So you think you can sing “Killing me Softly?”

Your step-by-step guide on how not to ruin a perfect song

“Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees is know by some as the modern day Black National Anthem…OK – I’m the only one that calls it that but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. If you’re reading this article then you have discovered the official training guide to attempting this masterpiece for karaoke.

Leading off, the most helpful advice I can give anyone trying to attempt this song is DON’T DO IT!!! Much like the Holiest of Holies in the Jewish Tabernacle, this song should NEVER attempted by someone that has not been previously ordained by the music gods. This song should only be sung by Lauryn Hill after she has been soaked in a tub of cocoa butter for 4 hours and 20 minutes.

Despite my wishes, anyone that goes to a karaoke bar or has a karaoke machine can attempt to sing it, so I have written this guide to help you get as close to perfection as humanly possible. While the following instructions may sound like suggestions, understand that they’re not. These are mandatory. If you do not follow this guide to the letter, I will personally emerge from the crowd and we’ll have a not-so-pleasant experience. Basically, I’ll catch you and then you’ll catch these hands.

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Now on to the instructions

INTRO

  • Off the bat, you have to deal with the second hardest part of the song. That’s because “Killing Me Softly” starts without any music. It just starts with a soulful “STRUMMING MY PAIN…” It’s up to you to time this right so that you won’t be booed five seconds into the performance.
  • When you sing that last line of the intro “…with his songggggggg”, hold that that last word THROUGH the sitar notes. I understand that it’s a long note but that’s why this is the fifth hardest part of the song.
  • Speaking of those iconic sitar notes, it’s mandatory for you to do some sort of hand movement to accompany this special moment. If hand movements don’t come naturally to you, like it does for Mariah Carey, may I suggest the following:
    • Mimic playing a guitar. Notice I said playing a guitar and not a sitar like what’s featured in the song. Honestly, no one is going to understand what you’re doing when you sit down cross-legged and hold one hand out and above your head.
    • Gun hands. Something akin to what Bill Nighly does with his fingers. (BTW how come gun hands aren’t mechanically correct? You don’t shoot a gun by pressing down a stick at the top of it.)
    • Whatever you do, don’t do the hand jive from Grease.
      • Also never use the word “jive” at any time under any circumstances.
  • Sorry, I forgot to tell you that you HAVE to perform this song with at least one other person. You/Lauryn will be doing 95% of the work but the 5% that your Wyclef Jean will perform is imperative to the success of the karaoke. Don’t believe me? Try it alone and see what happens.
    • While were talking about the other members of the Fugees, shout out to Pras, the Michelle Williams of the group.
  • Before we get to the first true verse, we  encounter about 20 seconds of instrumental with no singing. You and your “Wyclef” need to take full advantage of this time and just ad-lib as much as possible. Build up as much positive energy with the crowd as you can, you’re going to need it later. Use this time to pump up the crowd. Try:
    • Giving a shout out to whoever you came with
    • Repping your city to the fullest
    • Pouring some libations out to your dead ancestors
  • Let’s be clear about the ad-lib, you and your Wyclef should both be speaking simultaneously. Not going back and forth, but  in fact talking over one another. It doesn’t make sense, but it does work. Trust the process.

 

FIRST VERSE

  • Yes, half of this guide detailed JUST the intro
  • Once again watch out because the first verse just emerges out of nowhere. There is no change in the drumming pattern or the introduction of new instruments. At some point the Fugees decided to stop talking shit and start the main part of the song. That’s why this is the third hardest part of the song.
  • As hype as you just got yourself and the crowd in the intro, you need to bring it down at this point. The theatricality of this song comes from the dramatic changes from boisterous to placid. This is one of those moments (sixth hardest).
  • Part of the reason this song is soulful is because Lauryn’s singing isn’t in sync with the music. She allows her voice to linger for a bit filling in the gaps between the beats. When you’re singing this song, sing it as someone who has forgotten the lyrics but is trying to remember them as they go along. This overall management of the first verse clocks it in as the fourth hardest part of the song.

CHORUS

  • Just like at the beginning, hit that “STRUMMING MY PAIN” with reckless abandon.
  • Despite all of the work you’ve done up to this point, what happens immediately after the first verse is literally the part that everyone has been waiting for. The part that transformed this song from a solid remake of a Roberta Flack song (which was itself a remake of a Lori Liberman folk song) to the modern day Black National anthem (I’m sticking to it). That moment is Wyclef Jean’s “One Time (one time).”
    • Do you understand the impact of these two simple words? How they have changed the course of music history? Without these two words, we might forever remember Lauryn Hill as that girl from Sister Act rather than one of the greatest rappers/singers of all time.
      • Two time

SECOND VERSE AND CHORUS

  • Copy and paste the instructions from the first verse. We need to focus on the bridge

BRIDGE

  • We’ve finally come down to the moment of truth. I told you at the beginning of this piece that you shouldn’t have chosen this song but you ignored me. Now you gonna pay what you owe.
  • There aren’t really words that can explain the beauty of Lauryn’s singing during the bridge because human language is too limiting to describe the wonder of the miracle she captured on wax.
    • Imagine, if you would, one of those huge Renaissance ceiling paintings that contain baby angels playing in a fountain, unicorns racing through the forest and a couple making out in the corner. Now imagine everyone in this painting is black, including the unicorns. THAT is the vision that most accurately describes her vocal display.
  • For your karaoke assistance, I worked with scientists, mathematicians and linguists at MIT and Yale to translate Lauryn’s vocal display into words. Understand that this took hours of research from the world’s top minds to unlock this previously unexplored mystery of the universe. Not only will this help you understand what she says but it will also help you understand the intensity you should have at each moment.
    • As a result of this groundbreaking research, my team is currently on the short list for winning the Nobel Prizes this year in Physics, Medicine and Peace.
  • Needless to say, this is the first hardest part of the song . Really intense parts in red:

WOOOAH-AH-ah-AH-ah-AH-ah

woah-OA-OA-OA-OA-OA-AH-AH-ah-AH-ah

LALA-LAAH-la-la-la-la

WOAH-OOAA-ooh LAA-AAA-AAH WOAH-OOAA-oooh

LAA-AAH-AAA-AAA-aaa-aaaaaaaa

LA-AAA-aaa-AAA-aaa-AAA-aaa-AAA-ah

 

Mine eyes have seen the glory. Jesus wept. At this point I’m too verklempt to continue writing. I beg of you, dear reader, please don’t use this song in vain. Because if you mess up any part of this, you’ll just be

STRUMMING MY PAIN….

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