Reconstructivist Art: The Score (The Fugees, 1996)

The Fugees (the name was a stylization of the word “refugees,” a reference to the Haitian origins of two of the members) was a seminal nineties hip-hop trio consisting of Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill and Praskazrel Michel. After releasing a little-noted first album, Blunted on Reality (1994), the Fugees returned with their landmark sophomore album The Score, which became a worldwide hit on the back of its second single, a hip-hop inflected cover of the Roberta Flack soft-rock classic,” Killing Me Softly.” A sharp contrast to the heavy funk beats and thug-life narratives of the West Coast gansta rap dominating the genre at the time, The Score used unusual samples, weighty, thought-provoking lyrics, and a then-groundbreaking combination of rap and traditional sung vocals to transform the audience’s expectations of hip-hop.

  1. Nod to Artifice: The album was conceived as the soundtrack to a fictional movie (a theme explored in the music videos), and is introduced theatrically with the words “Columbia/Ruffhouse Records Present, a Refugee Camp Production.” In addition, many of the songs are introduced with a chime-like sound recognizable to members of Generation X as the sound used to cue the advance of a filmstrip or a read-along book. Within the songs, explicit references are made to both to the artists themselves, with lyrics like “we used to be underrated,” and to elements of the song structure, as in the James-Brown-style instructions like “take it to the bridge” that are chanted by Wyclef over top of Lauryn’s vocal in “Killing Me Softly.”
  2. Classic Structure: Like the earlier reconstructivist album Sgt Pepper, by the Beatles, The Score has the structure of a live theatrical show, with an introduction, “Red Intro,” an intermission (side change), a second act introduction/reprise “The Score,” a finale “Manifest/Outro” and a post-curtain coda “Mista Mista.”
  3. Transcontextual and Iconic Elements: In any hip-hop album, the samples used are inherently transcontextual elements of sound. The Score, however, helped revive an East Coast tradition of seeking out obscure or unexpected sample sources, such as the haunting melody “Boadicea,” from the new age songstress Enya, which was reimagined as the foundation for the Fugees’ “Ready or Not.” The transcontextualization was taken one step further by the inclusion of mini-samples (soundclips) from elsewhere in the album itself during the second act intro, “The Score” (reminiscent of the lyrical self-reference of the Sgt Pepper second act intro, “Within and Without You”). Other transcontexualized elements on the album are the movie references in skits between songs, such as the parody of old kung-fu movies that introduces “Fu-Gee-La.” Most significantly, the album transcontextualized the sound of traditional pop songcraft into a hip-hop context through the inclusion of non-rapped cover versions of both “Killing Me Softly” and the classic Bob Marley anthem “No Woman No Cry.”
  4. Moments of Genuine Emotion or Significance: The Score reintroduced hip-hop to melodic samples, intellectual lyrics, structural experimentation and social commentary.

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