The Fugees, performing at the VMAs that year when Dennis Miller hosted
The story up until now, which you probably already know: unheralded New Jersey boho-rap trio makes a great album in 1996, cover of “Killing Me Softly” with no rapping on it becomes soccer-mom favorite, album sells one kajillion copies, group becomes totally famous. Crew leader guy makes a pretty good solo album. Girl in the group who sang rapless “Killing Me Softly” cover has a baby. Girl makes great soul album with only a little bit of rapping and no help from dudes in the group, blows the fuck up even more, wins like 82 Grammys. Girl’s album soon revealed to be about married crew leader guy, with whom she had fucked-up manipulative affair. Crew leader guy produces hit song for crew hypeman guy. Crew hypeman guy’s album bricks. Crew leader guy produces album by young mixtape hype who is supposed to take over rap, includes dis song against established rap star. Album is terrible and bricks. Crew leader guy makes unbelievably shitty sophomore album, which includes guest appearances from The Rock and Kenny Rogers. Crew hypeman guy makes a movie. Movie bricks. Girl falls under the influence of shadowy cult-leader minister guy and retreats further and further from the spotlight. Girl makes double-disc MTV Unplugged album with no rapping and a whole lot of weirdly condescending and impenetrable nonmusical ranting. Crew leader guy makes a bunch of unbelievably lame records. Crew leader guy plays a lot of shows for white fratkids (like this one) where he does backflips and plays guitar behind his head and covers a bunch of Bob Marley songs and generally makes an ass of himself. Girl, apparently crazy, becomes recluse. Crew hypeman guy disappears; nobody notices. Trio shockingly reunites at Dave Chappelle Block Party show and then again at BET Awards. Trio goes into studio to make new music for the first time since 1996 album.
That brings us up to this past weekend, when “Take It Easy,” the first single from the new Fugees album, leaked. You don’t need me to tell you that this is an event. Lauryn, of course, is widely believed to totally hate Wyclef for perfectly understandable reasons. More importantly, a Fugees reunion means new verses from Lauryn, one of the greatest rappers of all time (seriously), someone we never thought we’d get to hear rap again. And this new Fugees album is their first since The Score, one of the great rap classics of the mid-90s. So “Take It Easy” is a really big deal. It’s also completely weak.
Here’s what we get:
The beat: A brittle clinky thing, little guitar plinks and synth buzzes, totally outdated like something the Trackmasters would’ve done in 1999. Also, there are some weird gurgley bass noises underneath that don’t really match up with the rest of the track.
The hook: Essentially nonexistent. Wyclef tells us to take it easy a bunch of times. Includes warnings that we should tell our goons to take it easy and that here comes the rocket launcher. Also includes some woman (not Lauryn) moaning, “Ay, papi.” Completely ass.
Lauryn: Two verses! She’s all over the beat with this new poetry-slam too-many-syllables style, but she sounds totally hard and heated. My girlfriend says she sounds annoyed, like she can’t believe she’s doing this shit again, but then she’s all over the rest of the track yelling hypeman ad-libs, so it seems like she’s happy to finally be rapping again. Her voice is awesome. I can’t really figure out what she’s talking about (“Responsibility, polity / To survive economically / Some people do it comically / Future freedom equality”?), and her voice is mixed too low, but it’s really, really good to hear her rapping again.
Wyclef: Stupid muttery fake-confident verse with words that usually don’t even rhyme. Actually says the line: “I ain’t rhyme in a minute, but y’all ain’t catch up / And that ain’t blood on ya shirt, man, it’s ketchup” (with Lauryn gleefully yelling along in the background to the “it’s ketchup” part like it was a devastating dis or something). Also: “That dog sniffing in the back ain’t Lassie.” And: “I’d rather kill myself, become a ghost, and write for myself.” And: “I flow for the thugs, gypsies, and hippies.” Wyclef’s verse on “Take It Easy” may be the single worst verse of the year, at least on a high-profile rap single, at least until the Pras verse comes in.
Pras: Just stunningly bad. “Been in LA, few flicks, few millions / Back with the Fugees, Foo Fighting for a few billioins.” Even without the Foo Fighting thing, he really shouldn’t brag about his film career when his best role was as the villain’s henchman in Mystery Men. References “Ghetto Superstar” more than seven years after the fact. Blurts way off the track like a semi-retarted DMX.
Also: “Take It Easy” is nearly six minutes long, and it ends in a minute and a half of Wyclef guitar noodling. Turns out that a Fugees reunion wasn’t really what anyone was waiting for; we just wanted Lauryn to start rapping again. Maybe we’ll get another Lauryn solo album someday.
Stream: “Take It Easy”