/'fu?d?i?z/ (formerly Tranzlator Crew
) were an American hip hop group who rose to fame in the mid-1990s. Their repertoire included elements of hip hop, soul and Caribbean music, particularly reggae. The members of the group were rapper/singer/producer Wyclef Jean, rapper/singer/producer Lauryn Hill, and rapper Pras Michel. Deriving their name from the term refugee, Jean and Pras are Haitian, while Hill is American. The group recorded two albums—one of which, The Score
(1996), was a multi-platinum and Grammy-winning success and contains their hit single "Killing Me Softly"—before disbanding in 1997. Hill and Jean each went on to successful solo recording careers; Michel focused on soundtrack recordings and acting, though he found commercial success with his song "Ghetto Supastar". In 2007, MTV ranked them the 9th greatest Hip-hop group of all time.Formation and beginningsLauryn Hill and Pras first met at a New Jersey high school. Pras, Lauryn, and Marcy formed a musical trio in 1992; Pras' cousin, Wyclef Jean, joined the trio and Marcy left soonafter. The moniker Tranzlator Crew
refers to the name of their band at the time, which included Johnny Wise on drums, T Boss (Jerry) on bass guitar, and Leon (DJ). In 1993, after some gigs and recorded demos, the trio signed to Ruffhouse, distributed through Columbia Records. The trio's name was later changed to Fugees
, which was purposely taken from a word often used derogatorily to refer to Haitian-Americans (refugee
). Refugee Camp, while a name sometimes credited to the trio, also refers to a number of artists affiliated with them, and particularly Jean.The trio soon changed musical direction, and released their first hip-hop LP, Blunted on Reality
, in 1994 under the guidance of Kool and the Gang's producer Ronald Bell. Although the album did not contain as many lyrics with overtly political messages as songs from The Score
, there were still political intentions. The album spawned two underground hits, "Nappy Heads (Mona Lisa)" and "Vocab", but gained little mainstream attention, despite earning plaudits for its artistic quality and innovative use of samples.
The musical qualities of their first record would be revisited with their second album The Score
which was released in February 1996.The Score
became one of the biggest hits of 1996 and one of the best-selling hip-hop albums of all time. The Fugees first gained attention for their cover versions of old favorites, with the group's reinterpretations of "No Woman No Cry" by Bob Marley & the Wailers and "Killing Me Softly with His Song" (first recorded by Lori Lieberman in 1971, remade by Roberta Flack in 1973), the latter being their biggest hit.The album also included a re-interpretation of The Delfonics' "Ready or Not Here I Come (Can't Hide From Love)" in their hit single, "Ready or Not", which featured a prominent sample of Enya's "Boadicea" without the singer's permission. This prompted a lawsuit resulting in a settlement where Enya was given credit and royalties for her sample.The Fugees have continuously thanked and praised Enya for her deep understanding of the situation, for example in the liner notes for The Score
. The Fugees won two 1997 Grammy Awards with The Score
(Best Rap Album) and "Killing Me Softly" (Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group).
In 1997, the Fugees all began solo projects: Hill started work on her critically acclaimed The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
; Jean began producing for a number of artists (including Canibus, Destiny's Child and Carlos Santana) and recorded his debut album The Carnival
; Pras, with Mýa and Ol' Dirty Bastard, recorded the single "Ghetto Supastar" for the soundtrack to the Warren Beatty/Halle Berry film Bulworth
. In early 1998, they reunited to shoot a music video for the song "Just Happy to Be Me" which appeared in the Sesame Street special Elmopalooza, and also on the Grammy Award winning soundtrack album.The three Fugees reunited and performed on September 18, 2004 at the concert in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn featured in the film Dave Chappelle's Block Party
(2004), headlining a star-studded bill that included Kanye West, Mos Def, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Talib Kweli, Common, Big Daddy Kane, Dead Prez, Cody ChesnuTT and John Legend. Their performance received several positive reviews, many of which praised Hill's near a cappella rendition of "Killing Me Softly".The Fugees would make their first televised appearance in almost ten years at BET's 2005 Music Awards on June 28, opening the show with a twelve-minute set. With a new album announced to be in the works, one track, "Take It Easy", was leaked online and eventually released as an Internet single on September 27, 2005. It peaked at number 40 on the Billboard
R&B Chart but was met with poor reviews, noting its radical departure from the Fugees' sound.
In 2005, the Fugees embarked on a European tour—their first together since 1997—from November 30 to December 20, playing in Finland, Austria, Norway, Germany, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Slovakia. The tour received mixed reviews. On February 6, 2006, the group reunited for a free show in Hollywood, with tickets given away to about 8,000 fans by local radio stations. Later that month, a new track called "Foxy" leaked, a song dubbed the "REAL return of the Fugees" by several online MP3 blogs.However, following the reunion tour, the album that was said to be in the works did not materialize and was postponed indefinitely as relationships between band members apparently deteriorated. In August 2007, Michel stated, "Before I work with Lauryn Hill again, you will have a better chance of seeing Osama Bin Laden and [George W.\] Bush in Starbucks having a latte, discussing foreign policies, before there will be a Fugees reunion." Meanwhile, in September 2007 an equally outspoken Jean told Blues & Soul: "I feel the first issue that needs to be addressed is that Lauryn needs help... In my personal opinion, those Fugees reunion shows shouldn't have been done, because we wasn't ready. I really felt we shoulda first all gone into a room with Lauryn and a psychiatrist... But, you know, I do believe Lauryn can get help. And, once she does work things out, hopefully a proper and enduring Fugees reunion will happen."
Since their inception, a central part of the Fugees endeavor was promoting the concept of black empowerment. The band's members, both collectively and individually, have used their song lyrics and musical influence, advocating for social change. The multi-platinum success of The Score
enabled the Fugees to increase the impact of their activism. They organized and performed at hip-hop charity festivals like Harlem’s Hoodshock where the proceeds were used to fund a non-profit youth summer camp in New Jersey. They also turned their recording studio, The Booga Basement, into a transitional house for young Haitian refugees immigrating to the United States.After the group split, Wyclef Jean co-founded and headed the Yele Haiti Foundation, a non-profit organization “focusing on emergency relief, employment, youth development and education, and tree planting and agriculture” in Haiti. Pras Michel starred in a documentary about homelessness in Los Angeles and remained outspoken about Haitian politics. Lauryn Hill continued recording and performing socially conscious music and went on to advocate for female empowerment especially within the music industry.
Scholarship on the Fugees
Alexander Weyheliye’s “Sounding Diasporic Citizenship” looks to the Fugees to consider the possibility for the term “refugee” to be a liberating call that builds international community as an empowering form of ‘diasporic citizenship’. He writes that the Fugees “address the prejudices against Haitians in the States and also reclaim the figure of the Haitian refugee not as an instantiation of the abject but as a point of solidarity. “Refugees on the Mic” continues with the chorus of the track urging the refugees of the world to unite: "You check it out I want all the refugees out there to put up your muthafuckin hands. You know you’re a fucking immigrant, put up your hands. I’ma start off this shit like this time around. “H” to the “a” to the “I” to the “t” I live or die nuthin but the darkside. Fugees on the mic yeah yeah. Yo refugees on the mic oh yeah, oh yeah.”