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On the Fugees' “Some Seek Stardom”

 

By Mtume ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


Yes, it’s been twelve years since the debut of Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras AKA the (Re)Fugees.

 

Depending on your perspective, twelve years might sound like a long time or it might sound like an eye blink, but in a genre where two albums (only one of which is actually good) is enough to make you and your cohort near-legends, twelve years is indeed a long, long time.

I remember being asked once what I thought of Lauryn as a singer. “She’s OK,” I said. “Good voice.” And as an MC? “One of the best. Top five, easy,” I told him. One of the best out there right now? Really? “No,” I said. “Not right now. All-time.” That’s right, all-time. Here’s why:

Exhibit One – “I got mine, now won’t you get yours.”
 
The tune is “Some Seek Stardom.” Things begin slowly: in the first verse, it sounds as if Lauryn is still feeling things out, trying to decide what kind of flow she wants to use: the then-prevalent ‘grimy,’ choppy, Onyx-like style (remember them?) or some next level shit of her own.

 

Thankfully, somewhere between the end of her first verse and the beginning of her second one, Lauryn decides to just do Lauryn, in the process turning verse two into a spectacular display of what KRS-One labeled breath control—the ability some MCs have to keep on rhyming (and rhyming and rhyming) long after mere mortals would’ve passed out from oxygen deprivation.

 

Blurring the line between singing and mcing, Lauryn extends each line until she achieves the illusion of rhythmic seamlessness—everything runs into one.

 

No breaks. No pauses. Just a very, very lyrical voice floating above the groove with a serene fierceness that sent me reaching back to ’87 and ’88 for appropriate comparisons.

 

In verse three, Lauryn pulls another trick out of her rhyme bag: a lilting, but not-quite-melodic, lift from the pop/jazz standard “Moody’s Mood For Love.” But Lauryn’s not talking about romantic love. She’s talking about community love…or, our lack thereof:

 

There we go, there we go, there we go
“I got mine, now won’t you get yours”
We never open doors so we neglect
And don’t protect the ones that’s left
People never really seem to care
And then they cry out, “My people,
“Why aren’t we treated equal?”
As we flee, we flee our own communities
We leave our family in poverty
And then we blame it on another
So family, please recover…


“Stardom” wasn’t a feature track of Blunted On Reality. In fact, its only appearance on a single was as the b-side of the much-loved “Nappy Heads” remix. Somebody screwed that one up: "Stardom" is the best song of the album. And, not coincidentally, it features Lauryn tearing shit up all by her lonesome.


              

Exhibit Two – “Fake bullets can’t scar me.”
 
The first time I heard Lauryn’s verse from “Fu Gee La,” it was one of those real ‘rewind’ moments, as in, “What did she just say? Rewind!” She starts it off in an old school saloon freestyling with spoons like back in high school, moves on to chastising gold-diggers and ends up dining on both fake rappers and raw fish.

 

By the time she made it to the part about getting all sentimental over my man Rich Morris, I was done. (“Seen Cooley High / Cried, when Cochise died.”) And then, not to be outdone by herself, Lauryn returned to wreck the remix, utilizing an almost identical cadence but with all-new lyrics. Damn.
    

Exhibit Three: “666 cuts W.I.C. like Newt Gingrich sucks dick.”
 
My favorite line from my favorite Lauryn Hill performance—her two verses from “The Beast.” Lyrically, this pair of rips are the hardest Lauryn ever came (and with every passing year, it’s looking more and more like it may be the hardest she ever will).

 

I love the first verse for its sheer audacity—at the time Lauryn charged Gingrich with metaphorical fellatio, Gingrich was still the golden boy of the Republican Party, an untouchable. (Hey, we were all thinking it. Lauryn just had the prescience, and the balls, to put it out there.)

 

That said, it’s the second verse that really got me. In a blistering first-person, Lauryn turns patriarchy on its ear—a young, black woman using her platform to provide a voice for men who have none.

 

The subconscious psychology that you use against me
If I lose control, will send me to the penitentiary
Such as Alcatraz / Or shot up like Al Hajj Malik Shabazz
High class gets bypassed while my ass gets harassed
And the fuzz treats bro’s like their manhood never was
And if you’re too powerful, you get bugged like Peter Tosh and Marley was
And my word does nothing against the Feds
So my eyes stay red as I chase crazy baldheads, word up!


Exhibit Four: “Sweet like licorice, dangerous like syphilis.”
 
This last one isn’t a verse or a line, it’s an observation. Most MCs are lacking in some area. They may have the voice, but their flow is one-dimensional. Or their flow may be superior but their lyrics just don’t stand up to scrutiny. Or let’s say they’re able to put all the elements together, but their quality level is sporadic.

 

Lauryn, like all the truly great ones, has it all: lyrics, flow, style, substance, consistency. No weaknesses. That’s why it was so hard for hip-hop fans like me to wholeheartedly enjoy The MisEducation… (as good as it is).

 

It’s as if Michael Jordan had made that White Sox team after all, and he was in the starting lineup, and maybe he even had an all-star year or two—that still wouldn’t stop us from wishing he was back on the court negating gravity and dropping 50 on the Knicks.

 

Lauryn, you’re good with the melodies, but you belong to the beats. Come back, please. The game needs you.

 

Mtume ya Salaam is a published writer and an expert on contemporary Black music. He lives in New Orleans, USA and can be reached at mtume_s@yahoo.com.

 

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