The question one must ask, whether a music critic who gets this album to review or a music purchaser looking at this CD in stores, is whether or not Pras Michel is relevant in 2005. With apologies to the man also known as Prakazrel (his birth name) and Prazwell (an easier to pronounce diminutive), he was pretty much irrelevant from the start. As the Fugees rose to fame in the hip-hop world and crossed over to pop stardom, the public was fascinated by the enigmatic Haitian revolutionary Wyclef Jean and the radiant beauty of rapper/singer Lauryn Hill. And what of Pras? Oh yeah, he’s that guy rapping “be-dee-be, be-dee-be-bo” in the “Vocab (Remix),” and that’s only because he couldn’t find a word to rhyme with “pillow.” You didn’t have to look hard to find the weak link in the group, and Pras had no one to blame for that but himself. His only saving graces were his impressively deep resonant vocal tone and the fact he made a good transition man between verses by the other two.

Still with the success of the Fugees selling out records and concert venues worldwide in the mid-90’s, it was only inevitable that all three members would spin off solo albums. Unfortunately for the group that also led to their demise, because both Wyclef and Lauryn discovered they could be equally if not more successful on their own, the latter in particular practically owning the music industry for a year after “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Since then she’s almost disappeared from scene altogether, only briefly resurfacing for an “Unplugged” album three years ago. Wyclef on the other hand has recorded five albums of new material, some more accessible than others, but he’s certainly had more than his share of chart hits and critical acclaim during that timespan. As for Prazwell? Well bless his soul he tried. Through a combination of luck and good timing he scored a chart-topping hit with “Ghetto Supastar,” thanks in part to guest contributions by Mya and the late great Ol’ Dirty Bastard. After this single off the “Bulworth” soundtrack smashed the charts, Pras tried to follow up with an album of the same name in 1998. The single “Blue Angels” went nowhere and so did the album, which to all but die-hard Fugees fans was quickly shelved and forgotten.

There really seemed to be no need for a follow-up, and yet over seven years later with no fanfare whatsoever “Win Lose or Draw” arrived on the scene. It doesn’t feel like much effort was put into the album’s title; it’s either a card game reference (makes this writer think of Uno) or a reminder of a crappy TV game show. The title track itself seems equally devoid of creativity:

“I guess a million motherfuckers wanna see me die
I got a million motherfuckers that’ll see you try
And you never seen a man die ’til you see a man cry
You can run but can’t hide, step aside you must be blind
If you don’t see this year is solely mine
There’s no rumors, you heard it through the grapevine
I’m that cat with nine lives, done had nine wives
‘Member ReFugees started in the nine-five”

Cliches and all, these are among his BETTER rhymes. At one point he claims to be “big green on you like that dude from Shrek” and he mangles the Ying Yang Twins by claiming to be “here from the walls to the window.” Skeet skeet on any broads there Pras? As an MC he sounded out of date back in the 1995 he’s so proud to mention, so imagine how far behind the times he is ten years later. Then again you can’t exactly fault Pras for releasing another rap album. He tried to do the acting thing and that didn’t work out so well. He can’t sit around and wait for his beloved Fugees crew that he shouts out constantly to agree on reuniting for a new album – which quite frankly they could do without him and it would still be good. Maybe that’s why he mentions the Fugees so much throughout “Win Lose or Draw” – he’s just hoping people will hear it and clamor for him to be part of such a project. The album itself sends mixed messages though. While he did get Wyclef to collaborate on one track entitled “Angels Sing,” he’s also sounding bitter and resentful on “Friend A’ Foe” and “One Monkey Don’t Stop the Show.” Not that being bitter makes him better – he’s still a mediocre MC with a mushmouth delivery either way.

Pras tries to crossover into reggaeton on “Dance Hall” but he’s no Daddy Yankee, and he tries to be “for the kids” on “How it Feels” but he’s no Trick Daddy. Tired concepts like revamping U2 on “Haven’t Found” aren’t going to make anybody buy this album. In a way you almost feel sorry for Pras. Listening to him rap you feel like he and Wyclef were running mates, only ‘Clef was the cool kid who could sing, rap and play guitar while Pras was the one who tagged along hoping he could be just like him. Unfortunately for Pras the bottom line is you either have talent or you don’t, and without two more talented people to cover up for his deficiencies he’s not listenable. Maybe he could take up accounting or be a manager instead. This isn’t a case of those who can do and those who can’t criticize, it’s simply a case of those who can’t do just not knowing when to quit.

Pras Michel :: Win Lose or Draw