The great thing about buying old albums from garage sales and record swaps is that you never know the kind of gems that will be hidden in the disc case. Such was my personal pleasure when I finally managed to locate the limited edition of The Fugees most lauded release, The Score in a school gymnasium where purists were trading vinyl and even the most awful CDs (lots of Billie Piper and *Nsync) were kept in pristine, albeit dusty condition. This version, as I soon discovered, comes with a bonus ‘Bootleg Versions’ disc that unlike other hip-hop ‘special bonus super editions’, actually has some very solid material on it. This may be partially because in 1996, Lauryn, Wyclef and Pras were at the zenith of their fame, with multiple verses running around their heads at once. As such, while the backing music changes on these bonus cuts, so to does the lyrical material. Aside from the ‘Ready Or Not’ catch-cry, there’s not one rhyme on this version in line with the original. Not only that, but Lauryn goes on a roll and totally changes the melody while she’s at it. That’s what music is about!
Salaam Remi, the man behind the great instrumentals, is actually very famous in his own right. He’s the man responsible for some of Nas’ biggest hits, a key producer on the the critically under-appreciated Amy Winehouse debut and pretty much the secret weapon when it comes to making rap songs funky. He’s been tapped by everyone from Ludacris to Big Boi, and from the old school drum track through to the elastic bass line of this re-imagining, it’s clear that he knows what he’s doing. Moreover, he’s probably the one who have Hill the green light to turn the chorus of the song into a jazz scat (‘Skibbidy-bop-bop-bop/Skibbidy-oh/Suh-wing’), an incredibly bold move even for a trio renowned for marching to the beat of their own, er, beat.
The Fugees, if you listen to something other than their famous version of Roberta Flack’s ‘Killing Me softly’, produced some highly incendiary rap in their prime. One only needs to hear the cop-baiting howl of ‘The Beast’ or the slum gun-fights of ‘The Score’ to figure that bit out. However, knowing that most fans would just get the standard record and wouldn’t actually ever hear secret tracks like this allows them to go full throttle. It takes almost two minutes for Lauryn to drop her first verse, but it’s worth the wait. Within thirty seconds she’s literally destroying it, and that makes her prolonged public hiatus that much more depressing, because nobody can spit like her. “Thousands of thousand of watts high volt/Bodies executed on the asphalt,” thunders in Pras, who honestly sounds like he’s never been in a tense situation his whole life. That particular honour is left to Wyclef, who before he thought about coming President of a country he hasn’t been to since birth, was one of the most inventive and hyperactive wordsmiths in hip-hop. It’s a shame that he stood down for this version and left most of the talking to Lauryn, but his presence is felt even when his voice isn’t.
I feel that listening to The Fugees is like reading the story of Hannukah (why not, we did Christmas two days ago), where the God of Rap just keeps on giving.Light one candle, get eight more days, that sort of thing. The fact that this version of the track, brilliant in and of itself, didn’t even make it onto the standard edition of The Score is proof in my mind that The Fugees were pretty much amazing and need to be getting far more traction in those ‘Best of Old School Hip Hop’ compilations than they are right now. After all, anybody who can scat like Ella Fitzgerald in a song about gunfights earns massive respect from me.
The Fugees – ‘Ready Or Not (Salaam’s Ready For The Show Remix)’
Also, the original, which has the gang in a submarine. Because, you know, why not?
More Fu-Gee-La here.