Illustration by Michael White. Words by Mike Voss.
This week’s “Inside the Lines” quotes “Fu-Gee-La”, a certified gold single by classic New Jersey hip-hop trio The Fugees; specifically a verse by the star of the crew (and only female), Ms. Lauryn Hill. Released more than two decades ago, in December 1995, the track was one of the biggest hits off The Fugee’s revered sophomore album The Score. While Wyclef Jean’s opening verse is very strong, it’s Lauryn’s 16 bars in the middle of the song that provide the most quotable lyrics and replay value. It’s far from one of her most meaningful verses, but it’s one of her most fun. Littered with random references to sushi, Paul McCartney, the tragic ending of Cooley High, Ralph Lauren and the blaxploitation classic Superfly, it’s a lot to take in that somehow still leaves the listener wanting more from the legendary emcee:
“In saloons we drink Boone’s and battle goons till high noon
Bust rap tuneson flat spoons, take no shorts like poom pooms
See, hoochies pop coochies for Gucci’s and Lucci
Find me in my Mitsubishi, eatin’ sushi, bumpin’ Fugees
Hey Hey Hey! Try to take the crew and we don’t play play
Say say say, like Paul McCartney, not hardly
Odd-ly enough, I can see right through your bluff
Niggas huff and they puff but they can’t handle us, WE BUST
‘Cause we fortified, I could never hide
seen Cooley High, cried when Cochise died
I’m twisted, black-listed by some other negroes
Don’t remove my Polos on the first episode
Ha Ha Ha Ha, you shouldn’t diss Refugees, and
Ha Ha Ha Ha, your whole sound sets booty , and
Ha Ha Ha Ha, you have to respect Jersey
’cause I’m superfly when I’m super-high on the Fu-Gee-La”
-Lauryn Hill, “Fu-Gee-La”
Amongst this sea of sharp wit and lyrical muscle flexing, though, our visual artist Michael White chose to illustrate what is probably the most meaningful lyric in this entire verse: “I’m twisted, black-listed by some other negroes“. This is a testament to her own originality adding to her “outcast” status in modern black culture, as Ms. Hill has always been labeled as “eccentric” or “avant garde”, from her rapping style to the way she dresses, even in 1995. But Lauryn is proud of her uniqueness, proclaiming in the next line that she will not be removing her clothing (specifying Polos) on the first date (or “episode” as she calls it), as many women may feel pressured to do by patriarchal society.
The illustration depicts an African, or “negro” tribe, complete with face paint and headgear, but all with their own individual appearances. This shows the inherent artistic uniqueness in Black people that Lauryn speaks of in “Fu-Gee-La”, using herself as a modern era example. As with pretty much every verse she’s penned in her career, from her work with the Fugees to her (short catalog of ) solo material, there are deeper layers to this verse than meet the eye, or ear, at first. Lauryn Hill: dropping gems for over 20 years…now if only we could get her to her shows on time.