Whenever I’m studying, I have a perhaps ill-advised tendency to listen to music. And I listen to a lot of different types of music, whether it be compiled playlists or full albums, but I’ve realised around exam time that I tend to come back to one album as a focal point for my revision music. Last year it was the riotgrrrl masterpiece that is Le Tigre’s eponymous album, and bopping along to the likes of ‘Deceptacon’ helped propel me through subjects like a brief history of the Capetian Kings. This year, though, the album that I kept returning to – the album that soundtracked empty nights in a distressingly concrete library – was The Fugees’ incredible 1996 album ‘The Score’.
It’s a strange album as a whole; fantastically creative, mellow yet theatrical and captivating all at once. Its superb production takes you into an almost film-like landscape, telling stories and scenes from The Fugees’ world. There are breaks in the music to make room for sometimes wonderful little moments of storytelling (the hilarious fight with the Chinese take-out guy at the end of ‘The Beast’ stands out particularly) and sometimes quite terrifying anecdotes told in a heartbreakingly matter-of-fact manner (like the conversation about a teenager being killed just after ‘Cowboys’).
“Matter-of-fact” in itself is a phrase that comes to mind when describing the album as a whole. There’s this cool, casual vibe about the whole thing – relaxed yet just so intelligent, slick and different. This is perhaps due in part to the musical allusions to the likes of reggae, giving the album an organic warmth that sets ‘The Score’ apart from other ’90s hip-hop. The rap is interspersed with bluesy, soulful vocals, again adding to this undercurrent of warmth in the album – ‘Killing Me Softly’ is, of course, a stand-out example of this, but the likes of ‘No Woman, No Cry’ too add a tender intimacy.
‘The Score’ plays host to an outstanding variety of samples, my favourite probably being the use of The Flamingos’ ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ in the exquisite ‘Zealots’ which gives the album a sense of timelessness. It is clever in its self-referential nature too, and frequently the album samples itself – the refrain of “Oo La La La” from ‘Fugee-La’, for example, appears throughout the album, consolidating that exquisite sense of cohesiveness the album offers.
The lyricism in general is excellent too, with Lauryn Hill particularly in great form, her laid back, beautiful singing interlaced with her seething, excellent rap – again, in ‘Zealots’ – “And even after all my logic and my theory, I add a ‘motherfucker’ so you ignant niggas hear me”.
‘The Score’ is not a typical hip-hop album, and it revels in the fact. It sneers at times, it sighs and rolls its eyes, but it sings joyously too and overall it just has this disconcerting theatricality which, combined with the undercurrent of an uplifting, warm atmosphere, makes ‘The Score’ nothing short of magic.