The Fugees have come a long way from the Bob Marley-esque, dancehall-hip-hop fusion that marked their 1994 debut, Blunted on Reality. The trio's terrific new follow-up, The Score (Ruffhouse/Columbia), allows the raps, toasts, and singing of Prakazrel, Wyclef, and Lauryn Hill a freedom that the often cluttered debut inhibited. The second album also proves that the Fugees aren't the quaint "alternative rap" curiosity the press labeled them to be. Combining innovative samples, accomplished lyrical flow, and sophisticated beats, the trio builds upon a solid hip-hop foundation. Hill's soulful vocals particularly set the Fugees apart, emboldening them to nail a daring cover of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly." Her rich hooks also succeed on more rap-based tunes like "Fu-gee-La" and "Ready or Not." Subjectwise the Fugees deliver terse portraits of harsh city living without snoozy gangsta poses. A cover of Marley's "No Woman No Cry" relocates the narrator from Jamaica's Trenchtown to the slums of Brooklyn and New Jersey and confronts life's difficulties at their root. Commenting upon self-hatred, greed, and the trigger-finger tensions of day-to-day living, the Fugees may not have a master plan, but they're thinking hard about the fundamental problems. They have a reputation as a strong live act, and they share the bill with Philadelphia's Roots, who may well be the best live rap act ever. Goodie Mob open. Friday, 7 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc Baptiste.