Fugees’ “Ready or Not” Lyrics Meaning
The best way to describe “Ready or Not” is it being like a beef track, albeit Fugees’ style. That is the song is not centered on calling out particular individuals. Rather it is more or less premised on the idea of the Fugees exposing their peers/rivals who portray themselves as criminals (i.e. gangsta rappers) as not being as they appear. So for instance we have Wyclef insinuating in the first verse that whereas such individuals may come off as thugs, if they were to actually go to a hardcore environment like jail the façade would be lifted.
Meanwhile Lauryn’s approach is more along the lines of touting her exceptional lyrical skills in the face of “enemies” while simultaneously dropping a number of historical references to the likes of “Porgy and Bess” and “Elliot Ness”. Indeed her concluding statement is that whereas some other rappers may be inclined to ‘imitate Al Capone’, who is a famous historical gangster, she rather idealizes socially-conscious artists like the legendary “Nina Simone”.
And Pras, whom during that particular era wasn’t really lyrically-inclined, keeps things relatively-simple. He gives a shoutout to his crew, threatening to ‘bomb’ adversaries and giving an acknowledgment to his Haitian heritage (i.e. he being a “refugee”).
And basically, the entire track is intended to point to the idea of the Fugees being formidable opponents in their own right.
The music video to “Ready or Not” was directed by Marcus Nispel. It was quite-expensive even by more modern standards, costing a whopping $1.3 million to produce. However, its action-movie type of cinematography is recognized to have set the tone for subsequent hip-hop videos to also aspire for similar production.
Samples and Interpolations
Listeners will notice that the instrumental to “Ready or Not” has a very-distinct sound. It uses the sample of a song by an Irish artist named Enya entitled “Boadicea” (1987). And whereas they didn’t get permission to use the sample beforehand (nor credit Enya for using it), in light of her threatening to sue, the Fugees did eventually settle the matter outside of court. However, the recognized reason why Enya didn’t pursue litigation is due to her being impressed with the Fugees’ sound, as in the group not being gangsta rappers, although she did still have some issues with the lyrics.
Moreover the catchy chorus is actually an interpolation of a 1968 song entitled “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love)” by The Delfonics.
Recording of “Ready or Not”
Fugees’ member Pras Michel has recalled that the recording of “Ready or Not” began while the crew were temporarily disbanded.
“Ready or Not” performed phenomenally in Europe, most notably topping the UK Singles and UK R&B charts as well as the Íslenski Listinn Topp 40 in Iceland. In fact the song has been certified Platinum in the United Kingdom.
The track also charted in 10 other European countries in addition to Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
And in the Fugees’ native United States, “Ready or Not” fared relatively-humbly. There, it peaked at number two on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay list.
However, it should be noted that the track was never released as a single in the United States. The label rationalized this decision by concluding that not doing so would compel listeners to purchase the entire album instead.
President Barack Obama’s Favorite
“Ready or Not” is also noted as being the personal favorite song of former US President Barack Obama.
Covers and Samples of “Ready or Not”
It has also been covered or sampled by quite a few artists, including Meek Mill (2012) and Lil Kim (2014).
Writing Credits for “Ready or Not”
“Ready or Not” was written by the members of the Fugees, who were Lauryn Hill, Pras Michel and Wyclef Jean. And due to the aforementioned samples Enya and an old-school producer by the name of Thom Bell are also acknowledged as co-writers.
When did the Fugees release “Ready or Not”?
The trio released this classic through Columbia Records and Ruffhouse Records on 29 August 1996. It served as the third single from their critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful second (and last) album, “The Score”.
“Ready or Not” lands Gina Rodriguez in Trouble
On 15 October 2019, Golden Globe-winning actress Gina Rodriguez uploaded a video onto social-media platform Instagram. In it she was reciting this song and caused an uproar by quoting Lauryn Hill’s use of an offensive racial word that begins with an “N”. Additionally Rodriguez herself has been accused by some members of the Black community of being a racist in the past. However, amidst the swift backlash she promptly deleted the video from Instagram.