Wyclef Jean Interview: Welcome To Haiti Creole 101

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by Alex Shtaerman

Wyclef Jean has always been different. The Fugees frontman has traversed every genre remotely adjacent to Hip-Hop and still continues to experiment and bend the lines in making music. You can never think of Wyclef as an artist who makes music to please someone other than himself. Think about it, you can picture Wyclef at New York City’s Lincoln Center performing with the Three Tenors and a children’s choir and then you can picture him the next day giving a huge concert on the beach in Miami. You just can’t classify the dude – and if you know anything about music or entertainment – that’s always a good thing. Besides all the music, Clef is also politically conscious and has for years donated time and resources to help his native country of Haiti. Working to end the political unrest and stop the violence in the western hemisphere’s most impoverished nation has been a task up to world standards. Unfortunately, it’s also an issue most politicians have not paid very much attention to.

In a tribute to his country’s native rhythms Wyclef Jean drops his fifth solo album Welcome To Haiti Creole 101 on October 19th. Clef plans a December benefit concert to help bring about greater awareness of peace and promote the theme of a single unified Haiti. The release of Creole 101 also coincides with the two hundred year anniversary of Haiti’s independence (1804-2004). “Haiti was the first Black Republic to gain independence from slavery and since 2004 is the 200th anniversary of this victory, I thought it was the perfect time to highlight our rich history,” says Jean.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What was your goal in making Welcome To Haiti Creole 101? How is this album different from your past work?

WYCLEF JEAN: With this album, I didn’t do it for record sales or spins on the radio; it is purely an artistic album. My country, which is Haiti – most of the rhythms, the inspiration comes from original rhythms from my country. In leaving Haiti and coming to the projects in Brooklyn, I got up on Hip-Hop at ten years old; so its about merging the two cultures together and, of course, with a reggae influence and there you have a sound which sounds like Welcome To Haiti.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You have a song on the album called “President”, what’s that song all about?

WYCLEF JEAN : I did the song on Dave Chappelle’s show when Dave Chappelle came to see me; he was doing a spoof on Making The Band. I was just freestyling this song and I had my little cousins in the studio. They’re still in school and they always come to see me and I tell ‘em – basically man, ya’ll could do whatever ya’ll want, ya’ll could be the president. Not [necessarily] the President of the United States [but] ya’ll could be president in ya’ll community or you could be the president of the basketball team or you can be the president of your class and you could also be the President of the United States. So Dave Chappelle was like – yo, what’s that you doin? I was like – I’m freestyling. So he was like – yo, go in there and drop this freestyle on camera real quick. So that’s how the song came about.

RIOTSOUND.COM: With regard to the situation in Haiti, how has the political unrest in Haiti affected you personally?

WYCLEF JEAN : Well, you know – I am just getting back from Haiti. I am not a person who stays here to see how it affects me. I have to actually physically go down there. And in going down there, of course I wanted to see how we could help the people. I went to this place in Haiti they call “gangland” and I spoke to nine different gangs. We was talking about peace and how can you restore peace inside of Haiti. And I feel right now the focus that we all need to be promoting is to stop the violence. Haiti is not divided into six or seven sections; the message needs to be that there is only one section and we all are Haitians and we all should just be working together to make a new Haiti. Not a new Haiti for us but a new Haiti for our kids.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You recently performed at the Democratic National Convention as well as at a special concert for John Kerry at Radio City Music Hall. Did you have a chance to speak with senator Kerry and what did you talk to him about?

WYCLEF JEAN: Yes, I definitely met Senator Kerry and everybody that I meet I always try to get a chance to talk to them about Haiti. I definitely was giving him my briefs on how much better Haiti can be. He was definitely interested in the sense of listening. I like to be able to be a voice and I like to be heard and to at least know that when I speak that someone is listening to me. That means I could support the person because they are at least listening.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As an artist you have always been diverse in your sound and musical influences; do you feel that there is enough diversity in rap music today or do you think that a lot of artists are just trying to make marketing messages as opposed to music?

WYCLEF JEAN : I feel like it’s changing around slowly. I mean, we see bullshit come, we see bullshit go, you know; at the end of the day real is going to last. I feel that there are some talented kids out there. We gotta watch the wave of the drums, if the kids are dancing to it, how can we get them to dance to it but still say something.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You were recently featured in VH1’s tribute to Hip-Hop; what are your thoughts on the tribute itself, do you think it was an accurate portrayal?

WYCLEF JEAN: Me and every other person were like – it’s long overdue. Like this shit is long overdue [laughs]. For ya’ll to even give these guys credibility it took for this to become a multi-billion dollar business, you know what I mean? But, it’s a great thing – the good thing about it is that it gives kids like my sister who’s sixteen a chance to see where all of this stuff came from. I remember she was watching it with me and she was like – wow, who’s this? who’s that? And she was like – yo, who’s Kool Herc? Look at those speakers coming out of his car! So I was like – yea, this is the man right here and then this is DJ Hollywood. So it was definitely a good thing for the kids to see man.

RIOTSOUND.COM: When the Fugees came out, prior to the success of The Score, what were your expectations like as far as where your career would go?

WYCLEF JEAN: Well, when we did the first LP, Blunted On Reality, all of the message that is on that first CD is still the same message that we preaching today. We haven’t changed our mindset. Even when we did The Score and it blew up, I can’t lie to you, I didn’t think that we would ever blow up to such magnitude. I was thinking maybe a few hundred thousand people will get to hear this thing; but it went beyond that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: The Fugees recently performed together for the first time since the late ‘90’s. Can you see a Fugees reunion as a possibility?

WYCLEF JEAN : Definitely, I think a Fugees reunion could become reality in time.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You are also organizing a benefit concert in Haiti in December, what is the concert going to be about?

WYCLEF JEAN: The concert is to bring forth awareness and peace. It’s December 5th and it’s supposed to promote a new image of Haiti. I’m coming up with a new peace sign – it’s a palm held out – like when you say stop, which is the right hand; and then the left hand you have the peace sign up. So its like – stop, it’s time for peace. So that sign right there, for me it’s the new Haiti. For there to be a new Haiti we have to start by stopping the violence.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You have a collection of exotic cars, what are your favorite assets in that collection?

WYCLEF JEAN : My favorite assets in the cars? Man, a lot of people ask me that and I be like – if you collect paintings then you could understand. I just like the craftsmanship and the architect of cars. I know the disciplines and what these people go through to put these cars together.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Having worked with Canibus at the time he made “2nd Round KO”, who do you think won the battle between Canibus and LL Cool J?

WYCLEF JEAN : I think in the short term Canibus won the battle but I think in the long term LL won the battle. But on record versus record, Canibus won that battle.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Who are you voting for in this presidential election and why?

WYCLEF JEAN: With this election I am leaning towards the Democratic party – not for me – if I was voting for Wyclef I would vote Republican – you understand that – period. So I am not voting for me, I am voting for everything that I am trying to do to help people in the future. I need at least somebody that’s going to care a little bit and want some form of peace. So that’s were I’m at.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Besides Welcome To Haiti Creole 101, what else should the fans be looking out for in the future?

WYCLEF JEAN : The fans should be aware of all the new Wyclef protégés from the Refugee Camp that are getting ready to come out starting next year. The age starts from thirteen all the way up to twenty six. There’s a group called Three On Three, which is three brothers. The youngest is thirteen and the oldest is eighteen. They’re out of the Bronx. Then we have a girl who’s eighteen, she’s a rapper and she’s incredible. Just look out for all the protégés that we got to offer the world right now.