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Fugees, The

THE FUGEES

Formed: 1992, East Orange, New Jersey

Members: Lauryn Hill, vocals (born South Orange, New Jersey, 25 May 1975); Nelust Wyclef "Clef" Jean, guitar, vocals (born Haiti, 17 October 1972); Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, vocals (born Haiti, 19 October 1972).

Genre: R&B, Hip-Hop

Best-selling album since 1990: The Score (1996)

Hit songs since 1990: "Killing Me Softly with His Song"


The Fugees are best known for The Score (1996), an album that widened the scope of hip-hop with its fusion of soul, reggae, and Caribbean music. It became the rare hip-hop crossover album, selling more than 8 million copies. Although the album proved to be the group's farewell, it launched the successful solo careers of all three of its members, who continued to follow that album's eclectic blueprint.

Both the sons of preachers, cousins Wyclef Jean and Prakazrel Michel were born in Haiti and raised in Newark, New Jersey, during their teenage years. They met Lauryn Hill during her freshman year of high school. Soon all three christened themselves the Tranzlator Crew, and a local producer helped get them a record deal and release their first album, Blunted on Reality. After getting postponed for two years, it saw the light of day in 1994 under the changed band name the Fugees (short for refugees).

The group found itself in limbo after the largely over-produced record failed to make a dent on radio. In the meantime, the group found a new producer and released two singles, "Nappy Heads" and "Vocab." Both remixes became hits on the dance-club circuit. Hill's silky vocals were placed front and center, and buttery horn arrangements harked back to soul music of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The new direction paved the way for The Score (1996), today widely considered the essential Fugees album. By this time Jean and Michel were fully invested in the social consciousness inculcated by their upbringing in the church, and they had adopted the rebel attitude of Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley, whose classic "No Woman, No Cry" they covered. The Score became a defining alternative to modern-day hip-hop because it incorporated live instruments and not just programmed samples. It also questioned the use of violent imagery during a time when gangsta rap thrived on stories of gory street violence. ("Another MC loses life tonight, lord / I beg that you pray to Jesus Christ," Jean sang on the song "Zealots.") The music introduced a fresh voice with its simplicity, playfulness, and musical embrace of several styles, including soul and reggae. The album's biggest hit, a cover of "Killing Me Softly with His Song," a big hit in 1973 for R&B singer Roberta Flack, crossed over to the pop charts, reaching number one.

The Score won Grammys for best rap album of the year and best R&B performance by a duo or group, and it made the Fugees international stars. The group embraced its Haitian roots by performing a benefit concert for the country's poor before 75,000 people in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1997.

Soon after, the Fugees splintered. They reunited only through cameos on one another's solo projects. Jean was the first to go solo, releasing The Carnival (1997) a year after The Score. His solo work best fulfilled the eclecticism forged by his old group. He embraced divergent styles from classic rock to country, covering songs by Pink Floyd, the British art rock group, and collaborating with Kenny Rogers, the country singer. In 1998 Michel released his solo debut, Ghetto Supastar, under the name Pras, and he enjoyed a Top 40 hit with the title song that summer. Hill became the most commercially successful Fugee. Her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998), won five Grammys, including Album of the Year in 1998.

The Fugees never officially announced a breakup, and in the press all three continually discussed the desire to get back together. In the meantime, individually they continued to forge an alternative to hip-hop through music that defies conventional categorization.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Blunted on Reality (Columbia/Ruffhouse, 1994); The Score (Columbia/Ruffhouse, 1996).

mark guarino

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