Ghetto Superstar

OHW Ghetto Superstar by krin.jpg

Date Aired
April 17th, 2014
Running Time
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Todd plays "Ghetto Supastar" on the piano.

A one-hit wonder retrospective

Todd: As much as I wish it wasn't, "One-Hit Wonder" is a very loosely defined term. [Picture labelled "One Hit Wonders" with Vanilla Ice in front of amp tower] How big does a song have to be before it counts as a hit? What if they have more hits in other countries? There's no real guidelines. Or here's another question: does an act still count as a one-hit wonder if they also have hits from a previous group they were in? Some would say yeah, they still are; some might say no, they don't count. But even people who say "no" might make an exception here.

Clip of The Fugees - "Ready or Not"
Lauryn Hill: Ready or not, here I come
You can't hide

Todd (VO): You know how in some acts, there's that [picture of Hall & Oates with John Oates circled, album cover of Wham! - Make It Big with Andrew Ridgeley circled, and picture of the Black Eyed Peas with Taboo and circled] one guy who gets equal billing, but doesn't seem to be pulling his share? In the 90s, that act was the Fugees. [Clip of "Fu-Gee-La"] When they broke through to the mainstream in 1996, they changed how people perceived hip-hop. People fervently believed, and at least for a little while, they were correct—[page from Spin: The Year in Music from January 1997, article by Charles Aaron: "The Fugees not only showed hip-hop the way in 1996, but they may have shown pop music its future as well"] that the future of hip-hop would be dictated by these three rappers.

Todd: Or should I say, these two rappers...

Todd (VO): ...because to most people, the Fugees were Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill, and somewhere off to the side...

Todd: ...there was Pras.

Video for "Ghetto Supastar"
Mya: Ghetto supastar, that is what you are

Todd: Unlike the other Fugees, Pras's solo career was defined by just one song, "Ghetto Supastar". But that one song looms large in my memory—one of the biggest hits in 1998, a gigantic crossover smash with actual hip-hop cred in the era of Puff Daddy and "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It". Billboard says it only placed as high as #15, but Billboard's charts in the late 90s are completely unreliable anyway. The way I remember it, it was...

Todd: ...omnipresent. This was the jam.

Todd (VO): And yet even this wasn't enough to gain him the respect that people gave the other two. Now people had already pegged [clips of "Doo Wop (That Thing)" by...] Lauryn Hill as the standout talent of the group, and she solidified that impression with her multi-Grammy-winning solo album, [...and "Gone Till November" by...] and around the same time, Wyclef was making a strong case that he deserved just as much regard as Lauryn. But Pras was doomed to public opinion as the Ringo of the Fugees—a guy with very little relevance to the group and none at all outside it.

Todd: Is that even fair? I mean, he was on those songs too, and he...

Todd (VO): ...had his own hit? Why wasn't that enough? Why couldn't he make the cut as a solo artist? The man proclaimed himself a ghetto supastar.

Todd: How did he end up just a ghetto one-hit wonder? [Pause] And when are we gonna get another Fugees album, goddammit?

Mya: From one corner to another, uh-huh
Ol' Dirty Bastard: One two, and you don't stop

Before the hit

Picture of the Fugees

Todd (VO): Pras Michel was born in Brooklyn, moved to Newark at age 12, and met Lauryn Hill in the late 80s [album cover of The Score] when they were just 15. Her and him started a band with his cousin Wyclef.

Todd: The rest is history.

Clip of "Boof Baf"
Pras: I'm from the island, the island I'm from is the strong island

Todd (VO): Like I said, Lauryn was immediately picked out as the star of the group.

Clip of "Killing Me Softly"
Lauryn: Strummin' my pain with his fingers

Todd (VO): And re-listening to The Score, this was correct. She is on some next-level shit compared to the two guys. Not for nothing was the Fugees' biggest hit the one that Pras has no presence on at all. [Clip of "Ready or Not"] But that's not to say Wyclef or Pras aren't important. Honestly, I think Pras has kind of gotten the short end, largely because he usually took the last verse after Clef and L-Boogie had already done all the work. [Performance at the Apollo] Still, he's not useless or a drag. I think it's clear he added a harder edge to the more spiritually and socially inclined other two. That's not to say he doesn't have a few wack lyrics here and there, but he's still very much a part of the group.

Clips of "Everything Is Everything"

After The Score, the Fugees all started working on separate projects and would never make another album together again. But for the time being, they're still on good terms, and most of everything Pras released was related to Wyclef. [Clip of "We Trying to Stay Alive"] For example, he showed up on one of Wyclef's biggest hits.

Pras: You can tell by the way I roll, shorty, that I'm a ladies man
A business man

Todd (VO): Note the sample of one of the most famous pop songs of all time. The Fugees loved covering and sampling old pop hits. The more obvious, the better.

Todd: We'll get to more of that.

Clips of Refugee Camp All-Stars ft. Ky-Main - "Avenues"
Pras: I dedicate this to my peeps who're on the streets

Todd (VO): He also started a group with one of Wyclef's proteges, John Forté, which actually did have a minor Top 40 hit.

Ky-Mani: Say, we gonna rock down through, Electric Avenue
[Too Obvious Sample: "Electric Avenue"]

Todd (VO): But they never recorded a second song. I guess Pras saw all the acclaim that the other two were getting on their own and wanted to make a name as a solo artist too.

Todd: And for one song, things seemed to be on track.

The big hit

Todd: "Ghetto Supastar" has so many different elements at play that it's kinda difficult to get a hold on all of them, but I think I'd better start with the elephant in the room.

Video for "Ghetto Supastar"
Announcer: Now, ladies and gentlemen, Senator Jay Bulworth.

Todd (VO): Okay, there was this [trailer for...] Warren Beatty movie that came out that year called Bulworth. It was about a suicidally depressed senator who decided he was just gonna start telling the truth, and of course, people can't handle the truth, mass hysteria, riots in the streets, you get it. A lot of the movie is actually good, and a lot of it is outright terrible...

Todd: ...especially the parts where Warren Beatty tries to rap.

Clip from Bulworth
Bulworth: The rich is getting richer and richer and richer while the middle class is getting more poor

Todd: Which is a lot of the movie.

Bulworth: Just trying to believe a motherfuckin' word Democrats and Republicans say

Todd (VO): Well anyway, this movie hitched its wagon pretty tightly to the big hit off its soundtrack, "Ghetto Supastar", and they even got the actors from the movie involved, which is why this is the one and only rap video featuring Oliver Platt; and Halle Berry, who fits in a little more; and of course, Warren Beatty.

Mya: From one corner to another, uh-huh
[During this, Bulworth tears his face off, revealing Pras underneath]

Todd: [recoiling in horror] Aah!

Pras: Some got hopes and dreams, we got ways and means

Todd (VO): Just like Bulworth tied itself to the song, the song takes most of its themes from Bulworth. In fact, it takes on something I'm surprised most gangsta rap songs don't look at—the connection between the macho swagger rappers try to emulate, and the actual people with all the swag in the world.

Todd: Who is a bigger gangsta than a politician?

ODB: You see I was pickin' on the small fries, my campaign tellin' lies

Todd (VO): Why do people wanna be Scarface? Because he had the money, the power, the respect, the women, the impunity against the law. You know who has all that in real life?!

Todd: Duh! Politicians!

Mya: Ghetto supastar, that is what you are

Todd (VO): Now the hook. Like I said, the Fugees love their cheesy pop hits, and "Ghetto Supastar" features their [clip of performance of...] cheesiest ever—Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers's 1983 country pop duet, "Islands in the Stream".

Dolly and Kenny: Islands in the stream, that is what we are
No one in between

Todd (VO): I say this as a huge Dolly Parton fan, this is one of the lamest songs in history.

Todd: But it's basically unrecognizable here.

Mya: Ghetto supastar

Todd (VO): One of my favorite things about the song is the contrast between the hard, edgy rock beat, and the upbeat, simple melody sung with extreme sweetness by Mya.

Mya: Run away with me

Todd (VO): She made her debut here and became a big name for a few years, at least.

Mya: From one corner to another, uh-huh

Todd: Now that I think about it, is this really a solo track from Pras?

Clip of performance on TRL

Todd (VO): He's still working with a beautiful female singer and a more interesting rapper. I get the feeling he didn't really wanna be solo at all because, and I can't emphasize enough, if you were trying to make your own name and you were trying not to be overshadowed...

Todd: would not be working with Ol' Dirty Bastard.

ODB: My eyes is sore, bein' a senator

Todd (VO): For those who don't remember, the late Ol' Dirty Bastard spent the entirety of 1998 committing crime after crime. And I don't mean regular ol' rapper crimes like having guns or getting in fights. No. I mean [MTV News article: "ODB Charged With Terrorist Threats In Nightclub Incident"] he literally lost his mind.

Todd: And it's not surprising if you listen to anything he ever recorded.

Todd (VO): He was always, like, this raving, crazy homeless person who would start singing random songs for no reason, but you couldn't stop listening to him.

Mya: Run away with me
ODB: Shake it baaaabyyyyyyy
Mya: To another place

Todd (VO): While Pras builds his verses around the theme of politics, ODB is basically just rapping the plot of Bulworth...

Todd: From the point-of-view of the main character.

ODB: ...couldn't take it no more
I'ma reveal EVERYTHING, change the law

Todd (VO): You wouldn't think Ol' Dirty Bastard would have much in common with a rich, white politician, but it makes sense when you remember that, in the movie, Senator Bulworth is literally having a mental breakdown and says what he wants without caring what people think.

ODB: Was just spreadin' my love, didn't know my love
Was the one holdin' the gun in the glove

Todd: That's actually a huge spoiler, Dirty. Geez.

Todd (VO): Or at least it would be a spoiler if anyone could ever make sense of what ODB was ever saying.

Pras: Now every dog got his day

Todd (VO): Pras is not bad on this track by any means, but compare ODB's rhymes to his...

Pras: Kick your balls like Pele, pick em doin' ballet
Peak like Dante

Todd: "Peak like Dante"? Well, it's clear that Pras was not the star of the show.

Todd (VO): But honestly, now that all three members of the Fugees are basically a distant memory, I'd say "Ghetto Supastar" is actually my favorite thing any of them ever did. Yeah, even more than [clip of...] "Hips Don't Lie". believe it or not

Wyclef: Shakira, Shakira

Todd (VO): But Pras couldn't keep it up. As it turned out...

Todd: ..."Ghetto Supastar" was his peak. [Coming to him...] Like Dante!

The failed follow-up

Video for "Blue Angels"

Todd (VO): When the album finally came out a few months after "Ghetto Supastar" peaked, Pras was hoping to hype it up with a new song called "Blue Angels".

Singers: You gotta believe in me, and I'll believe in you
Uhhh! Blue Angels, Blue Angels, Blue Angels!
[Too obvious sample: "Grease"]

Todd (VO): We had so much money to spend on rap videos back then. Yeah, I honestly like the beat to this one a lot, but with the guitar sound and everything, it's clearly an attempt to repeat "Ghetto Supastar", including the too-obvious sample.

Todd: Is Pras any good on it? Well, I don't know.

Todd (VO): It's hard to tell watching the video, which actually had dialogue drowning out Pras's rapping.

[Drowned out by action sequence of Pras breaking a man's neck with his legs]
Pras: Don't be misled
Navy Seals what? Running over chickenheads
Video for "What'cha Wanna Do"

Todd (VO): He also released another single that didn't go anywhere either, "What'cha Wanna Do".

The Product G&B: What'cha wanna do
[Too obvious sample: "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?"]

Todd (VO): It's pretty clear why he was the weak link of the Fugees. Of the three, he was the only one that could ever be mistaken for someone else. He just didn't have that star quality like the other two, and I really don't recommend the Ghetto Supastar album. There are, like, four different interludes of random celebrities telling him how awesome he is and how they all wanna work with him.

Album cover, a phone interlude plays
Carly Simon: Pras, this is Carly Simon, and I just...I heard that you're doing (CARLY SIMON!!!) a new album and I was wondering (WOW!!!) if you needed a kalimba player.

Did he ever do anything else?

Todd: Why didn't Pras become a bigger presence as a solo artist? Why don't you know any other songs from him? Well, has a theory. He let his music career go to the wayside so that he could focus on acting.

Clip from Mystery Men

Todd (VO): Yes, rather than record that second album, he basically dropped music altogether and instead went to film. He had a minor role in Mystery Men, [trailer for Turn It Up] but he had his first starring role in Ghetto Superstar: The Movie, which I assume was gonna be based on the plot of the song before they realized that was already the plot of a [poster for Bulworth] much better movie. So it was renamed Turn It Up. It stars Pras, Ja Rule, Faith Evans, and, no joke, a pre-Transporter Jason Statham. It's basically yet another hip-hop movie about a tough-but-good-hearted street kid who's trying to go straight and make it big with his music, but keeps getting entangled in his hood past. I've watched basically none of these movies, but I feel like I've seen this a billion times. But ignore the plot.

Todd: What about Pras himself? How is he in the movie? Well, know how Warren Beatty was an actor who shouldn't rap?

Diamond (Pras): What kind of games are you playing? Coming down like you haven't been gone for the last twelve years.

Todd (VO): Yeah, it works in reverse too. Pras should've stuck to music because he is the worst actor who ever lived.

Diamond: Yes, can you get an ambulance here quick? mom passed out.

Todd: The worst... actor.. who ever lived.

Todd (VO): Worse than, like... worse than, like, Tommy Wi... no, just worse than everything. The worst.

Diamond: I got something I want you to listen to. When it comes out, it's gonna change our lives forever.

Todd (VO): He's perfectly passable as a rapper, but on film, he's just like this walking lump of cottage cheese. So I hope you'll forgive me if I didn't bother to research the rest of his filmography.

Diamond: Peace.
Clip of "Haven't Found"

Todd (VO): He did eventually head back to the studio and released a second album in 2005—seven years after his first. You never heard it, and rightly so.

Singers: Still haven't found what you're looking for
[Too obvious sample: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"]

Todd (VO): He's also produced a number of political documentaries and seems more involved in politics right now. The Fugees have tried and failed to reunite several times over the years, and with all the infighting and controversies...

Todd: doesn't look like they'll succeed anytime soon.

Did he deserve better?

Todd: I'll tell you what we deserved—another Fugees album.

Mya: Ghetto supastar

Todd (VO): It's clear that Pras just wasn't an interesting enough rapper on his own. He needed the Fugees.

Todd: But in retrospect, the Fugees all needed each other.

Clip of Lauryn Hill's Unplugged performance

Todd (VO): Lauryn is now literally insane and hasn't made an album in fifteen years. [Clip of "Election Time" by...] Wyclef basically disappeared into his own pretensions and political dilettantism and...whatever this is.

Clip of "We Are the World 25 for Haiti"
Wyclef: Nou se mond lan
Brief clip of Fugees performance

Todd (VO): It might've seemed differently in '98 when Lauryn and Wyclef were getting nominated for all those awards, but it's clear now, they were all at the strongest together. And as for Pras solo, well, he never became a ghetto superstar like he wanted. It happens. But if you remember what late 90s rap was about—[pictures of...] Ma$e, Puff Daddy, Master P—could we have used a couple more Pras songs? Yes. Hell yes.

Todd: Just a shame he thought he should be acting instead.

Clip from Turn It Up
Diamond: Kia, I love you.

Todd: [shuddering] Eegh!

Gets up and leaves

Video ends

Closing tag song: Weird Al Yankovic - "Polka Power!"

"Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)" is owned by Interscope Records
This video is owned by me

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