Q-Tip’s industry rule number 4,080 comes to mind in reference to the Fugees’ Greatest Hits because “record company people are shady.” No doubt. The question most hip-hop fans should be asking right about now is simple. Why do the Fugees even need such a collection? Anyone with half the sense they were born with could just as easily go out and buy the two discs the Fugees released in 1994 and 1996 and have a complete collection. Well, at least as complete as possible given the nature of the Fugees.
As a group, the Fugees were sadly always something less than the sum of their parts and it seems they knew it from day one. Wyclef had his eclectic tastes and wannabe guitar-slinging poses. Miss Lauryn Hill brought solid skills as both a rapper and singer and a fine-boned beauty that couldn’t be denied. Prakazrel—well, Pras was John Oates to Wyclef and Lauryn’s Darryl Hall.
Their first release Blunted on Reality produced a well-documented buzz of anticipation for Lauryn to ditch Wyclef and Pras and strike out on her own. I remember peeping the video for “Nappy Heads” and being struck by all things Lauryn. Despite the likes of Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige, hip-hop wasn’t quite ready for what she would bring to the scene. More importantly, Lauryn wasn’t quite prepared to step up to the mic alone. “Heads” and “Vocab” were the prelude to the group’s followup disc The Score, which was the hip-hop version of A Star Is Born thanks to the showcase version of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song”. Wyclef may have stormed out the solo gate, but his eclectic tastes were no match for Hill’s signature musical personality. The proof was in there on the beats and strum version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” which was Wyclef’s moment in the spotlight from The Score. If a market for hip-hop reggae reinterpretations of pop, rock, and soul classics existed, Clef would be a king. Pras, unfortunately, remains a shadowy figure both in the group and as a solo artist. His voice is in the mix, but he never makes a definitive statement.
The Score is the source of seven of the ten “hits” on this “great” collection, and without a doubt anyone with even a passing interest in the Fugees already has a copy of it in their CD log. What’s missing? I would have enjoyed a couple of the non-musical interludes, which were ghetto fun. So what is there to gain from this less than 45-minute jog down memory lane? Well, one of the four remixed tracks is “The Sweetest Thing”, but that wasn’t even officially a Fugee song in the first place. It was featured on the Love Jones soundtrack and attributed to the Refugee Camp All-Stars featuring Lauryn Hill. The Mahogany Mix has a club bump and grind thanks to elements from “Theme from SWAT”, but the music and the additional raps strip the original groove of its timeless quality. In fact, each of the remixes suffers the same fate.
Neither time nor this record company play for a few extra units of sales will be kind to the Fugees. What the Fugees need are more hits to solidify the label’s exaggerated claims of their greatness.