How many years has it been since The Fugees'The Score? "Many many, many many many." This week marks the 16th anniversary of The Fugees’ breakout sophomore album that sold 17 million copies worldwide and made the New Jersey trio of Pras Michel, Lauryn Hill, and Wyclef Jean one of the leading forces of 1990s hip-hop. As a producer, Jean’s cousin Jerry “Wonder” Duplessis was front and center, crafting some of the album’s biggest records.
Now an established hit-maker with cuts like Estelle’s “Thank You” and Justin Bieber’s “U Smile” to his credit, Wonder spoke to Complex from his Platinum Sound Recording Studios in Manhattan to talk about getting his big break recording The Score, the records he had a hand in, and chances for the Refugee Crew getting back together.
As told to Brad Wete (@Bradwete)
Born A Fugee
Jerry Wonder: "Clef’s mom and my father are brothers and sisters so me and ‘Clef grew up together. We had a studio called Booga Basement. My daddy gave me, Wyclef and my brother, Renel—the three of us—the basement and we decided to build a recording studio right in town there in East Orange, NJ.
"The Fugees first album, Blunted on Reality, was done at a spot called House of Music. It didn’t really do well, so we decided, since we had our studio, to do the next one there. Once we had that studio, nobody was tapping the time.
‘Clef was genius. We were just going at it. I was the fourth Fugee, but on the down low. [Laughs.] Low key I was in there, creating the beats.
"Our days would be in the studio and it was at my father’s house so everybody used to sleep there. It was a place where everybody would sleep. Lauryn, ‘Clef, Pras, me—all of us sleeping there.
"I went to school to be a recording engineer. Lauryn would come there and be at the studio and Pras was a part of the family. We all call each other “cousin.” Pras was a cousin to me and Wyclef and that’s all. Nobody knows what the hell they were doing as far as making an album. It was just about creating music.
"I remember Lauryn was doing Sister Act 2 and she would go to California and go do it and come right back to the basement while we was creating. ‘Clef was genius. We were just going at it. I was the fourth Fugee, but on the down low. [Laughs.] Low key I was in there, creating the beats.
"But you know the great thing about The Score was more like you had everybody was a part of it. KRS-One was a part of it. Of course you have Salaam Remi. We have John Forte. We had The Outsidaz. Akon was a part of it, too. Booga Basement was where everyone was. He’s on the “Fu-Gee-La” reggae remix. At that time nobody knew."
"Ready or Not"
Jerry Wonder: “'Ready or Not' was magic. The magic behind 'Ready or Not' it was a sample actually. ‘Clef came up with it on the first MPC that I bought. We were learning how to sample and Wyclef came up with that Delfonics sample. That was the first song actually we recorded for The Score.Lauryn wasn’t there when we did the beat.
Lauryn came in and she started that hook and my engineer started crying. No joke, the engineer started crying. Because if you listen to that hook, and there was no rhyme on it. It was just the music. And the way she did the hook… She is just special, man.
"When Lauryn came in, I remember it was me, her and the engineer. And Lauryn came in and she started that hook and my engineer started crying. No joke, the engineer started crying. Because if you listen to that hook, and there was no rhyme on it. It was just the music. And the way she did the hook… She is just special, man. Special. The way she did the hook, she bodied it.
"These days a lot of artists aren’t singing from the heart. But the one that wins is the one that sings from the heart. And she sung just like that, she let everything out. When you’re working on an album, the first song is always the song you want to go back and fix. You’re always like, “Something’s wrong.”
"Real talk, man, I remember we tried going to record the song again with a better microphone, we tried to go do it at another studio—Sony studio trying to redo the vocals. It was never the same. We went back to the very first take we did in the basement of my father’s house. To this day, anytime I hear these songs I get a great touch, a great.
"How Many Mics"
Jerry Wonder: "The whole thing about that record was a record that was supposed to go out on a mix tape. They actually put it on a mixtape. It was the first record anybody heard from The Score. “How Many Mics” it was on the mixtape, next thing you know people are going crazy over it. We’re like, “Get the fuck out of here.” That was one of the best first records. That’s one of my favorite records on The Score.
"Killing Me Softly"
Jerry Wonder: "We have to give Pras a big shout out. If I remember correctly, that song was the last record we did. Everybody was rapping, rapping, rap, rap, rap. And we’re like. “Hold up, man, we have to have a song on this shit.
"Pras came up and was like “Yo let’s do a cover of ‘Killing Me Softly.’” Cats in the studio were like, “Oh my god, now you’re so soft doing the ‘Killing Me Softly.’ It’s kind of soft guys. Come on everybody’s hardcore, hardcore, let’s go.'
Pras came up and was like “Yo let’s do a cover of ‘Killing Me Softly.’” Cats in the studio were like, “Oh my god, now you’re so soft doing the ‘Killing Me Softly.’ It’s kind of soft guys. Come on everybody’s hardcore, hardcore, let’s go.'
"Lauryn agreed to sing the song. We messed with the record a bit and made it hard. Some idea came up where we just said “You know what, let’s see how we can create break beats.” And of course, we all love A Tribe Called Quest and we went in like “Okay, let’s cut that sample.” And that’s what we did.
"At the time, I had this bass and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t overplayed because you know it’s a hip hop record. And I didn’t want to be too much planning. If you listen to that bass, it’s just one drop, it’s that reggae one drop.
"It was a very clever. I remember Lauryn sitting there and actually having at least 30 tracks or 50 tracks of backgrounds. It was really sexy. Not only the main track, but the backgrounds.
"I’ve worked with Justin Bieber since. I’m doing Mary J. Blige. I’m doing Lupe, Shakira, Busta right now. I’m working with a lot people, doing a lot of shit. But nothing’s better than Booga Basement around that time in '95. I would love to go back there."
The Score's Success
Jerry Wonder: "I remember Lauryn, 'Clef and Pras were talking like, “The last album we didn’t go gold. We have to go gold. We have to create something, go gold.” Nobody was thinking about platinum. So, nobody was thinking about that and it’s just so funny and then we realized that that album went gold and platinum.
"Shout out to my man Salaam Remi. I love him. He was a big part of this whole thing. And the music partners, it was Wyclef, Jerry Wonda, Lauryn Hill—Salaam was a big part, Diamond D was a big part of it, too. John Forte. It was a big team to put The Score together. Nobody knew it was going to be crazy big like the way it turned out to be."
Collaborating as a Group, Not By Email
Jerry Wonder: "It’s a whole other era right now. People are trying to sell beats and they can travel with social media, which is good. At the time there was no social media, and the thing is when you’re a team like then, we were together. Even if another producer was going to give us something, it was a team effort. It doesn’t work that way anymore. But some people are still doing it.
"It’s just so funny. I was talking the other day I was talking to Missy Elliott. She was like, 'For my new album, I went back to Virginia—me and Timbaland—we went back to where I came from, to where everything started. We went and we just had real talk. When we got there, we feel that and this is what we’re supposed to do in my new album.'
"Technology changed the game, but the spirit will always be the same. And that’s how you’re going to win. And if the Fugees were going to do an album, I would really go back and get Booga Basement back and go back and do the next Fugees album. That’s how I would do it."
How The Score Helped His Career & A New Fugees Album
Jerry Wonder: "If I didn’t do The Score, right, in the Booga Basement, I wouldn’t be on the phone with you today. It really helped me and that’s why I love The Score. I paid my dues with The Score. And to me, what’s the biggest thing about it. I didn’t know what was called publishing. I didn’t have publishing on it.
"Everyone’s like 'My god, why didn’t you get publishing?' It wasn’t about publishing. I don’t care about that. That was a great classic album to pay my dues on. But guess what? At the end of the day, that’s what made me Jerry Wonder!"
"The Score was a very special moment. It’s not going to happen again until God says so. I keep in touch with everybody. Everybody’s busy. Everybody’s doing their own thing. Everybody’s still friends."