I was recently hipped to Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s (the Roots) Questlove Supreme podcast on Pandora. I can’t believe I’ve never listened to it before, but now that I’ve found love, what am I going to do with it? I’m going to binge the fuck out of this podcast and treat every day like Christmas.
The latest guest on the show was superproducer Salaam Remi of the Fugees, Amy Winehouse, Nas, Nelly Furtado and pretty much every artist you loved from the ’90s. At one point, the show focused on his tenure with the Fugees (he did the version of “Nappy Heads” that we’re familiar with, which was probably the song that introduced most of us to the group) and why he didn’t work a ton on The Score, the Fugees’ multiplatinum-selling, critically acclaimed sophomore album and the one that catapulted Lauryn Hill into superstardom.
He told the story of how Pras came to him curious about how he’d flip Roberta Flack’s version of “Killing Me Softly.” Remi said that he told Pras exactly what he’d do with it. He said he gave Pras the drum idea—the A Tribe Called Quest “Bonita Applebum” sample—and Pras took that advice and the group went and created their ubiquitous, platinum-selling single. The rest is now rock ’n’ roll history.
And it reminded me of one truism in life, my brotha: The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly” is one of THE most overrated songs/covers in music history and is definitely the least awesome song on The Score.
Fight me, bro.
First, some background. The Score is one of my favorite albums. “Zealots” is, hands down, my favorite record on the album. It’s peak Lauryn—singing, relatability and lyrically dextrous perfection—and it gave me my life’s mantra: “And even after all my logic and my theory, I add a motherfucker so you ignant niggas hear me.” I’ve lived my writing life by those words since I first started blogging. “Zealots” is definitely on the playlist of my life.
To me, there are no “bad” songs on the album. The samples are executed perfectly, creating a palatable sound bed (save for the song inspiring this writing), which is a feat considering that the whole album is composed of two- and four-bar loops over famous drum samples. Singles “Fu-Gee-La” and “Ready or Not” did well commercially, but “Killing Me Softly” was the one.
In 1996, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “Killing Me Softly.” Grandmothers and atheists were jamming on the one to that song. It hit No. 1 in nearly every single worldwide radio market and hit multiplatinum status. If you knew people with cars, you heard this song coming from their speakers. It was all over radio. The song itself won a Grammy and likely propelled the album from whence it came to the win for Best Rap Album at the 1997 awards ceremony. Basically, the song was popular as fuck.
And I’ve never liked it or understood why it was so popular. Well, I’ve never liked the Fugees version, anyway. I like Roberta Flack’s version (the song has been covered by scores of artists). But the Fugees’ version was boring to me. Its acclaim far outpaced its actual goodness. It’s a vastly overrated song. There is literally nothing to this song. Nothing.
While Lauryn’s singing has always been (or at the very least used to be) a blessing from on high, singing over the drum break and adding a bass line with other flourishes was and still is dull and monotonous. I just fell asleep thinking about it. The best part of the whole song was Wyclef saying “one time, two times” because it gave me something new to say at random intervals during my AP calculus class as we went from first to second derivatives.
It is easily the least interesting song on the entire album musically, though it tapped into that thing that Puffy figured out later: Folks love to reconnect in new forums with songs they already love. Like, there’s no other reason the song took off the way it did. It’s basically a 1996 version of a Rihanna song before we all fell in love with her. It’s nowhere near Lauryn’s best vocal performance, and when the album came out, Lauryn wasn’t even Lauryn yet. The song made her Lauryn. And yet if you ask 9 out of 10 dentists about Lauryn’s greatest songs, most would probably name “Killing Me Softly.”
It’s nowhere near the best song on the album (I’d honestly place it 12 or 13 out of 13 records). Every other song is more sonically interesting, but when the story of the Fugees gets told, “Killing Me Softly” plays prominently, while “Zealots” doesn’t even make the outtakes. Life is but a beach chair sometimes.
Now, typically, I’m a person who accepts that if I don’t like something but everybody else does, then it’s me. The masses can’t be wrong all the time. Yet I can’t even listen to it. I’d rather listen to Justin Bieber interpolate Lauryn’s “Ex-Factor.” OK, maybe that’s too far.
Luckily, I did not determine its fate.
It achieved its goal of being an out-of-there single that turned a great album into a surprise commercial success. I don’t care how confident Lauryn, Clef and Pras were about this album; there’s no way they saw it doing rock-star numbers to the tune of 18 million sold worldwide. It’s against the laws of physics.
So while I don’t get it and think “Killing Me Softly” is vastly overrated, I’m likely in the minority, which means that the song and popular opinion have ...
... killed me softly.
I’ll see myself out.