Fugees - The Score (2XLP) [Import]

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THE SCORE won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Rap Album, and "Killing Me Softly" won a 1997 Grammy for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. The album was also nominated for Album Of The Year. On their second album, the Fugees utilize a couple of the mid-'90s trends in hip-hop--cinematic construct and references to Asian fighting techniques. But THE SCORE transcends much of the genre's recent output, because it's as much about musicality as it is about beats. In fact, deep beats often take a back seat to tense, noir grooves. More importantly, all three rappers--Haitian males, Wyclef and Pras, and New Jerseyite female, Lauryn Hill--swing hard, syncopating around the beats like jazz instrumentalists, making THE SCORE a complex and challenging listen.

THE SCORE also boasts some of the most intelligent, non-exclusionary rhymes in recent memory. Wyclef claims to "run through Crown Heights/Screaming out Mazel Tov" and Hill draws parallels between herself and both Nina Simone and Elliot Ness. Too politically astute and musically talented to fall into the ruts of rap cliches and dependence on overused samples, the Fugees are placing a significant, personalized stamp on the direction of hip-hop.