Pras Reveals How A Big Bet The Fugees Placed On Themselves Led To The Ultimate Score (Video)
Twenty years ago, The Fugees released their sophomore album The Score. Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras would make one of the biggest career turnarounds in Hip-Hop history. While their 1994 debut Blunted On Reality was considered a commercial disappointment (and did not appear on the Top 200), Pras claims its follow-up has sold more than 22 million copies, worldwide.
Speaking with VladTV, the product of Irvington, New Jersey explains the smartest decision the Refugee Camp made, dropping some nuggets of advice on how to use advances.
“Yeah, we got $135,000,” Pras confirms, regarding the reported money Ruffhouse/Columbia/Sony Records gave the Garden State trio to make their second LP. Claimed to be a smaller budget than their debut, the group was forced to rely on themselves to record, produce, and engineer much of The Score. “We [built the Booga Basement Studio] because we didn’t have the money to go and get producers at that time,” says Pras of the studio in the cellar of an East Orange, New Jersey residence. “We actually only got two outside producers that could fit within our budget. Obviously, we got Salaam [Remi], ’cause Salaam was the one who did the remix for ‘Nappy Heads.’” Salaam spoke with Ambrosia For Heads at length in early 2016, chronicling his period with The Fugees between 1994 and 1995. “We wanted to be consistent and capture some of that magic, which—he ended up giving us a fuckin’ incredible record [in] ‘Fu-Gee-La.’ [The other was] Diamond D, who was a hot producer at that time—but more like some ‘Hip-Hop’ type of vibe, like a [DJ] Premier type of producer. He gave us [‘The Score’]. But we had to build our studio and make our own record, ’cause $135,ooo—even back then, wasn’t a lot of money. We just built a studio and basically produced our whole album—except for [those] two songs.”
Pras, who has been the quietest member of The Fugees in the 2010s, opened up about his personal status approaching that album. “It was interesting. [Blunted On Reality] was somewhat critically-acclaimed. But at the same time, we were gettin’ killed. ‘Send them two Haitians back to Haiti. They need to go back on they boat.'” Pras said that while his parents relocated from Jersey to Florida, he passed on college, and stayed to to be with his band-mates. “I went out on a limb to do the first homeless; I was basically homeless. I was just livin’ at Booga Basement, crashin’ [wherever]. My whole life [depended on that album].” Despite Pras’ faith in The Fugees, he was aware that the group was up against a wall. “The first album, by the time [we finished recording The Score], we had sold maybe 200 copies […] we sold nothing.”
However, while The Fugees lacked the strong commercial success of early ’90s label-mates Cypress Hill and Kris Kross, he believed in The Score. “Fu-Gee-La” would be gold certified as a set-up single to the February 1996 LP. Still, executives warned Pras to be weary of the second-week sales drop-off of sales.
Pras recounts, “The second week, it goes from 70,000 to 90,000 [units sold]. The third week, it goes from 90,000 to 98,000. It just kept climbing and climbing.” The Fugees would eventually topple Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill (16-times-platinum) for the #1 spot. “That’s the album we had to go beat to get #1 on Billboard. We eventually did, after ‘Killing Me Softly’ got leaked; some radio station started playing it. It was done; it was a wrap.” Despite its crossover appeal, Pras’ maintains that the trio never intended the Roberta Flack cover to be a focal point. “We didn’t even want to release that record. [Chuckles]. It came out. It like, ‘Okay. This is a gift from heaven.'”
The proverbial heavens would propel The Score to do massive sales figures. As DJ Vlad presses Pras about an album that is estimated to rake in a third of a billion dollars, the MC says, “Math don’t lie.”
While many artists later decry label tactics, Pras does not. “I gotta be honest with you, the deal was pretty fair. It was better than average,” he says, crediting a good team of lawyers and management. “At that time, I was ‘the businessman’ of the group. At that time, I was making sure we didn’t get played,” admits the artist who released two solo albums since.
However, Pras makes an interesting point about The Score. “The smartest thing we ever did: the advance we took was so minimal. On a second album, just to give you perspective—out of the $135,000, the three of us only walked away with $1,200, each. That’s nothing.” Putting most of the money into the album’s creation, they yielded a time-tested product on low overhead. “By the time they go to they release this album, [the label costs were] maybe at a million. But by the third month, we were already at two million albums [sold]; worldwide were at like six [million]. So they made all their money.” While artists are subject to pay back the advance and other expenses, Pras implies that the Fugees were flush almost immediately. That also means that much of the album revenue went to the artists. “Because the up-front money was so low, and the return was great. I learned from that; I don’t even like advances—on anything.”
Pras urges artists in today’s climate to learn from this example. “A lot of artists want that up-front money ’cause they feel the record company is fuckin’ them over, anyway, so [they] should get everything [they] can up front—which is true, to a certain extent. But now you gotta say to yourself, are you betting on yourself? If you’re betting on yourself, then you’ll [turn down] the advance. ‘Cause you gotta pay that advance back. Plus, [label] accounting is very [tricky]! They give you a dollar, it’s like they gave you five. Who you gonna get to audit it? [Laughs] Artists don’t even know to get someone to audit the label.”