When an album like Fugees’ The Score plows through and breaks new ground, the public is left to weed through the various Flora that springs up from the reinvigorated landscape. To bask in the sunshine of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, one must also be willing to help rid the earth of The Dutchess. It’s the two-edged sword forged from otherworldly success like the Fugees experienced with their sophomore album: accountability for everything great, good, bad, and terrible that arose as a direct result of one work of art.
Black Eyed Peas Fergie Era
It’s unfair to say the Black Eyed Peas and Stacy ‘Fergie’ Ferguson didn’t work through some struggles. The death of Eazy-E kiboshed the Peas’ early career at Ruthless Records and two middling conscious rap albums were met with middling responses, while Fergie remained unable to parlay her Kids Incorporated TV and Wild Orchid music experience into mainstream success. But many years later, once the Peas and Fergie combined in a hip-hop configuration solidified and perfected by the Fugees, the new Black Eyed Peas set aside all pretenses toward halfway decent music and set a course for abysmal pop music infamy and mind-boggling success. Had the Fugees not stepped aside though, there seems little chance the Peas’ mushy take on a similar dynamic would have passed muster. Jeff Weiss put it best in his essay on the Fugees for this publication: “Do you really think we would have tolerated ‘My Humps’ in a world where The Fugees were still working?”
Platinum album for the Bulworth soundtrack
Pras is probably still fuming over this. His song “Ghetto Supastar” could probably still rule a whole summer in 2016, but in 1998, it improbably got more than one million kids off their asses and into Sam Goody to snap up the Bulworth soundtrack, resulting in a RIAA platinum certification for the soundtrack to a movie that no one can recall seeing. But when Pras finally got around to releasing his similarly titled album, it couldn’t crack the Billboard top 50 (it peaked at 55). Credit for the success of “Ghetto Supastar” goes out in equal parts to Wyclef Jean’s and Jerry Wonda’s deft production, Mya’s shimmering hook, Pras’s solid rhymes, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s insane guest verse, a magical accident that occurred when ODB barged into the wrong studio. But credit for the success of the Bulworth soundtrack only goes to “Ghetto Supastar.” So it’s a damn shame so many people’s copies of it are graced with Warren Beatty’s mug and not Pras'.
The chain of events looks something like this: The Fugees release The Score, highlighted by the multitalented Lauryn Hill; Hill releases the in-many-ways superior Miseducation of Lauryn Hill; Hill retreats from the overwhelming fame that accompanies the album; world clamors for more Lauryn Hill; Hill obliges with MTV Unplugged No. 2.0; world shrugs; young producer/rapper Kanye West spins “Mystery of Iniquity” into “All Falls Down,” originally featuring a sample of Hill; she denies his sample request and he swaps her out for Syleena Johnson and still nets one of his biggest singles; accompanying video represents last time Stacey Dash seen as a sympathetic figure. It’s really that simple.
Much like Enya herself miraculously materialized in a hazy mist of fairy dew, the idea of sampling her brand of super squishy new age music in hip-hop seemed to suddenly take shape in 1996 with the Fugees’ “Ready or Not.” Enya had been sampled once or twice before that and many times after (see Lil B) but the phenomenon morphed into something compelling and grotesque with Eminem’s 2000 single “Stan.” Slim Shady juxtaposes a story of an deranged Eminem superfan killing himself and his pregnant girlfriend against a buoyant bongo-dotted loop from “Thank You” by Dido, a singer-songwriter in the Enya mold but with all the mush and none of the mysticism. In the span of four years, the softer side of rap had boiled over and congealed into a Jello pile that would bounce guys like Drake to the top of the game.
Matisyahu and the rise of Rasta rap
Wyclef Jean can probably hold his head high while taking the heat for draining funds out of his Haiti earthquake relief charity and using them to charter a private jet for Lindsay Lohan. But blame Jean, whose melodious sing-rapping is all over The Score, for the rise of plagues like Matisyahu and he would likely question everything for which he stands. But without Jean’s fluid style and effortless charisma, legions of chill guys like Shaggy, Matisyahu, and Sean Paul would have never found the confidence to desecrate the reggae and hip-hop genres in a single breath.
Stunt journalism is rightly labeled as exploitative and disingenuous at times, but Pras’s documentary Skid Row, in which the rapper is secretly filmed while living as a homeless man in Los Angeles for nine days, doesn’t fit those descriptions. Pras helped finance the film himself and helped spearhead its unfiltered, harrowing and heartbreaking vision in order to call more attention to the rampant violence, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental illness in homeless communities. But a project like this would never have happened if Pras hadn’t been a) famous from his time in the Fugees, and b) not so famous that anyone could recognize his face.
Shakira’s continued relevance in the U.S.
Shakira had tons of success in Latin America and in the U.S. with “Whenever Wherever” before she earned an assist for the Fugees. But it was “Hips Don’t Lie” that sold a crazy 16 million copies and put her into rarified “judge on The Voice” territory. For that, she can thank Jean and Pras, who originally wrote the song for a Fugees reunion under the original title “Lips Don’t Lie,” and Hill, who refused to do the song. It’s likely for the best because, had a Fugees reunion album come together and had it ended up sounding like “Hips Don’t Lie,” it’s likely the whole of it would have only tarnished the legacy of The Score.
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