One Album, One Legacy: City High

Wyclef Jean made history with the Fugees in the mid 90s but it was his proteges ‘City High’ that spun real life troubles into a trio of hits in the early 2000s.

City High, paralleling the Fugees, consisted of two male singer/songwriters (Ryan Toby and Robby Pardio) and one female singer/rapper (Claudette Ortiz), broke onto the scene in 2001 with the major single “What Would You Do”. The single, taking on the story of a young woman who did what she had to do to survive, including stripping, eventually landed in the top 10 on the R&B charts.

Ironically, City High’s debut and now only album to hit shelves, followed a socially conscious time in both R&B and Hip Hop. Recording artists like Eve and the legendary Aretha Franklin zeroed in on domestic abuse, self love and esteem, and the plight of young people in general. While other artists followed suit in addressing issues via a song or compilation, City High’s debut album just about tackled every prevalent issue in teenage and young adult life.

Seemingly taking the adage that most of us do what have to do to survive but, not necessarily what we would like to do in mind, City High turned the struggle and hustle into well written music. As luck would have it though, the trio ended up spinning off three hits with their self titled debut. One of those hits was the second single titled “Caramel”. Interestingly enough, “Caramel” came off as one of the album’s more relaxed singles in that it promoted beauty and self worth instead of the harsh realities of life on songs like “Cats and Dogs” and “15 Will Get You 20”. The majority of the song, sung by Claudette Ortiz, is built upon the lines “cause anywhere I go I’m spotted and anything I want I got it”. Carefully woven, “Caramel” easily became an anthem for independent, strong, and unapologetic women. Also fitting due to the time period, which included the introduction of Destiny’s Child and the singles “Independent Women,” “Survivor” and “Bootylicious” to the world, “Caramel” slid right in with Beyonce, Kelly and Michele’s cuts including “Independent Women Part 2” and “Happy Face” as well as Alicia Keys’ “Woman’s Worth”. As a result of the aforementioned factors and Ortiz, accompanied by partners Ryan Toby (also seen in Sister Act 2) and Robby Pardio, “Caramel” became City High’s most successful R&B hit.

While City High disbanded in 2003, their self titled debut lives on as one of best albums to come out of the early 2000s – not just for its appeal and charting success but for its content alone.

Take a trip back to 2001 via a special performance of “What Would You Do” and “Caramel (remix) feat. Eve” below:

—— By: Njai Joszor


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