Words by Salaam Remi, as told to Jesse Serwer—
This month marks the 20th anniversary of The Fugees’ debut album, Blunted on Reality. Not The Score, their massive, legendary, multi-platinum 1996 commercial breakthrough, but the album two years earlier which most people tend to forget, if they ever knew it at all. Producer Salaam Remi was brought in to remix the album’s singles “Nappy Heads” and “Vocab”; in smoothing out their harder edges he helped Lauryn, Clef and Pras find their sound, setting the tone for The Score, for which he produced the lead single “Fu-Gee-La.” In a 2012 interview at Remi’s Instrument Zoo studio in Miami, he shares the story of how he met the Fugees, Angie Martinez’s role in breaking the group (at Hot 97, where Remi worked on Funkmaster Flex’s show at the time), and how his sessions with them set up The Score.
The [Fugees’] product manager at Colombia Records was Jeff Burroughs, who’s now with X Factor, was and he was roommates with Jessica Rosenblum, NY’s party promoter extraordinaire, and she was managing Funkmaster Flex at the time. He heard Mega Banton’s “Soundboy Killing” and [wanted] something like that for the Fugees. He called me to his office to come check out this group, and mind you he’s marketing, not A&R, so he plays me a videotape of them performing “Vocab” acoustic. It was getting close to Christmas, like Thanksgiving, and I was like let me get this last check out the labels before they shut the books down. And when they came through, they wanted to remix “Nappy Heads.” The original version felt like a Onyx record, it was grimy and uptempo. Wyclef came through to meet me and he had on a bubble goose and nappy, nappy hair, Adidas sweatpants. He took it and vibed on it and was like I want you to meet the girl so in came Pras and Lauryn. I remember the session—December 13, 1993—cause I had a cassette with the date on it. Clef rhymed on it for like 15 minutes. For that same session he did “Gone til November.” Having my NY radio, club ear on, I made it so it would start off with the right kind of energy—the “Cheeba cheeba y’all” verse felt right.
I remember at the time Flex was like, “What are you doing this weekend?” “I’m making a record called ‘Boof Baf,’ with The Fugees. What are you making a record called ‘Boof Baf’ for?” Angie [Martinez] pushed forward The Fugees’ “Nappy Heads,” she told [program director] Steve Smith, Yo that record is hot you should listen to it, and that helped them get it on Hot 97.
That worked, then I remixed “Vocab,” and I was actually working on a song for [the Spike Lee movie] Clockers that Spike turned down, but during that same session, I had a beat that I made for Fat Joe. Lauryn said “Play that Fat Joe beat,” and Wyclef jumps up and says, “We used to be number ten, now we permanently number one…” That session ended up being the [original] incarnation of “Fu-Gee-La.” That was recorded and put together before they even had a second budget for another album. The Score‘s energy is based around “Fu-Gee-La.”
Nas is probably the only artist I work with that had a legacy already before we started working together. The Fugees didn’t have any [hit] records and I was able to jumpstart them and give them the spark, and then their own artistry and talent was able to take it further. My goal [with artists] is not to produce every record, my goal is to have it where they can produce themselves, and become producers of many artists to come throughout their career, so that’s important to me. They did a good job at making it eclectic. I mean I didn’t even need to go in there and produce records. They were pretty much able to do alright, and I encouraged them.