The Fugees' first show in 15 years begs the question: Can you be disappointed by a miracle?
Miracles are reserved for the inexplicable and the unimaginable. The Fugees announcing a tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their album The Score and the surprise New York City pop-up performance the day after that announcement were miracles. But, were they enough?
Under a full moon atop The Rooftop on Pier 17 in the Seaport section of New York City, the once estranged titan trio of Pras, Wyclef Jean, and Ms. Lauryn Hill graced the stage for the first time since 2006 in partnership with Global Citizens Live. The Fugees were the main attraction, but attendees were there to see history. The group tore through a few records from The Score, 25 years after it was released in February 1996. After a nine-piece band's arrangement of the album's intro, The Fugees launched into a performance of "How Many Mics" with Ms. Hill dressed fashion-week ready, slicing through the night air with vehement lyrics of how "I get controversial, freak your style with no rehearsal." As with their previous performances during the height of the group's fame, they mostly performed in close proximity of each other instead of on separate spaces of the stage. It was as if they wanted to re-engineer the seamless camaraderie which once made The Fugees the premiere live act in all of hip-hop.
Preserving history in the audience's minds by preventing them from seeing the show through their phones' cameras was paramount, as attendees were forced to seal off their devices before entering the venue. "Since they didn't let y'all come in with y'all phones, we're going to do something special," Jean said, before launching into a soul-exorcising performance of "Ready or Not," a song everyone in the audience has indelibly stored in their hearts and minds. "Respect the miracle of this union," Ms. Hill encouraged fans. "Respect that we can get on stage and still do this." The Fugees made it clear that they recognized the history of what was happening, because it's that history which makes a relatively short performance a miracle.
Ms. Hill also made a point to note The Fugees have a "complicated and beautiful" history, a history one must understand in order to fully appreciate the miracle. Before The Score was released, Ms. Hill and the then-married Jean had engaged in a romantic affair which contributed to the dissension. In a 2014 interview, Pras told Billboard Ms. Hill no longer wanted to be in the group and didn't want certain people, presumably Jean, in the studio when she recorded her reference for "Ready or Not." Infighting continued when Ms. Hill ventured off to work on her groundbreaking debut solo The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. In a 1998 interview, she alluded to her other group members not being too happy she was working on a solo project. Her former manager Jayson Jackson recalled her leaving the group due to them not helping her with her solo music. Outside of music, Jean accused Hill of misleading him about being the father of her first child, Pras called Jean “the cancer of the Fugees,” and Jean has stated "The Fugees days are over" as recently as 2018. Calling their reunion a miracle may be an understatement.
Even while we all basked in the beauty of The Fugees' history, remnants of the ugly made brief appearances. Since the years of Ms. Hill's hiatus, a major part of her reputation is never showing up on time for her live shows. Although she used her verse on Nas's "Nobody" this year to explain that her "saving souls" should make her lateness irrelevant, fans waited from 7:30 PM until 10:30 PM for the group to appear on stage — something that many will, rightly or wrongly, blame her for. (It's also worth noting that many other artists are habitually late, but don't get the same label as Ms. Hill.)
Regardless of who's to blame, a three-hour wait for what amounted to a 35-minute show left a number of attendees in a state of bittersweet confusion. On one hand, 35 minutes of The Fugees performing at a free concert after 15 years of no performances is exhilarating. On the other hand, a 35-minute performance that Ms. Hill admitted was essentially the group working out the kinks for their upcoming tour — "we're still cooking," she said — feels like we were cheated out of a historic show which properly commemorated the 15-year wait.
That messy element of The Fugees' history — and, simply a long time apart — manifested in a few forgotten lyrics, miscommunication, and lack of coordination on the ad-libs (which often led to Jean rapping Ms. Hill's lyrics over her in a cacophonous manner). Jean asked Ms. Hill to follow up his freestyle with one of her own, but she opted instead to tell an endearing story of the group's history. The performance was too short to even do full renditions of all of the songs on the original set list.
When you're watching a miracle, pointing out how the shooting star passed by too quickly to truly appreciate it seems to be nitpicking. The three members' adoration for each other beamed from the stage, and that's an encouraging, gratifying sign. But, when you've waited 15 years to see a group we all thought hated each other perform, you expect the miracle to last a bit longer and the history to hit a bit stronger.