What is up my dear Zavodovskians? Long time no see. Things have been a bit quiet on the Island, but, hopefully, that oughta change now. It’s great to be back! – Yeah I know, common post intro..
Hip-Hop is nothing new to the Island (Monk Xavier, our pioneer), but as I was randomly listening to some music, I came across this heavy weight album, the classic The Score, by the Fugees. Thing is, I’ve heard some parts of it, but never the whole thing. Once finished, I was dumbfounded. I had just tasted probably the best Hip-Hop trio for the past thirty years or so (well, Def Squad are pretty awesome too), and didn’t quite know how to digest it. Still don’t. Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel – beast of a group, devouring 90’s Hip-Hop with this gem.
The album is full of small details, and bass is key. It’s all about the nuances and how teamwork gobbles dinosaurs. Truth is, it took the talent of many to rival big names like Nas, Tupac and even ol’ Biggie, ruling Hip-Hop’s golden age. The Score ended up hitting number one on both Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, but that’s wiki, y’all can get the numbers.
It’s also a hymn to all the refugees around the World, paying them direct tribute on songs like Fu-Gee-La and No Woman, No Cry. Its timelessness is haunting, and proof of that is the current migrant crisis, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled countries like Afghanistan, Burundi and Sudan and are now seeking a new home in Europe. This one is dedicated to all those of who had to leave their homes because of the World’s madness.
The Score kicks out with Red Intro. Red for warning, red for announcement and police sirens through the night. Spitting street knowledge through the frightening beat, we take this lesson without asking a single question, it’s all there. Streets ain’t no fairy tale, says the gentleman on the mic, making sure we get the message. We even get some pre-references to upcoming tracks, and it’s absolutely catchy, finest intro by DJ Red Alert, how ironic.
Secondly comes How Many Mics, with one of the bulkiest and dopest beats of the album. In an imperative yet human tone, Wyclef orders Pick up your microphones twice, and the machine engine starts working. After the hook, comes Lauryn’s ripping verse with her luxurious seasoned voice (well, not everyone can say they used to sing at Harlem’s Apollo Theater by the age of 13). Complaining about young rap kids, selling souls to be famous. ‘Back then’, radio was the main goal for many rappers, rapping for the wrong reason. On the other hand, Lauryn is the heat, bringing it back to the real purpose of songwriting. Truly, 21-year-old Lauryn Hill would be someone quite challengingly interesting to meet, if not even deadly. I mean, sweet like licorice dangerous like syphilis? Damn, chilled chills, a true feline right there. On the second verse, Wyclef spits a fair ego trip, storytelling us the classic from humble to the ‘oh now it feels good’ feeling. Funny when he brings Travolta, soft way of saying that the world is out of order, full of Travolta’s oil. Greased world. By the end, Pras sums it up: Too many MC’s, not enough mics. He should see it today.
We all know that, no matter what, the first big pearl has to be Ready or Not. There’s no possible hiding from Lauryn’s hook and verse, again. It’s like: she’s hunting, they’re hunting. Guess I’m falling in love. From the beginning you get the picture of this hide and seek game, except there’s no hide. But who’s really seeking? The street game is one of the biggest concepts present throughout The Score, and this is undoubtedly the big bad wolf on this song. Streets hit you when you’re young, Everyone would have a gun in he ghetto of course, when giddyupin on their horse. Lauryn sees it as a chess game and shows the real attitude to beat the streets: unbowed confidence, I can do what you do.. easy! Her verse is quite complete, few words, many references. You can feel the groundedness in her voice. She’s everywhere, hunting. So be ready and don’t feign. She’ll take you if you’re true to yourself, otherwise she’ll mutate into Nina Simone and put a spell on you, voodoo, while you pretend to be a gangster.
World’s full of Al Capones. Near the end, we get the picture that not everyone is a refugee, not everyone deserves salvation, first you have to fight for your own freedom.
Reggae is one of the main styles present on The Score. If not only due to the high Caribbean influence (Wyclef’s Haitian), we can also find many references to Bob Marley’s legacy, even a cover. From Babylon to Zion and Buffalo Soldier, dreadlocks root the place.
Now here’s my personal favorite, priceless Zealots, purely organized randomness. Probably the nerdiest one in The Score. Singing begins with another MC loses life tonight, meaning the hunting hasn’t finished, hunger strikes. Right after, Wyclef describes his very own perspective, showing us the parallax of bending creativity beyond the point of sanity, abstract raps simple with a street format. I could spend hours writing about this verse. Lauryn enters the dance with a steady, shaky and fluent interlude, fly rhymes and cute laughter, followed by a behold, as my odes, manifold on your rhymes kind of verse. The rest is everything’s lesson by Fugees’ own black magic woman, crew remember, take notes. Shooting in every direction, L-Boogie’s verse claims she’s the best, no matter who you are or where you come from, whether Jew or gentile I rank top percentile.
After that, Wyclef ‘complains’ and Pras finishes it with a robotic signature, followed by a drumming end. Damn, doesn’t it feel good? To combine all this arbitrary knowledge, seductive voice and echoable beat? Flawless.
The Beast is the dawn of war. Yet very hostile, the Fugees bring their own version of subconscious psychology, criticizing the source of street wars. The birth of the so called refugees is, in many cases, consequence of racism, and, on this track, the highlight is the police, searching and judging people with no probable cause, or that proper ammunition they call reasonable suspicion. African-Americans still suffer explicit racism nowadays, and Wyclef shows it clear as black on white. Lauryn’s part paints the lyrical message with the oppressed timbre, due to her breathless style of rapping, just great. From predator to prey, it all gets quite messy, where the fuck should they work, what the fuck should they do? Clef’s an MC, and that’s the only clear thing, and that’s what keeps him going despite being confused, the chase is on i feel like the bad guy and like I should surrender, but to who?. Everything gets more and more blur as the track progresses. The badge corruption, the concrete jungle, the ghetto Gotham… The hunter becomes the hunted. In the end, Pras has had it enough and invites you to meet him in the corner, so we can start the street wars.
By the end of The Beast, there’s a funny skit taking place in a Chinese restaurant. Essentially, two woeful guys and this aggressive Chinese cook start teasing each other and after a don’t put no onion in my white rice screamer, it all ends in noisy punching.
For the next one, be sure you get the best subwoofers, you will want to feel that low bassy G. Fu-Gee-La is a masterclass of mixing, blending Teena Marie’s Ooh La La La and Ramsey Lewis’ (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right. Incredibly well done. It’s also a direct warning: Fugees are here to rule, you don’t want to mess with them, they’ll diss you to death, period. Chicken George became Dead George stealing chickens from my farm. Metaphorically singing like they don’t care, ooh la la la, the delightful pride of being part of a group like the Fugees is written all over it, but loyalty is vital, treason comes with the highest price, a boy on the side of Babylon trying to front like he’s down with Mount Zion. Just like family.
Bang-bang sh-bang, time for business, Family Business. Covered by Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de La Alhambra, guest rapper Omega brings his story from the New Jersey Ghetto, Omega’s own recuerdos, unfolding a straight lesson on managing change, in its very forms. It marks both the end of predictability and the birth of rooting. Grounded people are the result of eliminating, breaking and navigating worlds and experiences. But such process must be a cautious one, and don’t ever take things for granted, there’s always something fishy behind the corner, waiting to bang you down. Lauryn’s verse works both as a wet flame and a burning drop. Changes must be taken slowly, and their crucial part is your own integrity, again, staying true to who you really are is the only way to survive fire and rain.
Without a doubt, next song is the golden lion. Based on Lory Lieberman’s poem, we get a whole new fresh-faced version of the seventies hit, Killing Me Softly. Besides all the amazing vocals and double vocals, I would stick with beat for this one. It was quite an avant-garde, even risky, move from The Fugees to take this kind of song and bring all that soulfulness feeling into it. But it worked and Roberta Flack sure enjoyed it. Two things: bass (of course) and this badass asian-like musical instrument (guqin, maybe?) which fits perfectly in the whole composition (right after the initial hook), producer Jerry “Wonda” Deuplessis had it good on this one. The song talks for itself, not much to add here.
The Score‘s title track is a halfway premature synopsis, kind of resuming and self-referencing the album, from left to right, on a marching-like pace. I think we could also see it as an introduction to the three-headed dog, Wyclef the champ, Through any contest I’m victorious, Pras the teacher, I autograph my lyrics with a number 2 pencil, and Lauryn the cannon, With the speed of a bullet, cuttin’ jokers off at the meeky-freeky gullet, lyrical sedative, keep niggas medative, head rushers I give to creative kids and fiends. Viciously awesome.
One-two, one-two. The Mask is all about rules, gaming rules. To survive the streets is to rule the art of camouflage. Wearing a mask is part of street life, everyone’s asking you to play spy in order to achieve your goals. A chilling tune, breezy beat, full of cool transitions.
Back in the West, everyone wants to be a cowboy, be wild and dangerous. Cowboys is the realization of this. Its hook is a duel. A cowboy always has his gun nearby, .45 by my side, and is always prepared for a shootout, grab your guns boy. This song is also the reunion of a wolf pack.
Featuring Outsidaz, we get Wyclef and Pacewon going all desperado on the first verse, Lauryn and Rah Digga rolling stage coaches on the second, Young Zee and Pras cementing the pack (gotta love the NAACP line) and, going solo in the end, Refugee Camp Allstars member John Forté spits out the lunatic gun pandemonium, an asthmatic killer verse.
Straight out of a soup kitchen in Trenchtown, the ghetto of Kingston, came the timeless No Woman, No Cry, written by Vincent Ford and eternalized by Bob Marley. Fugees’ version keeps it clean, staying true to its simple, humble, yet strong roots, in this great future you can’t forget your past. Yes, it’s a classic cover, but Wyclef does a pretty good job maintaining the immortal vibe. A dedication to all the refugees worldwide.
Manifest takes us back to Red Intro, not only for the beat, but also for the message. The warning was there, but the ears were not, not until now. As an adjective, manifest means obvious and plain. As a verb, means to demonstrate plainly or to reveal. You can see it as a revelation, or a moany confession. Lessons have been learned, blood has been spilled. Even if you loved hard once and/or were betrayed by one of you 12 Disciples, life must go on, and it goes on, even if suicidal thought invade your mind and you start contemplating death with a Gillette. The speaking skit in the end gives us a lovely Rocky Balboa kind of speech, talking about the biggest punch you’ll ever take: life.
The Score presents us with three Fu-Gee-La remixes: Refugee Camp‘s, Sly & Robbie‘s and Refugee Camp Global Mix. The first two are quite simple but very enjoyable, specially due to the drum & bass game going on between Sly Dunbar and Robert Shakespeare. Reggae coming into the main picture again. The third remix, a.k.a. Nummer 17, is my favorite. As if it wasn’t enough, the Fugees decide to go international and French takes charge, attention attention. Wyclef soon realizes his unsharpened accent and invests in Japanese and Creole, sick. The hook is really refreshing, just chill and enjoy.
Soul meets its most liberated form in Mista Mista. I don’t think much can be said about this song, the guitar and lyrics speak for themselves and it’s all so human. Every single feeling, emotion, shake, itch, scratch and tear is deep buried in Wyclef’s voice. You can almost see him writhing his body and shutting his eyes while singing this drug gospel. Completely stimulating, absolutely exhilarating.
The Score was my ichiban hip hop review, and I loved it. It’s a passport, a visa stamp, a way out. Borderless redemption masterpiece.