The Fugees hit a few milestones this month. On February 1st, their debut album Blunted On Reality celebrated its 20th anniversary (it arrived in 1994). Today (February 13th), their follow-up colossal album The Score celebrates its 18th anniversary (it arrived in 1996). Producer Salaam Remi was always there. The superproducer was present during the Blunted On Reality days, remixing two cuts off the initial project: the “Nappy Heads” remix and providing a remix to “Vocab,” which later appeared on their remix EP Bootleg Versions, following the release of The Score. Needless to say, Remi helped shape the sound of the New Jersey trio as they embarked on stardom.
Sure, the earliest days of the “Tranzlator Crew” were spent working under the creative direction of Khalis Bayyan of Kool and the Gang, but that wasn’t the catalyst that sparked the real movement. That all happened once their subtitle moved over to “Refugee Camp,” and they swapped that wild IDGAF jam band rappity rap for a more organic sound. It was new to Hip Hop in a way. There were small collections of band camp geeks that loved a good acoustic guitar, but the earlier part of the ’90s were spent fixated on Gangster Rap so sitting behind a keyboard might be perceived as soft. Of course groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest smoothed that bumpy road for The Fugees to gingerly drive across. The Fugees were special though. They had a girl who could both sing and rap. They had guitars. They had keyboards. They had a message. They had bars. And once again, Salaam Remi was always there.
Following the shape-shifting single “Nappy Heads (Mona Lisa),” The Fugees took a year or two to regroup. When their comeback single “Fu-Gee-La” arrived, it was a fundamentally different sound. Haunting basslines, slippery keys, Teena Marie interpolations, and just an all around rootsy vibe were present on that first joint off The Score. The Fugees were all too prepared now to kick down some doors delivering a new sound and a new aesthetic, completely different from the one we were first introduced. Even the video (filmed in Jamaica), had a solid plot line to it. The Fugees finally had a point, and they impressed upon it. They went from local to legendary. In speaking exclusively with Salaam Remi, here’s what he had to say about it all, in his own words:
I’d actually done remixes of two singles off of the Blunted On Reality album. The first being “Nappy Heads,” which I did in December of ’93 – probably came out the top of ’94 – and with “Nappy Heads (Mona Lisa)” it gave them their first hit. It was a local hit and then a vibe hit, but it was a hit more than being ostracized, because people didn’t really like them before that too much. So with the “Nappy Heads,” it was a joint. “Oh wow, we got one!” Then they had “Vocab” and I did some “Vocab” remixes, and then they also did their own Refugee Camp “Vocab” remix. So then they had two joints that they could go and perform, and they were opening up for people and still honing their craft. And with “Fu-Gee-La,” we actually were working on a song for Spike Lee’s Clockers movie that actually, that song never came out. So we had a song that we did for Clockers, and then during that session, Wyclef was like, “Yo, play that beat you did for Fat Joe!” And Lauryn was like, “Yo, play the Fat Joe beat!” and then when I played it, Clef jumped up and spit the first verse to “Fu-Gee-La.” He had the verse, but it just fell all together and then we worked on it. That song was actually done prior to The Score, so a lot of The Score’s vibe was based around what that song was. But you know, once again, it was just about seeing someone not for what their recording says, but for what their potential is in the room and helping them realize that. But even within that, my job in that case, as with most of the artists I’ve worked with, has been to help them unlock their own creativity. Doing the first hit or song that now gets them to get the audience response that they’re looking for, but then they also go on to be their own producers as Lauryn Hill, Wyclef, Miguel…everybody I work with. That’s what I push them to do. Like, “Do your own record, you can do it! Hey, why don’t you take this stuff? Matter of fact, take this music. Matter fact, take this engineer. Matter fact, plug that in!” You can actually be your own creative force and like I said, those people have gone on to write and produce their own records and make a big difference in popular culture. – Salaam Remi