Fugees
Background information
Also known as
  • The Rap Translatorz (later known as Tranzlator Crew)
  • Refugee Camp
OriginSouth Orange, New Jersey, U.S.
Genres
Years active
  • 1992–1997
  • 2004–2006
Labels
Websitethefugees.com
Past membersLauryn Hill
Wyclef Jean
Pras Michel

Fugees (/ˈfz/; sometimes The Fugees) was an American hip hop group formed in the early 1990s. Deriving their name from a shortening of the word "refugees". The group consisted of Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, and Pras Michel. Jean and Michel are Haitian, while Hill is American. The group rose to fame with their second album, The Score, one of the best-selling albums of all time. They are often cited as being one of the most significant alternative hip hop groups of the 1990s.

In 1993, the trio signed to Ruffhouse, distributed through Columbia Records. The following year the group released their debut album, Blunted on Reality (1994), the album received mostly favorable reviews and included the underground Salaam Remi remixed hits "Nappy Heads" and "Vocab". They followed it up with their second and final studio album, The Score (1996), which was a commercial success, peaking at number-one on the US Billboard 200 chart and being certified seven times platinum in the United States. It received universal acclaim, and is considered to be one of the greatest hip hop albums of all-time; the album included the hit singles "Killing Me Softly", "Ready or Not", and "Fu-Gee-La". Afterwards, they released the single "Rumble in the Jungle" (featuring Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest & John Forté), which peaked at number three in the UK. In 1997, the group disbanded so the members could pursue solo careers. They reunited In 2004, and began touring for two years before officially disbanding.

The Fugees have sold over twenty-two million records worldwide, and are one of the biggest-selling hip hop groups of all time. In 2007, MTV ranked them the ninth greatest hip-hop group of all time.[1] U2's Bono dubbed them as "the hip hop Beatles".[2] In 2012, BET placed them on their list of 'Hip Hop's Greatest Trios'[3] The Fugees have won many accolades, including two Grammy Awards[4] and a Brit Award for International Group.[5]

Career

Formation and beginnings

Lauryn Hill and Pras first met at Columbia High School, in Maplewood, New Jersey. Pras, Lauryn, and a mutual friend Marcy Harriell formed a musical trio called Tyme; Pras' cousin, Wyclef Jean, joined the trio and Marcy left soon after in 1990.[6] The moniker Tranzlator Crew refers to the name of their band at the time, which included Johnny Wise on drums, Ti Bass (Jerry) on bass guitar, and Leon (DJ).[7] In 1993, after some gigs and recorded demos, the trio signed to Ruffhouse, distributed through Columbia Records.[8] The trio's name was later changed to Fugees, which was purposely taken from a word often used derogatorily to refer to Haitian-Americans (refugee).[9] Refugee Camp, while a name sometimes credited to the trio, also refers to a number of artists affiliated with them, and particularly Jean.

The trio soon changed musical direction, and released their first hip-hop LP, Blunted on Reality, in 1994 under the guidance of Kool and the Gang's producer Ronald Bell. Although the album did not contain as many lyrics with overtly political messages as songs from The Score, there were still political intentions.[7] The album spawned the singles "Boof Baf", "Nappy Heads" and "Vocab", but gained little mainstream attention, despite earning plaudits for its artistic quality and innovative use of samples.[10]

The Score

The musical qualities of their first record would be revisited with their second album The Score, which was released in February 1996.

The Score became one of the biggest hits of 1996 and one of the best-selling hip-hop albums of all time. The Fugees first gained attention for their cover versions of old favorites, with the group's reinterpretations of "No Woman No Cry" by Bob Marley & the Wailers and "Killing Me Softly with His Song" (first recorded by Lori Lieberman in 1971, remade by Roberta Flack in 1973), the latter being their biggest hit.[11]

The album also included a re-interpretation of The Delfonics' "Ready or Not Here I Come (Can't Hide From Love)" in their hit single, "Ready or Not",[12] which featured a prominent sample of Enya's "Boadicea" without the singer's permission. This prompted a lawsuit resulting in a settlement where Enya was given credit and royalties for her sample.[13] The Fugees have continuously thanked and praised Enya for her deep understanding of the situation, for example in the liner notes for The Score.

The Fugees won two 1997 Grammy Awards with The Score (Best Rap Album) and "Killing Me Softly" (Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group).

They produced remixes of Michael Jackson's "Blood on the Dance Floor" and "2 Bad".[14]

Later career

In 1997, the Fugees all began solo projects: Hill began writing and producing for a number of artist (including Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige) and started work on her critically acclaimed The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill; Jean also began producing for a number of artist (including Canibus, Destiny's Child and Carlos Santana) and recorded his debut album Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival; Pras, with Mýa and Ol' Dirty Bastard, recorded the single "Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)" for the soundtrack to the film Bulworth. In 1998, they reunited to shoot a music video for the song "Just Happy to Be Me" which appeared in the Sesame Street special Elmopalooza, and also on the Grammy Award-winning soundtrack album.[15]

The three Fugees reunited and performed on September 18, 2004 at the concert in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn featured in the film Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2004), headlining a star-studded bill that included Kanye West, Mos Def, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Talib Kweli, Common, Big Daddy Kane, Dead Prez, Cody ChesnuTT and John Legend. Their performance received several positive reviews, many of which praised Hill's near a cappella rendition of "Killing Me Softly".[16]

The Fugees would make their first televised appearance in almost ten years at BET's 2005 Music Awards on June 28, opening the show with a twelve-minute set.[17] With a new album announced to be in the works, their final track, "Take It Easy", was leaked online and eventually released as an Internet single on September 27, 2005.[18] It peaked at number 40 on the Billboard R&B Chart.[19]

Disbanding

In 2005, the Fugees embarked on a European tour – their first together since 1997 – from November 30 to December 20, playing in Finland, Austria, Norway, Germany, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Slovakia. They had been scheduled to play at the Hammersmith Apollo on November 25, 2005; however, they were forced to move the gig to December due to production issues.[20] The tour received mixed reviews. On February 6, 2006, the group reunited for a free show in Hollywood, with tickets given away to about 8,000 fans by local radio stations. Later that month, a new track called "Foxy" was leaked, a song dubbed the "real return of the Fugees" by several online music blogs.

However, following the reunion tour, the album that was said to be in the works did not materialize and was postponed indefinitely, as relationships between band members apparently deteriorated. During the recording of the album, the group was plagued with creative differences.[21] They recorded a song titled "Lips Don’t Lie", however Hill did not like the song and after some disagreements over it, the group disbanded again. The song was ultimately given to singer Shakira with featured vocals by Jean and after the title was changed to "Hips Don't Lie", the song was released a single and became a global hit.[22] In August 2007, a year after the group's second disbandment, Pras stated, "Before I work with Lauryn Hill again, you will have a better chance of seeing Osama Bin Laden and [George W.] Bush in Starbucks having a latte, discussing foreign policies, before there will be a Fugees reunion".[23] Meanwhile, in September 2007, an equally outspoken Wyclef told Blues & Soul: "I feel the first issue that needs to be addressed is that Lauryn needs help... In my personal opinion, those Fugees reunion shows shouldn't have been done, because we wasn't ready. I really felt we shoulda first all gone into a room with Lauryn and a psychiatrist... But, you know, I do believe Lauryn can get help. And, once she does work things out. Hopefully a proper and enduring Fugees reunion will happen."[24] On July 15, 2017, an old song by the Fugees was leaked on Hot 97 radio leading to reports that the group was reforming. This was later denied by group members on Twitter.

After the group split, Wyclef Jean co-founded and headed the Yele Haiti Foundation, a non-profit organization "focusing on emergency relief, employment, youth development and education, and tree planting and agriculture" in Haiti.[25] Pras Michel starred in a documentary about homelessness in Los Angeles and remained outspoken about Haitian politics.[26][27][28] Lauryn Hill continued recording and performing socially conscious music and went on to advocate for female empowerment especially within the music industry.[29][30] Fugees also turned their recording studio, The Booga Basement, into a transitional house for young Haitian refugees immigrating to the United States.[9]

Legacy

Fugees have often been referred to as one of the most influential and significant groups of the 1990s,[31][32] with Billboard stating "their influence on modern hip-hop and R&B music is undeniable".[33] They are often considered to be one of the definitive Alternative hip hop acts, being one of the first alternative hip hop acts to break into the mainstream.[34][35][36] The group has sold over twenty-two million records worldwide,[37] and are one of the biggest-selling hip hop groups of all time.[38][39] According to Forbes, their success helped establish Ruffhouse Records as a major record label.[40] Consequence Of Sound noted Fugees for putting Haiti on the hip hop map.[41] While Matthew Ismael Ruiz of Pitchfork, noted the group for removing negative connotations of Haitian immigration and the word 'Refugee',[42] stating that "The Fugees managed to diversify the voice of the ghetto, one often depicted in a single dimension. They reclaimed pride for Haitians worldwide, a heritage maligned for its postcolonial poverty and strife but still remembered as the setting for the new world’s first successful revolt of enslaved people against their oppressors. Their sound was multifaceted because they were, too, their music diverse, just like the Black experience."[43] The Ringer, noted that Fugees delivered political messages and brought hip hop to the mainstream in their music by blending elements of Pop, Soul, Dancehall and Caribbean music, making it more palpable for a wider audience without making the message dense, stating "Fugees disguised resistance as art, the same way that enslaved Africans once hid martial arts from their colonial masters by pretending that they were a dance."[44]

Writing for The Recording Academy, music journalist Kathy Iandoli wrote about the impact of the group on the hip hop genre stating:

"As hip-hop's East and West Coasts continued their tussle, their lighter-hearted approach to socially conscious rap curtailed any overarching assumptions that hip-hop was going down a "bad road." Plus, they had Lauryn Hill, who doubled as a songbird and lyrical spitfire. Together, by juxtaposing life instrumentation, soulful melodies and abstract bars, The Fugees gave hip-hop a renewed spirit and propelled it to a different kind of mainstream".[45]

Multiple recording artist have cited The Fugees as an influence including, Bono,[46] Drake,[47] Kanye West,[48] Akon,[49] Black Eyed Peas,[50] Young Thug,[51] Bridgit Mendler,[52] Sean Kingston,[53] Ava Max,[54] Doja Cat,[55] Bastille,[56] and Diplo.[57]

The impact of The Fugees has been compared to The Beatles, with U2's Bono calling them hip hop's version of The Beatles.[58] Daryl McIntosh of Albumism, compared the public response from the group's sophomore album, The Score to that of Beatlemania, referring to it as "Fugee-mania".[59] Former United States President Barack Obama, named the Fugees single "Ready or Not" his favorite song ever.[60] In 2012, they were inducted into the N.J. Pop & Rock Hall.[61] A photograph of the group taken in 1994, has been stored and collected by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.[62] In 2020, The Score ranked 134th on the revised version of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[63]

Scholarship

Alexander Weyheliye's "Sounding Diasporic Citizenship" looks to the Fugees to consider the possibility for the term "refugee" to be a liberating call that builds international community as an empowering form of 'diasporic citizenship'. He writes that the Fugees "address the prejudices against Haitians in the States and also reclaim the figure of the Haitian refugee not as an instantiation of the abject but as a point of solidarity."[64]

Discography

Main article: Fugees discography

Compilations

References

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