Now-legendary producer Salaam Remi has gone on record more than once with a highly specific criticism about the earliest Fugees music: They sounded like Onyx. It’s reductive, but not unfair. The Fugees of the band’s debut, Blunted on Reality, were a trio of hungry MCs susceptible to the influence of gritty and successful outings such as Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Lords of the Underground’s Here Come the Lords, Naughty by Nature’s 19 Naughty III, and of course Onyx’s opus of aggy, Bacdafucup, all released in 1993. Though 1994's Blunted on Reality was more aggro than it needed to be, the Newark trio’s charms would not be dimmed.
"I’m the girl Yankee rolling with the kids from Haiti cooling at the Mardi Gras,” Lauryn Hill raps on “Refugees on the Mic.” If Fugees had nothing else on Blunted, they had identities. Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel rapped with chips on their shoulders—for the flack they endured as young Black men making their way in the world, and then also an otherness they embraced as Haitian-Americans making their way in the Black American culture of MCing. Michel is at his most vulnerable on “Giggles,” recounting the ignorance of his adolescent classmates. But the foundation ofBlunted is grit: “How Hard Is It” finds Wyclef shouting his bars as if auditioning for the role of “thug rapper” in a movie. Hill, too, spends much of her time on the mic elbowing her way into a male-dominated arena, the 18-year-old singer and MC an instant anomaly as a young woman with abilities unlike any of her predecessors, male or female. “Some Seek Stardom,” a song about staying anchored to the teachings of church in the face of worldly temptation, is Hill’s solo showcase, her range as animated storyteller and gifted vocalist on full display.
The closest Blunted on Reality comes to the Fugees’ now-signature Caribbean-tinged, world-conquering rap sound is the album’s very last song, the Salaam Remi-produced remix of the group’s first charting single, “Nappy Heads.” Remi traded the original’s hard-charging boom-bap drumline for a breezy synth melody and jazzy bassline, creating a prime backdrop for Jean’s rapping, toasting, and dancehall crooning. The very sessions that yielded the “Nappy Heads” remix would also produce an early version of “Fu-Gee-La,” the first single from the group’s breakout sophomore album, The Score. So though it would take the whole of their debut album for the group to get where they needed to go, once they did, there was no stopping them.