Fugees: Killing Them Softly
Are the Fugees the future of rock 'n' roll? I don't know. The group is pleasant enough, well-educated and musically inclusive. But Lauryn Hill is not much of a singer and thin, overly self-referential raps are not a future but our unfortunate present.The most bonafide futures are those that arrive unannounced. R.E.M. and Prince turned out to be the future of rock 'n' roll and I don't recall anyone heralding them as such at their emergence. Pink Floyd's elaborate Dark Side of the Moon stage show was a future of rock 'n' roll we'll never be rid of. The only proclaimed pop music future I've seen fulfill its promise was Bruce Springsteen, and that took 10 years. Bruce continues to compose and perform on the level of the human spirit; The Fugees are just beginning to move there, as evidenced by their stiffening of Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry."This spiritual component is often dropped from the criteria for futures, musical and otherwise. Some consumer-driven hunger for the Now demands a constant shifting of self-definition imposed from without, since we have so little self-definition of our own. Not only each generation, but each week, each series of months is tagged with a name or unifying stance for easy identification. But the sort of information that propels the human spirit is found lacking even when self-definition comes from within -- we've gotten used to living without it.All futures are personal. The mystery we confront in music is like any other form of faith: once we've taken the leap, we're on our own as far as providing manifestations for its evidence. Rock 'n' roll needs people who put into action the possibilities they hear in the music through the possibilities of their own lives.So if you're down in soul-killing compromises, the real future of rock 'n' roll is that music which shows you a way out of no way, whether delivered by Anglo oddballs, African-American hardballs or your best friend; if you're feeling strong and confident, the real future of rock 'n' roll is music which supports that vision of yourself as a unique individual. The Fugees know this. Their earliest audition set included Hill singing "Imagine" to an acoustic guitar. They know what it is to wish and hope for something so bad you can taste it; Hill says she never prayed that the three of them would be successful, but only for things that effect us all. What about when the Fugees effect us all?As a salvo in the hip hop culture war, The Fugees are a great bit -- it's always good news to hear the gangstas are losing. But though their bohemian-liberal stance is attractive, I don't know if they are moving people towards consideration of values or just buying what's hot. If they make the movie they're threatening to (a sequel to The Harder They Come), and the television specials, we can expect murderous saturation and backlash before we ever know if they have anything to say. Even Michael Almighty couldn't rise above these phenomena, and he had nothing to say.As I watch 8 or 9 little kids dance around to the beats from a curb-side car stereo, I wonder if they know one spew of "muthafucka-this and muthafucka-that" from another. It doesn't matter; I hear them receive the same language from their parents every day. That's the future.The fury and reinventive range of rap itself was a future of rock 'n' roll, hitting amidst technical advancement and economic decline in the early '80s with its new lexicon of dirty words and even dirtier contradictions. One of those is denying rap has any effect on people and how they live their lives, while claiming it along with all rock 'n' roll as an industrial folk music - it carries the news. Each participant chooses to either exploit what is crummy about human existence or what is constructive. Maybe we can't tell the difference. For me, it always comes down to how we treat those we say we love: if you distort or neglect your duties as a parent, lover or friend, I don't really give a shit what you listen to, ya know?Rock 'n' roll has been about finding a new way of walking, but we're always walking away from one thing and towards another. As for The Fugees, I'd say love 'em while you got 'em -- those kind of futures don't last very long these days.