Thursday, May 1, 2008

No. 477: The Score

Band: The Fugees
Album: The Score
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of the classic hip hop records of the 1990s, "The Score" produced three big hits and brought the world Lauryn Hill. Smart and catchy, the album sold well while still showing intelligence.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This record just doesn't resonate with me.
Best song: "Killing me Softly" is great.
Worst song: "The Mask" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It belongs here, despite my disinterest.

"The Score" introduced us to Lauryn Hill and Wycleaf Jean, so, it's basically a wash. The record revolves around some sparse-ish beats (speaking to Jean's lack of talent as a producer in my mind), but has the formidable talents of Hill throughout the album.

"How Many Mics" is a fine record, while "Zealots" is a little thin. Of course, "Killing me Softly" is a classic, done by Roberta Flack or done by the Fugees.

There's merit in the album's staying above the gangsta fray of the time. Moreover, the socially conscious undercurrent of the record ("The Beast" is a stidently anti-government song) could have kept the album out of kids' CD collections, as Common and Nas' early records mostly did. It didn't, as explains:

It's more like The Fugees did almost everything right here. Where Nas' Illmatic and Common Sense's Resurrection succeeded in producing top-notch material but ultimately failed to achieve any sort of crossover success, The Score did both.


It's pretty cool and pretty strange to see records on here that I lived through (as an adolescent or adult). On one hand, it's a little easier to put in context, while still reconnecting with the albums.

On the other hand, it's strange to hear a record I didn't like in the first place. "The Score" has an imprint in that it was one of the more popular backpack hip hop records of the time. Certainly, Lauryn Hill's talented and the record shows her off pretty well. But, her solo album is much better.

I can basically do without Wyclef, though I respect his political activism. The message on "The Score" is something to enjoy, but the album's hooks leave me a bit empty, just as they did when the album came out.


padraig said...

The Score is one of the those hip hop albums almost tailor made as a token album for people who don't like hip hop but want to think of themselves as open minded. I don't think the Fugees set out to make an album like that, rather it's more a right time/place fusion relative to the pop music landscape in 1996. Not just as a counterpoint to gangsta rap (which was starting to collapse in on itself by that point anyway) but also to the grimy rawness of the Wu, Mobb Deep & Biggie (before Puffy came along with shiny suits and killed that shit himself). There's nothing wrong with making an album with tremendous crossover appeal, of course. I just find it hilarious, in a very sad way, that a guy like Christgau, the quintessential white liberal, wound up giving it an A for all the wrong reasons, especially b/c The Score DOES stand up on its' own merits. Not great, thanks a to a couple of clunkers and a bunch of gratuitous remixes of "Fu-Gee-La" (and that awful Chinese restaurant skit), but good enough to stand out despite the incredible wealth of great hip hop released that year; ATLiens, Ironman, Illadelph Halflife etc.

I'd suggest that in 1996 w/hip hop being much less mysterious to most music journalists than it was a few years earlier, The Fugees were the updated critic's wet dream; black (with added island exoticism), hip, conscious but not militant or separatist & w/out any of the 5% mysticism that was so prevalent in the mid-90s, eclectic but still definitively hip hop. Under Clinton safe & accessible replaces the Reagan/Bush I-fueled black militant ideal (for critics, mind) of Public Enemy, X-Clan, etc.

padraig said...

also, if you're going to shit on a Fugees member - Pras, dude. incidentally I've always thought Wyclef does better with reggae than hip hop. he's a better singer than he is a rapper and he's genuinely talented as a multi-instrumentalist. I can definitely see him flourishing as a roots reggae singer/songwriter/producer (that last in the classic sense of record producer, not the hip hop sense of someone who makes beats, which he is definitely not good at) if his family had moved to Jamaica instead of New Jersey.