Do Remember: The Fugees’ Vocab (Hip-Hop Remix) (Video)
Plenty of legendary Hip-Hop groups got extra large off of their sophomore album, not the debut. Based solely on beginnings, Mobb Deep, Naughty By Nature, and The Roots all would not be living legend outfits. The Fugees, one of the highest-selling, most revered acts of the last 20 years of music can certainly say the same. The Score may have settled it, but 1994’s Blunted On Reality did not get the group properly lifted.
Released more than 21 years ago, the RuffHouse/Columbia Records debut introduced the world to Wyclef Jean, Praskazrel, and a Lauryn Hill (who had her foot in the door through late ’93’s Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit role/singing). The LP, including a hand from a lesser known Salaam Remi, did not crack the Top 200. Label-mates with Schoolly D, The Goats, Cypress Hill, Nas, and C.E.B. (Cool C & Steady B), the crew from South Orange, New Jersey (and ties to Brooklyn, New York) would be presumably relegated to the underground. Reportedly recorded mostly in 1992, the long-shelved LP was not received warmly by consumers or critics, grabbing a lukewarm 3/5 Rolling Stone review.
However, later in 1994, as Blunted On Reality burned down to the resin of its third single, “Vocab” expanded the group’s potential. Experimentally acoustic, lyrically didactic, and totally non-conventional, the song did not translate. However, in the melee of remixes, one stood especially tall.
Salaam Remi—who would later find high-profile work with Nas and Amy Winehouse—flipped his Dana Dane/Police-influenced version with a Funkmaster Flex intro, while ‘Clef, Ms. Hill, and Pras reworked their single into a more straightforward Hip-Hop context. And it worked. “Vocab (Hip-Hop Remix)” had dirty drums, a brutal double-threat (singing and rapping) L-Boogie, a choral reference to Boogie Down Productions, a baritone catchy Praswell, and a charmingly improvisational Wyclef. In this moment, clearly re-recorded for the fresh mix, The Fugees’ infinite potential for The Score was manifested. Common with remixes of the day, this would become the video version:
There are plenty of reworks that eclipse the originals. However, “Vocab (Hip-Hop Remix)” may have been the brightest ember burning the Fu-Gee-La. RuffHouse CEO/founder Chris Schwartz, despite the numbers and reviews, commissioned a sophomore release from the NJ trio for a paltry $125,000 advance to disperse. More than six million Score LPs later, “you got’sta have ‘Vocab’.”
#BonusBeat: The original “Vocab” album version: