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
"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. Ive
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 hasnt 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 Im 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
shes 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, its not about
if youre 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
its 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, its 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 thats 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 youre 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, its going to be a sing-along album from beginning to
end. Im 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, "Im 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, its good
to have like a feel-good record and let people know its 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
cant 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. "Its like I said on the mixtape, "From the hut, to
the projects, to the mansion." No excuses; lets 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." "Thats
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
its not about saving the nation, its 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. "Were going
to use Twitter, were going to use Facebook, were going to put
all of our energies together and everyones going to donate $1, thats
it," he explains. "$1 can make a difference in a childs
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
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, "Were 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 youre 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 its 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 dont 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, its the same way they thought we were stupid
when we were dancing to the Humpty Hump." "Maybe were
getting old," he jokes. "Yall go ahead and get old, Im
staying young. Im getting my swag on!" After all, "Hip-Hop
is always about revolution and youre 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 its their first record, every time
they go onstage, they act like its 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.