They say it’s better to go down in a blaze of glory than to peter out, slowly succumbing to the rigors of time and loss of inspiration. Evidenced in all walks of public life—whether it be music, film, sport or other high-profile professions- you’d be hard-pressed to find any living artists that embody this ideal more than The Fugees. Considering they miraculously bounced back after their first album, 1994’s Blunted On Reality, sold a meager 12 copies in its first week, the decision to effectively disband after conquering the world with their sophomore opus The Score left the industry bereft of one of the most talented groups of our time. Now, twenty-three long and tumultuous years since the album’s release, its members may as well exist in alternate dimensions.
After finally relieving an exasperated DJ Reborn from her warm-up duties, last week saw Lauryn Hill confront a Glasgow crowd after being received by a venomous chorus of boos. Meanwhile on the other side of the world, L. Boogie’s high school friend Pras Michel is prepping a new EP entitled Elon Musk amid a federal investigation over a suspect donation to the 2012 Obama campaign. As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, he’s also embroiled in a family court battle over a monthly sum of $4,800 in child support that led lawyer Judith White to disclose that he has “no income”. Stunted political aspirations aside, one ex-pat of the group who has kept on relatively dry land for much of his post-Fugees career is Wyclef Jean, deftly leaping from one project to the next with little to no resistance, releasing music at a rate that’s been prolific by comparison.
Despite the trials and tribulations they’ve endured since last taking the stage together in February 2006, any notion of the iconic New Jersey trio picking up where they left off has been resoundingly refuted. Where less headstrong groups might fall victim to the allure of lucrative offers, Pras has been open in discussing how both Wyclef and Hill have actively turned down sums of $90 million to reconvene under that historic banner. But is decision truly for the best? After all, in a 2005 interview with Trace, Hill spoke of the special synergy that gave the group its ingenuity: “The Fugees was supernatural love. That’s the kind of love that can scale mountains, and create paradigms and strange dynamics.” Yet curiously enough, Lauryn’s romanticizing of the group stands at direct odds with comments made by Pras during a September 2018 interview with Ebro. “I done outgrew that band to be honest with you,” he countered. “It was the most dysfunctional energy because one minute, you’re in love and shit feel good and the next minute, you ready to black out.”
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On the surface level, the definitive statement of why The Fugees ended up in a state of disrepair is encapsulated in one song. An emphatic way to start an album if ever there was one, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’s “Lost Ones” was the first attempt to demystify the fractious dynamic that had sprung up within the group. A sighted assault on Wyclef, Lauryn opined on how “money change a situation, miscommunication lead to complication. My emancipation don’t fit your equation.” Committed to tape when the wounds were still fresh, these timeless bars certainly shed some light on what led to their dissolution. But the real story is far more of a torrid narrative that predominantly hinges on a force she chose to omit: love. Corrosive as it is inspiring, the affair between Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill was one that yielded no shortage of seminal music, despite ultimately taking an irremovable toll on the group that had brought them together.
Over the course of a 1996 interview with the group that positioned them as “Leaders Of The New Cool”, Pras revealed how the blueprint for The Fugees’ gender-split had been in his mind’s eye for many years. “I always had an idea in my mind that the illest thing is to have a girl-and-guy group…. Michel said. “If Lauryn wasn’t there, the Fugees wouldn’t be what they are now. Not to say that we wouldn’t be successful, but it would’ve been a whole different thing.” But what Pras had learnt—and not yet disclosed— is that things get complicated when two members of said girl and guy group let their relationship deviate from the professional. Where most stories of estranged bandmembers begin after they attain fame and fortune, Pras recalled how the cracks in the façade had already began to run deep during the Salaam Remi-helmed production of The Score.
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Speaking to Billboard in 2014, the would-be peacekeeper told of how Ms Hill was pushed to the brink when it came time to lay down one of the album’s most beloved hooks. “She calls me and says, ‘Listen, I’m going to come down to the studio and I’m going to lay down a reference for you guys, a hook. I give you permission to use my hook, my voice, but I don’t want to be a part of this group anymore…. I said, ‘No problem.’ She’s laying the reference for ‘Ready Or Not’ and then she goes into the bridge and she’s crying. I see her crying. She stops and says, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ and leaves. A couple months later, she re-joins the group.”
Dubbed “the cancer of the Fugees” by his cousin Pras, Wyclef Jean has been quick to equate his relationship with Lauryn—under the nose of wife Marie Claudinette—to that of a “creative chariot” as opposed to a simple tryst. Yet in his evaluation, the final blow to The Fugees’ battle-scarred and partially submerged vessel came with the birth of Lauryn’s first child, Zion. Although he is the son of Lauryn and Rohan Marley, Wyclef’s 2012 autobiography Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story, citing ambiguity around who the father was as a catalyst for the beginning of the end. “I was married and Lauryn and I were having an affair, but she led me to believe that the baby was mine, and I couldn’t forgive that,” he wrote. “She could no longer be my muse. Our love spell was broken.”
Consigned to the knowledge that “if it wasn’t the baby, something else would’ve happened,” Wyclef’s testimony is corroborated by that of an unnamed former employee of Lauryn, who discussed the matter with a Daily Beast reporter back in 2012. “It wasn’t the best relationship for either one of them,” she said. “She was young and talented, with everyone coming at her wanting to give her everything. Wyclef wanted control over that and her, in some ways, and that always comes to a negative end.” Cut-and-dry as these remarks might make it seem, all signs point to Lauryn Hill not seeing their inter-personal relationships as their death knell. Instead, her misgivings stemmed from an inescapable sense that she was faced with a sense of suppression, one she could only outrun by striking out on her own.
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“I was not aware of my impact on the earth,” she told Trace Magazine. “That was kept from me when I was with the Fugees, although when I was a child, I always had that effect on people… I took a lot of abuse that many people would not have taken in these circumstances. I cannot blame others, because I can see that a lot of relationships are analogous, but I didn’t realize what was going until it was too late.” Beloved for her defiance and resolute commitment to freedom of expression, it is telling that her final appearance alongside Pras and Wyclef—at a free show at Hollywood And Vine—saw her feel the need to reiterate her presence of mind mid-performance. As per a report from MTV, Lauryn launched into a tirade in which she claimed “I’m not crazy. I’m super-smart. I can’t be bought. I can’t be bribed. I am not a machine and I give my people the truth. If that defines crazy, then I’m crazy, blood clot!”
Perhaps the group’s curtain call wasn’t the brought on by the Miseducation Of Ms Lauryn Hill, but rather the misdiagnosis. A year on from their final show, Wyclef vocalized his feelings about Lauryn’s mental state and deemed it to be the main hurdle that they’d have to overcome if they were ever to produce their oft-theorized third album. “I think Lauryn is bipolar”, he told MTV News. “At this point I really think it will take an act of God to change her. If she can get better it would be great. I’ll pay for the psychiatrist and even give her money to record another Fugees album. Once it becomes a hit; she can pay me back.”
As bitter a pill as it may be to swallow, it’s clear that The Score will be the last body of work that ever emerges from the trio once known as The Tranzlator Crew. What’s more, it’s the right decision for a group that’s been so ravaged by ill-feeling. Flanked by the ghostly entourage of a traumatic past, the magic had gone by the time that they embarked on their last run of shows. As opposed to seeing them tarnish their legacy in the name of financial gain, fans can rest easy knowing that their classic output will forever be hermetically sealed, rather than exhumed for all the wrong reasons.