The Fugees translated a seamless blend of jazz-rap, R&B, and reggae into huge success during the mid-'90s, when the New Jersey-area trio's seminal sophomore album The Score hit number one on the pop charts and sold over five million copies before winning a pair of Grammy Awards in 1997. Featuring the songs "Killing Me Softly" and "Ready or Not," the effort became a '90s classic, while each member went on to pursue solo careers that extended into the 2000s.
The trio formed in the late '80s in South Orange, New Jersey, where high school friends Lauryn Hill and Prakazrel Michel ("Pras") began working together. Michel's cousin Wyclef Jean joined the group, dubbed the Tranzlator Crew, and they signed to Ruffhouse/Columbia in 1993. After renaming themselves the Fugees (a term of derision, short for refugees, which was usually used to describe Haitian immigrants), they entered the studio to record their first official full-length, Blunted on Reality. Issued in early 1994, the album showcased a beat-driven, hip-hop crew vibe, with Hill, Jean, and Michel trading verses in a fashion similar to A Tribe Called Quest, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Digable Planets. While an underground favorite, the album didn't make much of a dent on the charts and they veered in a different, but ultimately more successful, direction on their follow-up.
The Score arrived in 1996 and was an instant hit. Retaining some of their earlier jazz-rap spirit, while incorporating traditional R&B that showcased Hill's singing abilities, the album topped charts across the globe and was certified multi-platinum around Europe and in the U.S. Featuring the soulful, chart-topping single "Killing Me Softly" and a top 40 cover of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry," The Score made significant dents in the commercial mainstream while retaining their existing fan base, becoming one of the surprise hits of 1996. At the 1997 Grammy Awards, the Fugees won Best Rap Album and Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for "Killing Me Softly."
Almost a decade after peaking with The Score, they reconvened in 2005, performing together on a European tour and releasing the single "Take It Easy." However, the reunion was brief, and the trio disbanded once again. While their overall time together was short, The Score endures as one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time and each Fugee remained active — both musically and politically — for decades to come. ~ Neil Z. Yeung & John Bush