Though their heyday lasted for just five years and two albums, the Fugees were essentially a supergroup in reverse—a crew of crafty New Jersey MCs who, following their brief tenure together, would each go on to leave an indelible mark on the world of hip-hop. Debuting in the early ’90 as Tranzlator Crew, Lauryn Hill, her high-school friend Pras Michel and his cousin Wyclef Jean eventually adopted the name Fugees, a shortened riff on “refugees” that nodded to the cousins’ shared Haitian-immigrant heritage. The trio’s simmering social conscience was on full display on 1994’s Blunted on Reality, which channelled the pugilistic spirit of East Coast contemporaries like Public Enemy and Onyx. However, the album’s acoustic-strummed outlier, “Vocab”, provided a glimpse of the Caribbean influences that would flourish on 1996’s The Score, whose Godfather-inspired cover art served as a Trojan Horse for a record that offered a soulful antidote to (and lyrical rebuke of) gangsta rap. With its heady fusion of boom-bap beats and chilled island vibes, The Score was the platform on which Hill emerged as the group’s undeniable star, alternating between swooning chorus hooks and take-no-prisoners rhymes atop an Enya sample on “Ready or Not”, and claiming the Roberta Flack classic “Killing Me Softly” as her own on a sitar-spun remake. A Grammy-winning, chart-topping, multi-plantium phenomenon, The Score was the Fugees’ first and only hit record before the group disbanded, with Hill releasing her feminist-rap masterpiece, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, in 1998, Pras dropping the pop-rap crossover smash “Ghetto Superstar” that same year and the prolific Jean emerging as a figurehead for the globalised sound of rap in the 21st century. A brief reunion in 2005 yielded the atypically frantic single “Take It Easy,” but the Fugees will forever stand as a paragon of ‘90s rap at its most smooth and sophisticated.
ORIGINSouth Orange, NJ