The Fugees translated a seamless blend of jazz-rap, R&B, and reggae into huge success during the mid-'90s, when the New Jersey-area trio's seminal sophomore album The Score hit number one on the pop charts and sold over five million copies before winning a pair of Grammy Awards in 1997. Featuring the songs "Killing Me Softly" and "Ready or Not," the effort became a '90s classic, while each member went on to pursue solo careers that extended into the 2000s. The trio formed in the late '80s in South Orange, New Jersey, where high school friends Lauryn Hill and Prakazrel Michel ("Pras") began working together. Michel's cousin Wyclef Jean joined the group, dubbed the Tranzlator Crew, and they signed to Ruffhouse/Columbia in 1993. After renaming themselves the Fugees (a term of derision, short for refugees, which was usually used to describe Haitian immigrants), they entered the studio to record their first official full-length, Blunted on Reality. Issued in early 1994, the album showcased a beat-driven, hip-hop crew vibe, with Hill, Jean, and Michel trading verses in a fashion similar to A Tribe Called Quest, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Digable Planets. While an underground favorite, the album didn't make much of a dent on the charts and they veered in a different, but ultimately more successful, direction on their follow-up. The Score arrived in 1996 and was an instant hit. Retaining some of their earlier jazz-rap spirit, while incorporating traditional R&B that showcased Hill's singing abilities, the album topped charts across the globe and was certified multi-platinum around Europe and in the U.S. Featuring the soulful, chart-topping single "Killing Me Softly" and a top 40 cover of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry," The Score made significant dents in the commercial mainstream while retaining their existing fan base, becoming one of the surprise hits of 1996. At the 1997 Grammy Awards, the Fugees won Best Rap Album and Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for "Killing Me Softly." Following the success of The Score, the Fugees took a break, pursuing solo endeavors that eventually made the hiatus permanent. Jean issued his first solo album, 1997's The Carnival Featuring the Refugee Allstars, while Michel joined Mya and Ol' Dirty Bastard for the hit single "Ghetto Superstar (That Is What You Are)." In 1998, Hill released her chart-topping, neo-soul opus The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which went on to outsell The Score and win five Grammy Awards in 1999. While Hill bowed out while on top of her game, Pras continued rapping and also pursued acting and film production. Meanwhile, Jean continued to release solo material -- issuing over a dozen albums -- and produced for artists, working with the likes of Destiny's Child, Santana, Shakira, Young Thug, and many more. Almost a decade after peaking with The Score, they reconvened in 2005, performing together on a European tour and releasing the single "Take It Easy." However, the reunion was brief, and the trio disbanded once again. While their overall time together was short, The Score endures as one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time and each Fugee remained active -- both musically and politically -- for decades to come.
© Neil Z. Yeung & John Bush /TiVo
© Neil Z. Yeung & John Bush /TiVo
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Pop/Rock - Released December 29, 2000 | Columbia
As wonderful and compelling as the Fugees were during their brief moment in the sun (circa 1996), it's difficult to make the case for a Fugees Greatest Hits. The trio only put out two records, the first a muddled attempt at weed-soaked hardcore, the second an excellent fusion of hip-hop and soul, so the obvious choice for record-buyers is that final full-length, The Score. This compilation includes seven tracks from The Score, prefacing it with two selections from the 1994 debut (Blunted on Reality) and tacking on Lauryn Hill's first solo recording, "The Sweetest Thing" -- originally on the Love Jones soundtrack and later included on her first album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Anyone interested in hearing what the Fugees sounded like before The Score is subjected to Blunted on Reality's pair of substandard singles ("Vocab," "Nappy Heads"), though wiser compilers would've chosen early songs that paved the way for The Score, like the graceful Hill feature "Some Seek Stardom." Brief and perfunctory, Greatest Hits is, basically, a budget compilation with a more artful cover. © John Bush /TiVo
Hip-Hop/Rap - Released February 1, 1994 | Ruffhouse - Columbia
Given the brilliance of The Score and the shortage of Fugees albums in the '90s, many fans probably sought out Blunted on Reality. Those fans no doubt were a little shocked, though, by what they found. Yes, Blunted features Wyclef, Lauryn Hill, and Pras, but it's not quite the same trio that fans of The Score have come to know. Here they offer their take on rap circa 1993. However, rather than use rap as a starting point and depart from there into a myriad of other directions as they did on The Score, they used rap as a starting point and never depart, instead emulating the popular style of the era. In that sense, it comes across as a bit derived and undoubtedly confined by its stifled creative ambitions. If you think back, you'll probably remember 1993 as being the pinnacle of gangsta rap -- Dr. Dre's The Chronic was ubiquitous with not only its reach but also its influence, and Death Row was literally changing the game. If you keep this context in mind, it's a little easier to understand why Blunted on Reality sounds nothing like The Score. It's essentially the Fugees trying to earn respect in an era of gangstas, chronic, bitches, and guns by trying to come across as being hardcore. And, unfortunately, as hard as the Fugees portray themselves here, it can't help but seem a little silly in retrospect. It's an album that is best seen as novelty. Devoted fans may wish to seek it out for curiosity's sake, and that's understandable, but no one should approach this album expecting the prequel to The Score. © Jason Birchmeier /TiVo
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