Hip-Hop

Pras Michel on the Return of The Fugees: 'I Think the Culture Really Needed It'

Fugees
Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Global Citizen

Fugees performed at Pier 17 in NYC in support of Global Citizen Live, a once-in-a-generation global broadcast event calling on world leaders to defend the planet and defeat poverty, airing on Sept. 25.

On Wednesday (Sept 22), Ms. Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras of The Fugees, reunited on the rooftop of New York City’s Pier 17. As the lights on the Brooklyn Bridge sparkled in the distance, longtime supporters of the group packed into the venue.  It was The Fugees’ first showing ahead of a 12-city reunion tour slated to begin in November.

The air crackled with anticipation of the group performing together for the first time in more than a decade, honoring The Score’s 25th anniversary. A sizable chunk of the evening would pass before they appeared that night, but fans stood by patiently. They had already been waiting 15 years, what was another few hours?

Earlier that day, Fugees member, Pras Michel, cautiously showed up to rehearsal -- it would be his first, but Ms. Hill and Wyclef had already been running through the reunion show a few times. Still, it wasn’t long before he settled in, finding his place. “One thing about music, even for a non-musician -- you remember the first time you heard a song years later, and you can remember what you were doing in that moment. So just imagine, for the creatives, [how] good memories started to come back -- how we felt about performing together and how it inspired us.”

Fans of the Jersey-bred crew waited a staggering three-plus hours that evening, hoping to experience that same feeling Pras described, from the other side of the stage. Just a few hours before that evening’s show, Billboard had a chance to speak with Pras Michel about the impact of The Fugees, hip-hop’s influence, the group’s return and the future.   

How did you, Ms. Hill and Wyclef settle on the decision to do this reunion tour?

It was kinda initiated by Ms. Hill, but the idea was floating around since last year. But you know last year with the pandemic, nobody really knew which way the world was going. It happened organically. She reached out to Wyclef and they reached out to me. I said, "Listen, if it feels right, let’s see what happens." I think the culture really needed it, wanted it, so we’re just giving them what they want.

Tell me about that first rehearsal after 15 years.

It was a full... Like, getting back together, we could never just come in [individually] and just rehearse our parts. We let the music and our vibe and energy just naturally come out. Then we heard the band doing their thing, putting it together and vibing. And it just started to feel like those old moments that made us so happy. Making music and just making people smile, so that made us smile too. It just made us feel good. We chiming in on each other’s verses and just creating a vibe... One thing I would say about us is that everything has to feel organic. It’s not about anything but that. Because if it ain’t feel right for even one of us, I don’t think we would’ve been able to pull it off.

And your fanbase in particular, would definitely be able to tell. Especially in this era, with social media, you already know what would happen. They ain’t playing. [laughs]

Looking towards the future, do you think it’d be possible for your supporters to get another Fugees album after this tour?

I’ma say it like this to you -- last night, it really felt good. Although, everybody moved on and they’re doing their own things, whether it be music or simple projects, whatever, they [Wyclef and Ms. Hill] were rehearsing a little bit before that, but yesterday was my first day actually going in with them, and I was a little skeptical. Because the social media, man, it’s like The Taliban, they’re coming after you -- if anything doesn’t smell right, know what I mean? So in my mind I’m like, “It’s gotta be right, it’s gotta be good, it’s gotta feel like there’s a vibe to it, but elevated.”

So I come in there and they’re already in there, starting to put things together and I’m observing, feeling the energy. She started singing some riffs, and I’m like “Oh! It’s feeling like ‘98! Aiight.” Then she spit a little bit of that verse she did for that Nas record and it was like “Okay, okay.” And it just flowed.

After more than two decades in the music industry, what would you say you’re most proud of as a group?

I would say that in general I’m proud of the fact that we were able to have this much of an impact on the culture, and people really resonating, because you know how things are: Here today, gone tomorrow. And to still have people excited about what we created, that’s my proud moment. The accolades are always gonna be there, but to me, it’s about how you make someone feel and how you touch people’s lives. That’s what made me fall in love with hip-hop in the ‘80s: Grandmaster Flash and “The Message,” Run DMC, The Fat Boys and that whole vibe.

Then being a part of the ‘90s and coming up with 2Pac, Biggie, Snoop and Dr. Dre. It wasn’t just about making music, it was also about what was going on around us socially, how we as Black people and the other people around us accepted what we were doing and how it impacted -- and how economically speaking it started to have this impact globally. And that is powerful. Just to see the continuation of that right now, with new artists coming in and adding to what we and the people before us built.

You’ve also started to move into the tech industry, right?

Yeah, I've been working in tech and I’m very excited about it. Heavily into innovation in space, I’m excited about the way Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk see the culture, and to be able to move in that space also, I’m excited about it -- but obviously my focus is really on the music. I always wanna keep in touch with my music roots, because everything stems from there.

When you look at what different artists have contributed outside of music, from Rihanna to Kanye to Dr. Dre to Puff -- we’ve expanded, and people are buying our products, buying our cosmetics. I’m going into heavy innovation, and I’m excited to be involved with different [types of] tech, especially space. It’s just going to help other minorities to want to go into innovation, go into science, [and] cosmetics. What we did for hip-hop, we’re going to do for other avenues. But when I’m ready to announce it to the world, I’ll come to you guys first.

Do you have anything planned musically? Independent of the group?

For me, it’s just about taking it day by day, I’m always gonna be doing music, even when you move on. Obviously it’s a different thing going on right now with this generation, but good music is good music at the end of the day. So just let the vibe move and see how I get inspired. Like, Nas is on fire right now, coming from my generation. So it’s exciting to see that this generation is more accepting of someone coming in from the [previous] generation because you remember back in the ‘90s. If you were in the '80s, you not coming in.

What’s interesting about this generation is that they’re like, “Okay. Let’s see what you got. If it flex and it makes sense, then we’re gonna accept it.” But our generation was very judgmental, and it was like if you weren’t part of the ‘90s, it was unfortunate -- because the pioneers didn’t get a chance to excel in the ‘90s. Whereas with this generation, you have the people from my  generation [like] Khaled, Hov, Nas, Busta, having a second and third wave.

Hip-hop is becoming rock and roll. Mick Jagger could [go] up on stage at 90 and still kill it. So we’re starting to see that hip-hop is becoming like wine -- as it ages, it gets better. With this generation it’s like, we’re all integrating with each other. We bring something to the table, they bring something to the table and we all bond with each other.

Although social media definitely has its drawbacks as you mentioned earlier, it has benefits too. The culture is much more universal now compared to the ‘90s. Hip-hop isn’t just about rocking with the region you’re from anymore. Things have gotten bigger.

Exactly. I’m in the technology space and I’m excited because what I’ve been doing in the last 18 months is going to have such a global social impact. Just like when we did our music. The good thing is also how these other genres are accepting us coming in and adding our perspectives because we know what the culture wants, right? That’s why Beats by Dre worked. Because he knows we wanna hear bass in our headphones. We don’t want no JBL or Bose, he knew. So now we have all these different industries that are inviting us in to add to the culture, and it all stems from hip-hop.