“Fu-Gee-La” Was a Rejected Fat Joe Beat
How an abandoned Salaam Remi instrumental became The Fugees' biggest hit.
|Gino Sorcinelli||Mar 3|
When The Fugees released their debut album Blunted on Reality in 1994, it failed to resonate with critics or fans. Though the group showed glimpses of the skill demonstrated with The Score two years later, they didn’t have the beats necessary to win over a broader audience. After reflecting on the letdown of their debut, they knew improved production on their sophomore effort was a necessity.
As luck would have it, Lauryn Hill, Pras, and Wyclef already had a relationship with super-producer Salaam Remi. Remi, who had laced the group with a popular remix of “Nappy Heads” in ‘94, was an emerging talent at the time with a strong catalog of production for Biz Markie, Black Sheep, Funkmaster Flex, and Shabba Ranks.
Though Remi’s skills as a beatmaker were undeniable, his greatest talent was helping artists make their visions a reality. “I’ve made a lot of beats,” he told Timmhotep Aku in a 2014 Boombox interview. “But really my success came in knowing how to help people who had ideas, bring their ideas to life.”
The first step in helping The Fugees’ ideas come to life was a near-collaboration with Fat Joe after he asked for a “Nappy Heads”-style beat for his ‘95 LP Jealous One's Envy. Responding to Joe’s request, Remi went to work and came back with an early iteration of “Fu-Gee-La.” Joe ultimately opted not to use the beat, leaving it to languish in obscurity until another worthy suitor came along.
Micro-Chop@micro_chopAs they worked on "Project Heads", The Fugees were intrigued by the unused Fat Joe beat. “@MsLaurynHill was like, ‘Look, where’s that Fat Joe beat?’” Remi told @pitchfork. https://t.co/m2oCmOoQYg
While the unused beat lay in waiting, Spike Lee asked Remi to provide music for his 1995 film Clockers. During his stint working on music for the movie, Remi reached out to the group. “I had [the Fugees] come down [where I was working], and we did a song that was supposed to be on The Score but never got on there, called ‘Project Heads,’” he told Kathy Iandoli in a 2016 Pitchfork interview.
As they worked on “Project Heads,” The Fugees were intrigued by the unused Fat Joe beat, with Lauryn Hill demonstrating an especially keen interest. “During that session, I played the beat on her request and Wyclef jumped up and pretty much spit his verse, ‘We used to be number ten, now we’re permanent one,” Remi told Pitchfork.
While Pras and Wyclef’s verses came together in a matter of days, Lauryn Hill took a different approach, recording different versions for close to a week before finding one that met her standards. Even though Remi would have been fine with one of her earlier takes, Hill was passionate about getting her section of the song just right. “She would come in day after day and keep recording,” Remi told Latifah Muhammad in a 2016 Vibe interview. “Not that she needed to, or anyone knew the difference, but for herself she always wanted to be better. That was part of her process.”
According to Remi, Hill gave the sung chorus of “Fu-Gee-La” the same level of attention she gave her raps, testing out a variety of potential vocals before finding the right fit. “Lauryn went through singing a lot of different things, from ‘Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer’ [which she would later sing on Common’s ‘Retrospect For Life’] to Chaka Khan records to all types of stuff,” he told Pitchfork. “When she finally hit that ‘ooh la la la,’ that was the hook.”
“Fu-Gee-La” served as an authoritative lead single for The Score. The album—which went six times platinum and won two Grammy awards—made The Fugees rap superstars.
Sadly, fans of the record never experienced a much-anticipated follow-up effort. Although Lauren Hill and Wyclef dropped impressive solo debuts in the late 90s, the group has yet to duplicate its success since then. As the years since The Score turn into decades, any sort of Fugees reunion seems highly unlikely.
Yet, despite the lingering feeling from fans that The Fugees could have accomplished so much more as a group, Remi has nothing but gratitude for his experiences with them. Looking back years later, he believes they helped him fully realize his potential. “I was a part of the band,” Remi told The Boombox. “I was lookin’ at it like, “Wow, this is how far this beat that I made for Fat Joe, that is ‘Fu-Gee-La,’ could actually [go and] sell this many units?’”
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