-play feature when I listen to playlists because I like for there to be an end! Lauryn really kills this and this is another one of those closers that perfectly bookends an album. And, at least up until now, it's the finale of their career. That's crazy.
Label: Ruffhouse Records
Producer: Wyclef Jean, Diamond D, Salaam Remi