Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

Barely a Fugees track at all, but a polylogue of the hip-hop great and good, lining up in your speakers to guest star on a hot record, to pay tribute to Mohammed Ali, to recreate a piece of history. The beat – low, uneasy, anticipating something bad and important coming down – is the thread that links the testimonies, a structure that’s an ideal reflection of When We Were Kings, the documentary soundtrack that gave birth to “Rumble In The Jungle”. And the story the voices tell is messianic, mystic and gut-level exciting, leaving disconnected snippets of lyric in your mind like watching five news broadcasts at once – “Mathematics was the key to set my whole race free….replace your last name with the X….”

The mid-70s are the years of hip-hop’s secret birth – are the Fugees trying to link it to a boxing match? Maybe not, but the way they’re singing it the Ali/Foreman fight links to everything anyway, is an event packing an awesome cultural charge, a charge which rubs off all over the record and gives it a prickling urgency. And in one of those reverses that makes pop worth listening to, that would be ironic if it wasn’t so inspired, the musical engine of that urgency is a 1978 track by Abba. The paranoid picked-out bassline of “The Name Of The Game” was so effective in summoning the spirits of a marriage on the brink that it’s pressed into service here to stand for a whole culture on the brink. That audacious borrowing – the only ‘Abba revival’ worth speaking about – is what lifes “Rumble In The Jungle” from hit to classic.