Last month, ’90s hip-hop legends the Fugees announced a surprise reunion tour, staging a tantalizing preview of it at Manhattan’s Pier 17 with an impossibly large band in tow, treating the audience to classics like “Ready or Not” and deep cuts like “Zealots.” They hadn’t played on the island in 25 years, not since Hoodstock, a 1996 show with Biggie and Wu-Tang Clan that ended in a stampede after mistaken reports of gunshots. That same year, the trio comprising Wyclef Jean, Pras Michel, and Ms. Lauryn Hill released The Score, their second album and an unlikely rap classic. The first album — 1994’s Blunted on Reality, a promising batch of personable tunes lacking a certain polish — sold modestly, but a smooth remix of the high-energy single “Nappy Heads” by Queens producer Salaam Remi put the group on enough radars to earn another shot. The rest is history: The blend of Lauryn’s soulful vocals and perfect rhymes; Clef’s tricky flows and guitar chops; Pras’s pop and production smarts; and assists from collaborators like New Jersey rap crew the Outsidaz, bassist and producer Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis, and dancehall geniuses Sly and Robbie bridged musical and cultural gaps. Nods to ’70s soul and reggae flanked slick R&B and gritty raps. The hits — “Ready,” “Fu-Gee-La,” and covers of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” and Roberta Flack’s version of “Killing Me Softly With His Song” — pushed The Score to multiplatinum sales.
Then, internal tensions set in. By 1998, the members had all gone solo. They reconvened for a few dates in the mid-2000s, and that was it until Global Citizen this September. While the group prepares to close out the year on a stadium trek that will take them from Newark to London to Nigeria, I spoke to Pras, whose friendships with Lauryn and Wyclef first brought the group together, to cover the storied past, the surprising present, and the possible future of the Fugees.
Best memory of recording The Score
I remember Ms. Hill singing “Killing Me Softly” in the basement, and it was so funny because it was one of the hottest summers, New York in 1995. People were dying because it was so hot. We were really broke at that time. So we had the air conditioner in the basement. It blew cool air when it’s cold outside. When it’s hot out, it blows hot air. Psychologically, it still feels like it’s cooler. I just remember this hot ass air. It was, like, 102 degrees outside, and Ms. Hill is doing the background vocals on “Killing Me Softly.” It was just kind of the way she was hearing the harmonies. We were playing back Roberta Flack’s album. [Ms. Hill] was like, “Oh, she’s doing this key right here. Let me go back and do that.” And she’d go back and do it. That’s how she stacked the harmonies. Yo, it was like poetry in motion. It’s like a million memories I got.
The basement was moments, man, that could never be recaptured. Just a bunch of kids leaving college, leaving home. “Let’s have a dream, man.” “Just believe, yo.” “This going to be it,” not knowing what it is. We just believed that somehow we were going to succeed. We felt the love we had for each other at that time, the love for the music, and the love for the hip-hop and the culture. It was just a great moment with everybody that was coming in — Snoop, Pac, Biggie. Mary J. Blige. Wu-Tang. We was like, “Yo, we want to be in that mix.” On Blunted, we were trying to be like what was out there. That loud shit. Then we were like, “We going to be ourselves.” We’re Caribbean, Haitian, Brooklyn. That rice and beans, plantains, machetes. We’re coming with that vibe. Then you got that soul-singing beautiful Motown, Ms. Hill. Let’s go, this is the mash-up. Boom! That’s where “Fu-Gee-La” came from.
We came up in an era where artists had more creative direction over the product. We came in as our own thing [with the attitude of] you’re going to fail big or win big. Because it was new, it was experimental. Ruffhouse [Records], Columbia, they had the GOATs; they had Kriss Kross, Cypress Hill. When we did the album, if you know hip-hop, you know that we came in as that sound was dying off. Remember that whole Fu-Shnickens, Leaders Of New School, that rah rah? [Nas’s 1994 debut] Illmatic slowed everything down. Biggie came in. Wu-Tang came in. We dropped right before that, and we got caught in the storm. But the label was like, “We don’t really give a fuck. Y’all need to go figure this thing out. Take your ass on the road.” So we started to really find our identity on the road. That’s how we became this band. So our shows became electrifying, and the label was like, “Man, you’ve got to capture that magic on stage on the record. You might have something here.” Then came The Score.
Biggest reason for reuniting
Ms. Hill reached out, and she said, “It’s the 25th anniversary.” She first reached out to, I think, Wyclef and then my boy, Jerry Wonda. He’s like the fourth, hidden Fugee. He reached out to me: “Listen, we’re trying to get the band back. How you feel about it?” I was like, “Let’s see what it is.” I don’t really want to be wasting my time, but I said, “Look, it makes sense, let’s see what it is.” So she’s the one that initiated this whole thing.
We were supposed to go to Africa to do the show, but there were last-minute logistical issues. So Global Citizen was gracious enough to put it together. They are one of the most incredible organizations I’ve ever dealt with. Within days, they put the whole Pier 17 show together, which was amazing. It wasn’t so much about coming back to [announce a tour]. It was about doing something for Global Citizen. This was dear to Ms. Hill’s heart.
I thought it was crazy because I only rehearsed one time with them. It was the day before the actual show. It was nuts. But it all came together somehow. I guess the end result is what really matters. As we got toward the end of the show, it became easier. We hadn’t performed together in 16 years.
[But as far as any post-tour plans for the group], I’m just going to be transparent. It’s one of them things, man. It can go either way. So we just gotta hope for the best. That’s the direction things are going right now. I’m just going along calmly watching from afar.
Essentialness of live instruments to the Fugees sound
Clef and I grew up in the church. It added to the character of group. What was dope about hip-hop then is that if you had a hundred hip-hop artists that was popping, each one of them had their own individual style, right? Wu-Tang had a sound. Snoop had a sound. Dre had a sound. Busta Rhymes had a sound. Da Brat had a sound. Jay-Z, Big. Bro, everybody had their own unique sound, and it was just dope. But today’s a little bit different. Now, it’s trap. It’s what you put on top of it is what makes a difference. But in the ’90s, everybody had an individual sound. So the live, instrumental side of us gave us a different, unique sound … Even though the Roots were a live band. They were a band, and we were a band, but it was still two different sounds. They had that Philly sound. We had that New York, New Jersey sound. That made us our own individuals.
Favorite Fugees song
“Ready or Not.” It’s an underdog song. When we came out, The Source played us out. What The Score meant is we were settling a score. And so “Ready or Not” was like, “We coming for y’all motherfuckers.” It’s just that anthem. What’s dope about “Ready or Not” to me is that it’s not one of those anthems that gets your face with the hype, where everybody is getting hype busting beer bottles over their heads. It’s a silent killer, like a gas leak. You want to smell it, but it’s killing you. It’s that kind of anthem. The way that Enya sound comes in, man, it’s coming through your veins. And then Ms. Hill comes with the hook. Oh my God. Something about that … it just does something to me.
Favorite Fugees video
The best video, hands down, is probably going to be “Ready or Not.” My guy Marcus Nispel, great, great director. It was just epic. It was just a lot going on. It was the first million-dollar video. It was fun. We shot it in the back of Universal Studios. I haven’t thought about this in forever.
Number of mics he’d give The Source
At one point, The Source was the Bible for hip-hop. When we came out, they were saying the group was wack. The girl is cool. The guys need to go back to 1980. But we settled the score. It’s so funny how we look for validation that really means nothing at the end of the day. But back then, we wanted our five mics. They were saying Blunted wasn’t up to par and all that. Then, they were like, “Oh my God, The Score.” But they were such haters they still only gave us four and a half mics. They wouldn’t give us the five. But hey, we’re here, and The Source is basically nonexistent. Who got the last laugh?
First time hearing the Fugees on the radio
Funkmaster Flex played the “Nappy Heads” remix. At first it was just instrumental they would be playing. Then one day, maybe a couple of weeks later, he started playing the vocals. [Hums the sample of “Santa’s Birthday” from “Nappy Heads - Remix”]. I remember we were in the car and heard him. I don’t care who you are. When you hear yourself [on the radio] for the first time, everyone gets the exact same reaction. It’s like you got a cape on. You can fly to the moon like Superman. It’s that feeling of jubilation. Like, Wow. I made it.
Most memorable Hoodstock 1996 moment
[We played] with Biggie and Wu-Tang. Either Ghostface or Inspectah Deck, somebody from the Wu-Tang, by mistake, was like, “I think he got a gun.” You don’t say that to the crowd on the mic, right? All hell broke loose from that point. It was New York City. It was that vibe. And then somebody’s like, “Yo, I think he got a gun.” You don’t say that with a bunch of Black people, man.
Best part of recording debut solo album Ghetto Supastar
I was pushed to do it [by the label]. I just kind of, like, did it and put it out there. The single was rejected by Sony at first. Then we put it on the Bulworth soundtrack and followed up with an album. But “Ghetto Supastar” came out of it. Mya was great. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, God rest his soul, was incredible. That process was incredible. He was not supposed to be on the record.
He came into the wrong studio, the wrong session in the wrong state. I was writing “Ghetto Supastar.” He was so high that he thought I was in his session. It was in California, but he thought we were in New York. It was a bit intense. His people were like “What y’all doing in our session?” We went back and forth. Once that calmed down, the music was playing in the background, the instrumental. As he about to leave, he’s like, “What’s that beat?” “Oh, no, that’s something I’m working on, dog.” He said, “Yeah. Yeah. That’s hard. That’s hard.” Then, he says, “Let me get on that.” He didn’t even hear the hook or nothing. To kind of, like, get him out of there, we recorded him. We were going to erase it. We figured it would be trash anyway. This dude went in and recorded his verses, and we were like, “I don’t know about this one. Keep this one.” That’s how it came about. Like, literally.
Most essential to New Jersey hip-hop
One of the forefront pioneers, I would say, was Queen Latifah. Where I lived in New Jersey at that time, Phillipsburg, we all lived in the same vicinity, basically, maybe two to four miles away from each other. You had Latifah in Irvington. You had Naughty by Nature in East Orange. I had Redman down the street from me. He went to West Side High School down in Newark. You had the Poor Righteous Teachers in South Jersey. You had Lords of the Underground. You had Channel Live. So at that time, there was a lot of different hip-hop in that area. Obviously, Latifah went to do her thing. We went out, and we came out big, and Redman really did his thing. That was in the ’90s, man. There were a lot of vibes going on in New Jersey at that time. It was Jersey’s moment.
Greatest lesson from friendship with Lauryn and Wyclef
It’s like being in a room with two titans, man. That’s the best way I can explain it. It’s not easy, but it has some fun moments to it. They were like two gods. Two incredible artists. Ms. Hill is arguably, I think, one of the best female artists in the last 25, 30 years. It’s good to be among them. When it’s just about the music and vibes, there’s something spiritual about it.
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