With a Fugees reunion tour in full swing, there’s a rejuvenated focus on the trio’s groundbreaking 1996 LP The Score. The perfect melding of soul, reggae and conscious hip hop, The Score continues to have ripple effects throughout the music world. It remains a career highlight for everyone involved and is one of two unimpeachable pop culture works to prove why Ms. Lauryn Hill is always worth a second (or third, or twentieth) comeback.
However, The Score didn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact, the Fugees didn’t come out guns blazing with a fully formed identity in 1996. Since The Score was the group’s sophomore effort, the seeds for its exploratory vision were planted on their less ambitious debut, Blunted on Reality. 1994 was clearly when the startlingly young trio were trying on different guises to see what fit before landing on the sound we all adore.
Grittier and smaller in scope than the world-conquering arrangements and politics on The Score, Blunted on Reality mixed elements of hardcore, gangster rap, and conscious hip hop to see which style suited the band best. Classic (and by this time slightly outdated) drum machines mix with soul samples to create an album that was enormously indebted to the group’s East Coast contemporaries like Public Enemy and the Wu-Tang Clan.
When visiting the Yo! MTV Raps studios to promote Blunted on Reality, the trio let loose with a casual freestyle. The most startling aspect of the video is just how young Hill is, with her being either 18 or 19, depending on when it was filmed. It’s the same Lauryn Hill we all know, sharp lyrical flow, shades of dancehall influence, distinctly feminist point of view. Pras has his more reggae-toasting tinged delivery intact from the start, cracking up his fellow Fugees with some well-timed banana references.
Wyclef Jean, as he’s prone to do, winds up stealing the show with a freestyle that dispenses with most of the traditional focuses of beats and rhythm for a more free-flowing and conceptual approach. The dichotomy between the three artists was what made the Fugees so interesting, but even in the earliest days, it’s possible to see Jean feel like he has to go above and beyond to make sure that not all of the spotlight falls on Hill.
That aforementioned schism would become more pronounced in years to come, but in 1994, they were still keeping things small.