Saturday, June 15, 2024

The story of Pras and the Fugees would make an insane Hollywood movie

Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, left, a member of the 1990s hip-hop group the Fugees, accompanied by defense lawyer David Kenner, right, arrives at federal court for his trial in an alleged campaign finance conspiracy, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

If it had happened in a movie, I wouldn’t have believed it. Pras Michel of the Fugees was convicted Wednesday in federal court of money laundering, illegal lobbying, and campaign finance violations after funneling money from a Malaysian businessman into Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign and asking the Trump administration to drop an investigation into that Malaysian businessman. Michel could receive a two-decade sentence. 

Yet another wild turn in the long, crazy story of the Fugees — has any modern music group had a journey as crazy as theirs? If you could make a movie about the Fugees, it would be insane. If you’re interested in working together on that, I’m qualified to write a screenplay — I’ve interviewed all three of them several times, including a great conversation with Wyclef Jean on my podcast, “Toure Show,” and a 1999 Rolling Stone cover story on Lauryn Hill and a long investigative feature on Hill for Rolling Stone in 2003. I know this story inside and out. What would a Fugees film look like? Let’s dive in.

My elevator pitch is this: It’s about a trio of musicians who rise from nothing to become international superstars, but the weight of stardom is so heavy that they crumble under the pressure. It’s a story about music, dreams, nightmares, sex, love, infidelity, spying, intrigue, incarceration, criminal Asian billionaires, Haitian mobsters, the Marleys, millions of dollars and much, much more. 

Our three main characters are 1) Wyclef Jean, the musical genius who immigrated from Haiti and brings Caribbean flavors into their music; 2) Lauryn Hill, the musical genius slash actress from New Jersey who brings soul music and a sense of spirituality into their music; and 3) Pras Michel who was, um, there. To be fair, Michel was the first member of the group — he recruited Hill and then Jean to join — and he is a valuable part of their sonic mix because of his deep-sounding voice. But, let’s be real. He’s neither a great producer like Jean nor a great singer or rapper or writer like Hill. Many fans wondered why he was even there.

The film could open with a young Jean flying from Haiti to New York City where he would start a new life but it should probably start in a basement in New Jersey where three teenagers with big dreams are making music. Their first album, “Blunted On Reality,” is a flop. They come very close to being dropped by their label but they persist and their sophomore album, “The Score” — made with total creative control (perhaps because the label didn’t expect them to do much) — is a ginormous success. Over 16 million copies are sold worldwide. We see them do gigantic concerts. They’re beloved by everyone. They become global superstars and it seems like their lives are set, but that’s when things start falling apart.

In the ’90s, when those first two albums drop, Jean and Hill are quietly dating even though Jean is spoken for. In his autobiography, “Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story,” he says, “I was married and Lauryn and I were having an affair.” Jean says that after Hill had her first child, things went sour. “She led me to believe that the baby was mine,” Jean says in his autobiography, “and I couldn’t forgive that. She could no longer be my muse. Our love spell was broken.”  

At the same time, Hill is resentful that the narrative around “The Score” is that it succeeded because Jean is a musical genius, so she sets out to make a solo album to prove that she too is a genius. That album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” proves that and then some. It’s one of the great albums of the decade and a massive commercial success. But then musicians who worked on the album sue her for not properly sharing credit. She settles and pays about $5 million, which hurt because it seems to step on her argument that she, too, is a genius.

The whole situation sours her on the music business altogether, and she retreats from the spotlight to have several more children with Rohan Marley, one of Bob Marley’s sons, which makes poetic sense because Hill seems like one of Bob’s musical children with her depth, spirituality and global sound. But at some point, Marley cheats on her. She releases an album, “MTV Unplugged No 2.0,” and she seems so depressed that some say the album should have been called “Unhinged.” She then falls under the spell of a shadowy religious leader and retreats further from the spotlight, popping out occasionally to do shows but she becomes famous for showing up hours late to her own concerts. People are not sure what to make of her — they say she’s a genius but wonder if she’s mentally stable. In 2013, Hill is convicted of not paying her taxes and spends three months in prison

Meanwhile, Jean runs for president of Haiti but then stops after learning that he’s constitutionally unable to run. His charity Yele Haiti takes in over $16 million meant to help the people of Haiti, but some of it ends up going into his pockets.

At the same time, Michel is struggling for relevance and for money. According to the government, he spent years helping a Malaysian businessman who was trying to gain influence over Presidents Obama and Trump. That man is currently a fugitive. Michel also voluntarily met with the FBI but not as an informant, as others have incorrectly reported. According to a Mother Jones article, Michel voluntarily met with the FBI in 2017 to talk about a wealthy Chinese businessman. “But he was not reporting a Chinese scheme,” Mother Jones reports. “He contacted the feds as part of that scheme.” Michel was paid tens of millions to help the Chinese businessman, and when he talked to the FBI, according to Mother Jones, he was trying to get information from them that could help the businessman.

So we have Michel working as a double agent trying to help wealthy Asian businessmen and he gets paid $100 million to do it. Now the government has taken his money and his freedom, and he’s a 50-year-old man facing 20 years in prison for very serious crimes. The film would end in a federal courtroom as Michel is sentenced and led off to prison, a long way from the multimillionaire he once was.

It’s sad that his life has taken this turn. But the whole story of the Fugees is a wild tale that will make “Straight Outta Compton” look like child’s play. Hollywood — you need this script. Call me.


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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