The Musical Renaissance of Wyclef Jean

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Wyclef Jean Prepares World For Reclefication with J’ouvert EP

Wyclef Jean generally needs no introduction.  A veteran of over 20 years in the music industry and very likely one of your favorite artist’s idols, Wyclef is simply, music personified.  But after a seven year hiatus, even a music legend needs to reintroduce himself to a new generation of listeners who might have had the unfortunate misfortune of not growing up on the music of Wyclef and the Fugees. So that’s exactly what Clef set out to do in preparing to release his latest EP, J’ouvert.

You can’t even fault some of these young kids for not knowing how much of an icon Wyclef is.  The Fugees debut single was released in 1994 along with their debut album, Blunted On Reality.  The song “Nappy Heads” was released shortly thereafter.  Their classic album, The Score was unveiled on the masses in 1996, and those individuals that were born the same year as that album just turned 20 years old.  Wyclef’s solo debut album The Carnival (featuring the Refugee Allstars), another classic, was released in 1997 and the trio that made up the Fugees really haven’t been together since. Still, that’s no excuse not to be familiar with “Ready or Not”, “Killing Me Softly”, “We Trying To Stay Alive”, “Gone Til November” or later Wyclef hits “911”,  “Two Wrongs”, “Party To Damascus”, “If I Was President” and “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)” among others.

Or at least be familiar with the many, many hits Wyclef has produced and featured on for other artists including, “No No No” for Destiny’s Child, “Maria Maria” for Carlos Santana, “Hips Don’t Lie” for Shakira, and most recently “Kanye West” for Young Thug just to name a few.

I guess it’s possible you missed all of those past successes, the eight prior solo projects before J’ouvert, the 2 Fugees albums, City High (don’t think I forgot!), his role in Shottas and other films over the years, the official 2014 World Cup Anthem “Dar Um Jieto”/”We Will Find A Way” performed with Carlos Santana, Avicii and Alexander Pires.  It’s possible.  So maybe a reintroduction is necessary.

Thankfully, Young Thug has helped put Wyclef Jean back on the map, effectively reintroducing the Haitian, Global superstar to the next generation of music listeners and reminding the older heads of the forgotten legend of Wyclef.  With the new EP, J’Ouvert, Hip-Hop fans and music lovers get to go back to the 90s with Wyclef and enjoy the ride all over again, solo yes, but as always, full of hits.

We caught up with Wyclef to talk about the new music, his musical renaissance of sorts and what he has in store for the coming months.

Parlé Mag:  
So it had officially been over 7 years since you last released a full length project.  That of course changed with the recent release of your EP, J’Ouvert.  Talk to me about how you were able to stay immersed in the culture to execute this seamless comeback to the mainstream.
Wyclef Jean:  With me, music is a feeling, it’s an art, it’s hard to explain, but I never feel disconnected with the culture. So even though I’m not in a commercial space or I’m not on the radio or I’m not streaming, it doesn’t mean I don’t know who’s the top 5 URL battle rappers of the world is. It doesn’t mean I don’t know what the Top 5 EDM records is. Because I’m a sound boy, I’m a DJ, I love music!

Wyclef Jean
Parlé Mag: I know you’ve been talking about new music for a while, but why now for the actual return?
Wyclef Jean:  It just felt like within a commercial space with Wyclef, it was time to jump back in it. Because every other thing you hear on the radio had that tropical feel, had that island feel, you know. And what was amazing to me was that one of the first records we put out was “Hendrix” and the way it connected to the kids, it’s almost like a reinvention. And the way they react to “The Ring” and the way the millennials react to “I Swear” and with Young Thug rapping about “Wyclef Jean”, it’s almost like it gave me a second wind where it’s almost like I get to do basically what I did in the 90s, in 2017 again. It’s basically a fresh audience. And you go back to The Carnival in 1997, we was rhyming and we was singing. So it just felt so comfortable.
A lot of times when people are trying to make a come back it either sounds weird or it sounds dated because they are trying to do what the kids are doing and they don’t connect you know, but it’s an amazing experience for me.

Parlé Mag:
Let’s continue with that for a second. Obviously you come from the 90s era where everything was melodic, mid 2000s came and 50 Cent kind of crushed that, particularly on the East Coast. But now we’re back in an era where Drake has made what The Fugees were doing cool again. Just talk about how you stay ready for the changes that the music industry has thrown your way.
Wyclef Jean:  I stay ready for that change because I’m part of that DNA. Drake, when he see me, he gotta hug me, hold me, lift me in the air, because The Fugees—he grew up listening to that. If you want to see Drake’s DNA, you can see him at 14 years old, online spitting my verse on “Ready or Not”. So it’s almost like the blueprint has been laid in stone.

Watch Drake Rap Along To “Ready Or Not”

Wyclef:  So long before The Fugees how were we able to do what we did? It’s cause we heard certain records. I mean I was listening to Hieroglyphics, so a lot of those skits and schemes, we were in that zone. When you make timeless music, it’s different than when you just making music. We never made music for ourselves. So I was probably making music for Drake and didn’t know he was gonna be Drake. I was making music for you, didn’t know you were gonna be you. I was just making music for the culture. In order to do it for the culture you have to do it for the masses. The culture is Hip-Hop, so I’m talking English, I’m talking Spanish, I’m talking French, Kreyol—everybody wanna be a ‘Zoe’ now.  But we was doing this in 1997! They say everything comes around full circle. The way we stay in it is because we were part of the creation of that circle—if that makes sense.

Parlé Mag: Approaching this album, how did you decide what direction you wanted to go in. I know your deal with Heads Music and eOne so it’s a great level of flexibility, but how was that creative process this time around?
Wyclef Jean:  I wanted to be able to do an EP, but different than what people call EPs. I wanted it to be like 11, 12 songs and I wanted to have remixes so we did an acoustic of “Hendrix” and an acoustic of “I Swear” because that’s a whole other side of it. Really, I’m sitting on like 300 songs. The whole thing with J’ouvert is its the celebration the night before Carnival. So thematically we wanted to keep that energy of what you feel that night. So in the sound system you might feel a record like “The Ring”, which sounds like one of those original 50 Cent records but in 2017 and I’m spitting the culture. Then after that is “I Swear”, which is mixing reggae, Kompa and EDM. All of it sounds like J’ouvert night. And you know on J’ouvert night in Brooklyn they can switch the whole night up and play a Buju Banton and the whole place get swagged. That to me is like “Life Matters”, “If I Was President”. I just wanted to put you in a mood so when you hear J’ouvert, you in that mood.

Parlé Mag:  To come back and see the responses on social media and receive all the love for people enjoying this come back, how does it make you feel?
Wyclef Jean:  This shows me that the millennials they starting to discover me. The older heads that was into The Score and Carnival, they not mad because they can feel a buzz and a reinvention so it’s like ‘okay, Clef is back in his music space’.

Parlé Mag:  Besides the actual music and the new artists, how have things changed in the way you market music now versus when you last released a project?
Wyclef Jean:  Well I mean, social media is a power! We just sold out Terminal 5 and we put the show up in 20 days. On social media you can really engage your fans immediately. Before I had to wait to get to you. Everyone has an iPhone and everyone has a way to connect to people now.

Parlé Mag:  You mentioned the song “Life Matters”, which is a bit controversial depending on who is listening to it. Talk to me about why you wanted to take that angle on the song?
Wyclef Jean:  Well to me I did a song called “Diallo” when they shot [Amadou] Diallo. Also when they took Trayvon Martin, there’s a song that I did called “If You’re 17”. I ain’t new to this right. The controversy will always be spoken, but I ain’t new to this. If you gonna be listening to “I Swear” with Thugga on the record than at the same time, if it was Bob Marley “Life Matters” would still be on there. The whole concept of the song is saying “Life Matters”, well what does that mean? If your life matters, his life matters, her life matters, than Black lives matter, women’s lives matter. But Black lives matter! At the end of the day, the song is saying if we don’t speak on behalf of the execution of these Black males then it will almost become second nature. After the Trump inauguration, the very next day protesters were on the street letting him know that these are the things that matter to us. So I don’t think we should ever be silent with our voice.

Parlé Mag:  Okay, got you and I agree. On that note I am going to segue into politics a bit. Obviously you got the “If I was President 2016” and you have had a voice in politics with your own presidential bid. But right now in the world President Moise is the new voice in Haiti and he is a controversial Presidential pick with protests in Haiti, your homeland. And as you mentioned we have protests here in the States over Donald Trump, so what are your thoughts on all the political unrest?
Wyclef Jean:  Well at Terminal 5 I brought out President Michel Martelly, formerly Sweet Micky who was featured on The Carnival. Jovenel Moise is running under his political party. Me and Micky were beefing when he first ran for president and that’s my man. I may not agree with what he wants to do politically, but we’re friends as humans. So for elections we fight for who wins. I think once we have a president who is elected and a president is in place, I believe in the 100 day courtesy situation for any president, but when you give them the 100 day courtesy, the problem is if you don’t talk about any of your concerns, see what I’m saying to you? You got 100 days, you doing executive orders, you doing boom, boom, boom, but these are our concerns, this is what we want!  I believe in giving everybody 100 days, but that don’t mean you don’t march, you don’t put signs up. You have to be active so they understand.

Wyclef Jean
Parlé Mag:  
Your respected by the veteran artists of course, but to go back to having Young Thug name a song after you and make it a single. How big is that type of recognition at this stage of your career?
Wyclef Jean:  I couldn’t predict that man. I’m straight up from a hut in Haiti… and The Score is ’96-’97. So when you have a kid that’s 24, 25 like ‘yo my song’s called Wyclef Jean’ and he’s rapping over a trap reggae beat. It just solidifies you to know who you are even more. It’s so funny because Young Thug brings me out to a new generation of millennials to the point where the older heads that thought I was over, they fucking with me again!

Parlé Mag:  Moving forward what do you want your legacy to be in Hip-Hop and in music?
Wyclef Jean:  Just the unification of people. I just want to be a great unifier. So whether we talking about Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Cecelia Cruz—a unifier of the world, not just in music. Music is the vessel. When you can do an album and put five languages on it and teach people to speak Kreyol that don’t understand what Kreyol is, just that energy. I’m content with that.

Parlé Mag:  Is the plan still to drop that third Carnival album this year too?
Wyclef Jean:  The Carnival: Vol. III: Road To Clefication album comes out June 24th. That’s what I want to do. What I would love to do. We gonna classic it up. But you know we gonna kompa it up seriously at the end of that. All you gotta do is listen to “Lady Haiti” on J’ouvert and it’s like okay he back on his bullshit!

Parlé Mag:  Okay, this part for long time Wyclef fans. It’s a two-part question. Now you’ve worked with A LOT of artists and created a lot of hits for other people, but for you, who is the one artist that stands out as maybe something you didn’t even plan to do or weren’t sure about, but once it happened and you started working on the music, it was amazing.
Wyclef Jean:  For me it was the Santana combination. Because I was like that’s one of the greatest dudes, how is it gonna be? And I was thinking it could go one way or another because we were trying to bring back somebody who was almost 70. I was like ‘damn, do I have that much power? Can I do that? But we went in with Santana and we figured we gonna get there and it ended up working out.

Parlé Mag:  
Okay, the other part of that… I think one of the most slept on Wyclef collabs, was when you actually went in with Jerry Wonda and did half of the Chemically Imbalanced album for the Ying Yang Twins. How did that collaboration even come together because I still listen to that album to this day and it’s an amazing body of work, but I don’t know if anyone ever saw that collaboration coming together.
Wyclef Jean:  We just loved their sound! They were like rhyming/singing but they almost sounded like church folks. You’re right man, that album was definitely slept on, but thank God people like you heard it and it lives on. I thought they were very talented, but everyone has a time and a space and to be able to recreate that time and that space you have to be part of the creation.

Parlé Mag:  Right, right. Okay transitioning. I’ve seen links up talking about a Fugees reunion, tell me about that and if you think it’s even possible at this point?
Wyclef Jean:  Who’s putting that link up??

Parlé Mag:  Every time Wyclef comes out those links start popping back up man…
Wyclef Jean:  You saw what I said on “The Real”. I was like, ‘yo, I’m the only Fugee people find so they have to ask’. But at this point if it is to happen I’m in it, I’m down 3000 percent. It’s so funny man, to be real with you, the term fugees/refugees means more now than it did when we came out. That’s why the fans are going crazy now like we need that, we need that. I’m telling them the more they scream, the more they say they want it to happen, it can happen. You never know.

Wyclef J'ouvert EP
Parlé Mag:  For people who haven’t heard J’ouvert yet, tell them what they should go listen to that now…
Wyclef Jean:  Basically ya’ll know every few years ya’ll hop on a plane and head to the Caribbean to get that feel. Most of that music you find, you can’t bring it back so now all of a sudden, there’s an EP with all of that. If you love Drake, you love Rihanna, you live Tory Lanez, I’m like their uncle coming back and bringing back the original music (laughs ). It’s just that originality. And then when it comes to Haiti you got that song “Little Haiti”. For real man, there’s so many Haitians that I should never doubt if I’m coming in number one. I know ya’ll Zoes got me man, so we just gotta keep pushing!

Photo credit: Katie Piper & Karl Ferguson

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Kevin Benoit

Kevin Benoit is the editor of Parlé Magazine. He founded the magazine while in college and continues to run it today. Follow him on IG: @parlewithme Read more articles by Kevin.

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