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Wyclef: Leading The Revolution

Just as his Toussaint

L’ouverture lead the Haitian Revolution, Wyclef Jean has returned to

his Hip-Hop roots with his latest EP From The Hut, From The Projects,

To The Mansion to spark a musical revolution. Despite never really

having left the public eye, the pioneering musician felt it was necessary

to return to rhyming under an alias to reflect his current revolutionary

mindframe. Introducing Toussaint St. Jean, but this does not mark an

exit for Wyclef Jean, but rather a new chapter in his already fascinating

story.

“Revolution is in my bloodline,”

he says, before explaining how Toussaint was one of the key figures

in the Revolution for Haiti. “So with the tone of the message that

I would be giving when I rapped, the name automatically came to me,”

he elaborates. “The EP goes back to the essence. It was important

to go back to the basics and the fundamentals, because sometimes you

get so big that people forget where you come from,” he adds. “I

wanted people to understand that I have not forgotten Hip-Hop. I’ve

not forgotten lyrics; that is very important in what I do.” 

From The Hut, To The Projects,

To The Mansion not only documents Wyclef’s personal success story,

but also reflects his musical journey and progression. The project stands

out for a number of reasons, but perhaps most notably for the intriguing

choice of featured artists, including 80’s pop singer Cindi Lauper,

Lil Kim and Eve. Explaining his unconventional choice of vocalist for

Slumdog Millionaire, he jokes “I wanted that Cindi Lauper swag,

so why not just get Cindi Lauper?” He also points out that many

female vocalists today have been heavily influenced by the singer. 

Perhaps most striking of all,

however, is Eve’s performance on Suicide Love, which is reminiscent

of her earlier, more agressive rhyming style. “Everyone is like

‘yo Eve sounds so sharp on that record and she hasn’t been out in

a minute, why does she sound so sharp?’ But I think, what happened is

you always have to remember that as a producer I’m always going to

try to focus and bring the best out of an artist,” Wyclef explains.

“The cool thing with Eve was, when she was doing the vocals she

was with Salaam Remi and Salaam is one of my mentors (he did the Fugees).”

He then adds, “She was able to pull out the passion naturally because

she’s still one of the best, period.” 

Suicide Love provides

a long-awaited answer to Wyclef and Eve’s critics, who insist that both

artists may have traded in their grittiness and relevancy for mainstream

success. As he honestly admits in The Streets Pronounce Me Dead,

“Last time, [they] felt me was when I rhymed with Big Pun.”

Frankly his concern is greater than just Hip-Hop these days with his

music catering to people from all corners of the globe, although as

he proves with the EP he is still a “warrior,” he just chooses

a variety of outlets to vocalize his struggle now.  

“At the end of the day,

as long as you have overcame something (and be clear, it’s not about

if you’re from the ghetto or from the suburbs or from the hut), if

you feel that you have accomplished that thing when people counted you

out and you rose to the occasion, you are a warrior,” he stresses.

After all, it is much more lucrative to produce and pen hits for some

of the biggest names in the music world and by doing so, Wyclef has

ensured that his music and messages will reach a more diverse, global

audience. He explains that while his EP represented Hip-Hip, his forthcoming

album “is going to represent the world.” 

Due in Spring 2010, his eponymous

album Wyclef Jean marks the precursor to a true musical revolution.

He jokes that following his return to Hip-Hop, with the album he “is

bringing that stadium music.” Although most artists tend to go

the self-entitled route for debuts, Wyclef felt that despite his extensive

career, the project marks the first true introduction to himself. “This

is the first album in my whole entire career where the first seven songs

are only going to be Wyclef. [It's] an insight into just me, because

it’s time for you all to know who I am,” he explains.  

“The album is Wyclef Jean

the complete artist,” he declares proudly. “When you come

to the show, it’s the man playing seven instruments; the man sings,

the man rhymes, the man dances and the girls throw their things on stage,”

he jokes. “The guys go crazy, they pick up chairs and want to throw

them in the air and that’s all going to be on one album!” He

then explains that the album attempts to recreate the atmosphere at

his concerts. “The first seven records you’re going to hear are

very personal, like when you come to my show the first thing I do is

I get my guitar and talk to you for like 30 minutes.We talk. We converse.

Then after that I pick up the microphone and then the party starts.” 

“When you put on that

Wyclef album, it’s going to be a sing-along album from beginning to

end. I’m going to make sure that you sing every song and the album

is all stories. Every song is a story.” Hoping his album will inspire

others to tap into their own creativity, he explains, “I’m going

to close [the album] with me going crazy on guitar on a joint called

Guitar Hero. So, all of my little aspiring guitar players, make

sure you get your guitar and learn that song.”  

Wyclef Jean promises

to transgress musical boundaries like never before. The lead single from

the project will be Hold On, an optimistic collaboration with

Dancehall singer Mavado. “I wanted to set the tone of the album

in a sense of letting people know where my mind set is at,” he

clarifies. “With everything going on in the world, it’s good

to have like a feel-good record and let people know it’s all going

to be ok.” He passionately describes the offering as “the

pinnacle of the start,” before elaborating, “this album has

to be right because this represents a new millennium and this is the

sound that I want to go with for the future.” 

Hopefully From The Hut,

To The Projects, To The Mansion and Wyclef Jean will also

succeed in opening doors for his other main passion, Haiti. Since founding

his charity Yéle Haiti in 2005, Wyclef has worked tirelessly to improve

the bleak outlook for his homeland. Sadly many fellow expats do not

share his vision; he explains, “Haitian people in America have

got to get it straight and go back and start helping their country,

because if everyone is starting to go back and help your country, you

can’t sit back and let them do the work.”  

“If Bill Clinton is going

back to your country, everyone is going back to your country; you should

be in your country right now doing some work,” he adds in an accusative

tone. “It’s like I said on the mixtape, “From the hut, to

the projects, to the mansion.” No excuses; let’s get it!”

As Wyclef recognizes, it is not going to take a quick fix to mend years

of poverty and corruption in Haiti, but rather long-term initiatives. 

His main goal is to raise funds

to build the Yéle Center, which will be a “ten year process.”

Wyclef explains that theYéle Center “will be a facility that consists

of a sports center, Wyclef Jean School of the Arts, a cultural center

focusing on the environment and an internet café.” “That’s

the key; we build sustainable opportunity,” he says optimistically.”When

people approach Haiti they try to save a nation and in order to save

a nation, you have to start by saving very few. So with Yéle Haiti

it’s not about saving the nation, it’s about saving a few kids and

these kids will save the nation.” 

In order to make the Yéle

Center become a reality, Wyclef appeals to all his “warriors that

are online” to join him in a massive social networking project

that will take place in about six months from now. “We’re going

to use Twitter, we’re going to use Facebook, we’re going to put

all of our energies together and everyone’s going to donate $1, that’s

it,” he explains. “$1 can make a difference in a child’s

life.” Effectively using his internet presence to drive a massive

fundraising effort, he invites “everybody online to get with [him]

on that, to see if we can start raising money to put toward the Yéle

Center.” 

With Twitter being used by

rappers for a number of interesting and obscure purposes, it is refreshing

to see a Hip-Hop artist putting it to a positive and productive use.

As Wyclef explains proudly, “We’re putting out the message of

revolution, not the revolution of the arms but the revolution of the

mind. Bring people together.” The veteran entertainer reveals that

he shares a gift with his late father, the ability to captivate his

listeners. “If you’re going to listen to me, I can get you to

do almost anything,” he says light-heartedly before adding on a

more serious note, “so it’s good that you use the influence to

have people do positive things.” 

Having said that, he is quick

to point out that music in essence is still a form of entertainment

and feels that people should be less judgmental toward the more commercial

artists. “I don’t knock any of it,” he says. “As much

as we want to think Soulja Boy is stupid because the kids are singing

Get Your Swag On, it’s the same way they thought we were stupid

when we were dancing to the Humpty Hump.” “Maybe we’re

getting old,” he jokes. “Y’all go ahead and get old, I’m

staying young. I’m getting my swag on!” After all, “Hip-Hop

is always about revolution and you’re going to get change in it.”

He explains that the genre is merely “a reflection of the community”

and its various aspects. 

As Wyclef acknowledges, in

order to progress and retain relevancy in the industry today you have

to adapt, experiment and reinvent your own style. “I think longevity

has to do with the passion, how passionate are you for what you do,”

he says reflectively. “There are very few people that are passionate

about what they do and you can hear those people because every time

they do a record, they act like it’s their first record, every time

they go onstage, they act like it’s their first show.” He adds,

“you can see that passion through the years.” In fact, if

there is one common factor throughout Wyclef”s work it is that

genuine passion for music and From The Hut, To The Projects, To The

Mansion is no exception. With Toussaint St. Jean at the forefront,

a revolution of sorts may well be imminent.  

From The Hut, To The

Projects, To The Mansion is available for download now. For more

information about Wyclef and his forthcoming projects visit wyclef.com

or follow him on Twitter (@wyclef). If you wish to support Yéle Haiti

or get involved, then please visit yele.org.

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