FEATURE THE FUGEES
Living like fugees
Since they rocketed into the nation’s consciousness with ‘Killing Me Softly’ this summer, The Fugees have between them been labelled brilliant, racist and dead. They put the record straight to Cliff Jones.
t the end of a ten-month promotional tour that has taken them round the world three times, the three Fugees — Clef, Pras [pronounced ‘prize’] and Lauryn ‘L Boogie’ Hill are damned near exhaustion. Dazed and confused, this is a group who are just coming to terms with the fact their lives will never be quite the same again and that fame is a two-headed beast
Their incredible cross-over from the hip hop hinterland to the MTV mainstream caught everyone by surprise, especially Lauryn, who at 21 unwillineg ﬁnds herself pop music’s Most Wanted and the subject of some rather bizarre rumours. News reached the world’s music press late in September that Lauryn had died of a drugs overdose. The rumour got out of hand,
8 The List 18-31 Oct 1996
Chinese whispers style, to the point where she was forced strenuously to deny her own demise.
As she sits talking, curled up on a leather sofa in the recreation area of an LA photo studio, dressed down in her combat pants and sweat top, you get the impression fame doesn’t sit well on Lauryn’s shoulders. As The Fugees’ profile has risen, she has been dogged by grubby tabloid accusations of racism that, no doubt. stem from her outspoken views on the ghetto, the black audience and the hip hop lifestyle. Like the rumours of her death, these too were exaggerated to the point where she was supposed to have declared emphatically that she would not consider carrying a white man’s child to term.
Pro-actively black she may be. racist she ain't. ‘You won’t find anyone who loves people more
than me,’ she cries defensively. ‘l’ve been to lOO bar mitzvahs so don’t no one tell me I’m racist. What I did say was that I make music for my people and if the rest of the world happens to enjoy it then that’s a bonus, but I would be happy selling a small number of records to the black community. Hip hop isn’t just music, it’s a way of life and I want to make sure my people have the right information. not the liberal lie.
‘I told this one interviewer that I hoped l was a role model for little black girls and he freaked out. He said: “Why can’t you just be a role model for little girls?” I told him I was a little black girl once and I know what being a little black girl is about. I do not know about being a little white girl. Black girls need role models who are black.’
Lauryn admits much of the pressure she’s experiencing is self-inﬂicted, her tendency to say what she thinks usually getting the better of her discretion. ‘Entertainment and politics don’t mix and if you do try they take you out so
‘Because we’re strong and we’re touched by the light, the vampires are out to get us.’
fuckin’ fast you don’t know what’s going on. I’m just learning that you can’t say what you really feel in this life because truth is the most unpopular thing out there.’
Lauryn’s success, militancy and educated passion — she is one semester away from completing a degree in Afro Caribbean history — are part of The Fugees’ enormous popular appeal. But they have come at a heavy personal price. ‘l’m not the same optimistic girl I was,’ she says. ‘l’ve seen how ugly people can be when you get a little success. The success of “Killing Me Softly” was cool, but it wasn’t like we planned it. You could say it backﬁred a little ’cause now I think we get totally misunderstood.’
That misunderstanding derives from the yawning chasm between the image people have of the band from the radio-friendly anthem ‘Killing Me Softly’ and The Fugees’ politically complex, socially aware concept album The Score. It’s what Pras and Clef described as a ghetto album ‘like Tommy by The Who’. The band still ofﬁcially go by the name Fugees (Refugee Camp) — a reference to the containment camps set up for Haitians by the US Government. Clef and Pras, though native New Yorkers, are of Haitian descent. The album is intended to highlight themes of dispossession, street life and refugee status.
‘Haitians are given shit by black Americans too,’ says Clef (aka Wyclef). ‘We are seen as an underclass of an underclass. The album is about the wider sense that everyone is a refugee from something and America is a nation of