Going By The Book

Lenny Kravitz, Canibus and Mack 10 put in guest appearances ...

If you believe the hype, the Fugees have the Midas Touch. Anything either

Wyclef Jean or Lauryn Hill touches turns into gold, platinum even. Now,

with his debut album, the oft-ignored third member of the group --

Prazekiel Michel, a.k.a. Pras -- has stepped up to try and work a little

alchemy of his own.

He aspires to match the cross-cultural creativity of Jean's The

Carnival, to equal

the sultry sophistication of Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,

but,

unfortunately, Pras doesn't possess

either Jean's remarkable musical talent or Hill's charisma and

skill. And then there's his delivery, which is, well, flat (although at least it's a

flatness that's attuned to the zeitgeist. Monotonal rappers are in! Puffy

and Mase being prime examples). But when he attempts to mix social commentary with braggadocio, there is nothing to save him from falling

flat on his face.

The music's not much better (even with the help of guests Canibus, Lenny Kravitz and Mack 10). From lifeless rock samples

("Blue Angels") to

endless funk-lite beats ("Lowriders" and "Frowsey Pt. 2"), this

self-produced album is replete with clichéd pop

formulas, and none of them is even the catchy kind of cliché.

Although what Pras creates is less than innovative, when you paint by

number, you can't help but get one or two pictures right, as demonstrated

by the fact that the album's title-track emerged as a hit last summer.

"Murder Dem" and "What'Cha Wanna Do" are also picture-perfect grooves

destined for radio play. The only moments of true surprise occur on the intro, "Hallelujah," and

"Amazing Grace" (gospel standards sung as gospel standards). Bafflingly,

there's no

context provided for their inclusion. They are question marks on an album

otherwise bereft of punctuation.

Although Pras has made a bold attempt to follow in the footsteps of his

fellow Fugees, where Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill have trailblazed, Pras has

taken the road more traveled.