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Nas and Lauryn Hill: A tale of two hip hop legends

Dart Adams | 11/7/2012, 8:12 a.m.

Rap icons reconnect for co-headlining tour

Rap icons Nas and Lauryn Hill will co-headline a sold-out show at House of Blues this Sunday, but it’s hardly the first time their paths have crossed. In fact, Nas owes some of his present fame to a Lauryn Hill guest appearance back in 1996. As two hip hop legends and worldwide superstars prepare to share the stage this weekend on their Life Is Good/Black Rage tour, the Banner takes a look back at their parallel paths to success.

Before they were superstars, Nas and Lauryn Hill were labelmates on Columbia Records: Hill was a member of The Fugees — a trio comprised of her, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel — while Nas was a solo act. The Fugees’ debut, “Blunted On Reality,” was released in February of 1994, and though it showed flashes of brilliance on tracks like “Nappy Heads” and “Vocab,” it ultimately proved an uneven effort. Two months later, Nas released the landmark “Illmatic,” which was widely considered a masterpiece and produced several classic singles but lacked commercial appeal and failed to go gold.

What happened next indelibly impacted both artists’ careers. Shortly after their debut dropped, the Fugees returned to the lab to craft what would become their hugely successful sophomore album “The Score.” Powered by the breakout hit “Fu Gee La,” which featured Hill paying homage to Teena Marie’s “Ooh La La La” on the song’s hook, “The Score” flew off store shelves and the album’s sound buzzed from street corners to college campuses.

Meanwhile, label exec Steve Stoute and production duo Trackmasters set up a lead single for Nas’ forthcoming sophomore album “It Was Written” that sampled the 1985 Kurtis Blow hit “If I Ruled The World” and featured Hill on the hook. The conventional thinking was that it would also become a breakout hit like “Fu Gee La.” And the theory proved valid.

Nas’ “If I Ruled The World” (Imagine That)” was released the same week as The Fugees’ second single “Killing Me Softly.” Both songs crossed over into the pop realm, garnering the elusive mix of mainstream praise and critical acclaim. For Nas, “If I Ruled the World” powered “It Was Written” to 2x platinum and garnered a Grammy nomination in 1997. The Fugees’ “The Score” went 6x platinum by the end of 1997 and took home Grammys for Best Rap Album and Best RandB Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals for “Killing Me Softly.” Through these releases, Hill and Nas introduced hip hop to new audiences and broadened the culture’s appeal on commercial and artistic levels.

Following the success of “The Score,” Hill began working on her first solo album “The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill,” which would eventually establish Hill’s aesthetic as equal parts songstress and MC. The smash lead single “Doo Wop (That Thing),” released in July of 1998, would account for two of Hill’s five Grammy wins in 1999 and propelled “The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill” into the stratosphere. To date, the album has sold just under 20 million units worldwide and is responsible for helping to legitimize hip hop as art in the eyes of millions worldwide. Almost 15 years later, it remains the platinum standard in regards to hip hop/RandB albums, claims fans of all ages and ethnic backgrounds and is widely recognized as one of the best albums of the past 20 years.