Wyclef Jean speaks on growing up in Haiti, Hips Don't Lie and working with Michael Jackson

RnB/Hip Hop | Monday 30th January 2017 | Cristina

We have a landmark interview, we’re joined by a musical icon who helped define the era of modern music. As a member of the Fugees, he gave us hits like ‘Fu-Gee-La’, ‘Killing Me Softly’, ‘Ready or Not’, all from the album The Score, which topped the billboard, top 200 charts and is certified, platinum six times over. He’s won three awards, been in the music industry for in excess of twenty years, he has worked with legends like Whitney Houston, Mary J Blige, Carlos Santana, Lil Wayne, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Ludacris, Earth, Wind & Fire, Redman, Cyndi Lauper and his collaboration with Shakira on ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ made it one of the highest selling singles of the 21st century. He has even had people like Angelina Jolie and Bill Clinton on his speed dial. He has written his autobiography and he has bid to become president of Haiti. I’m talking about the cornerstone of modern music that is Wyclef Jean. Wagwan.

Yo, first let me I gotta say big up to England. You already know when it comes to Jamaica, that’s like my second home. It’s just I like to be amongst people that understand the love, the struggle. And my daughter makes me feel like a fool, she’s eleven.

I have interviewed quite a few people in my time. I’ve been blessed, I’ve been fortunate. Quite a few weren’t very prominent music artists but this was one of the hardest interviews to prepare for. You’re international.

Yeah man, remember when I got my first grammy and I was at the Grammies with Quincy Jones and he told me to always be a ‘global gumbo’, musically, you know like pan-African.

You have a superstar status, but you have the humility of a beggar at the same time. And it is so refreshing to see someone who has achieved so much in the business. You have the new single with Young Thug, ‘I Swear’, which is out now. You have an EP.

The Young Thug thing came about, I got a phone call saying Young Thug had a record he wanted me to be on. So this is how it came about – I went to Atlanta and I had already started working on two things, similar to a lot of things that I do. When I work with an artist, I like to bring out a different side to the artist and I feel the artist has to bring out a different side to me. So that’s how it came about and it’s funny as I swear I haven’t put out a proper, commercial single in seven years. And in the states, it’s already like top 50.

Already in the top 50, and it was only released about two weeks ago. I understand you have Carnival Tree coming out next year as well. But before we go there, let’s rewind, you came from very humble beginnings in Haiti, you came to the states when you were 9 years old. How did music find you? What’s your story?

It started like humble beginnings for me, like Vybez Cartel. We had a dirt floor, that’s how poor we was at one time. So for me, when I got to America, at like 10 years old, was crazy. My father always thought I was gonna be a minister, you know. When I was 14 years old, my cousin went to a sound-system party and I went with him and I fell in love with sound-system music and at the same time, I was listening to hip hop. Years ago, in high school, I was spraying and the teacher was like ‘where are you learning that from?’ And I was like, from my friends. At the time, music seemed like survival to me. I saw myself in the university of music, you know. I never sing a song, I feel a song, you know. Anyone who’s focused on a movement, the art is just natural to them. How many people can sacrifice an entire career so say something that is unpopular but you know it’s right.

Usually when people get into music, they just want to make music but when you got into music, you wanted to create a movement. Even from an early age, you were thinking about not just yourself, and your individual career, you were thinking about how to involve and move other people. We mentioned the Fugees. Now, how did that group form? You fused hip hop and R&B, with reggae involved too.

Well the Fugees was a high school band. I used to make money in rap battles, I met Lauryn and realised she was incredible, with her singing. One day, Pras gave me a call and said ‘yo, I’m in the studio with two girls’. The Fugees was actually four people in the beginning, with two girls. We did it for two years, it doesn’t happen overnight, you know what I mean. Pras was one of my biggest mentors. It started in a basement in the hood.

Picture this, crack house to the left, gang members on the right, studio in the middle. We wanted to put something in the community. We was on one side and on the other side, there was another crew called the Outsiders. Akon, he was from my side. A lot of people don’t know but when you’re listening to the remix of ‘Fu-Gee-La’, that’s Akon on the remix. I want everyone to know the Fugees were not an overnight success. We’re from the hood. We said, whether we spit in Somalia, Britain or the favelas of Brazil, we’re gonna create something that brings it home.

For those that don’t know, the man himself, Wyclef Jean. We’re getting schooled. You’ve worked with some legends. I heard you even worked with the late, great Michael Jackson. Is that true?

Yeah, I spent some time with Michael. Michael called and I thought it was my friend playing a joke on me. Then he said he’s coming to New York. So Michael came to New York, came to see me at Tony’s studio. I was literally shaking in my boots. So it was a surreal moment. It sort of changed my life. He said something I’ll never forget, he said ‘Clef, you’re creative, so paint a picture for society, a symphony of life’.

You wrote an autobiography in 2012. A lot has happened since then. Is there going to be another book and what was the inspiration behind writing the book?

Long after I leave the earth, people will read that book but the book for me, was the first stage of therapy, because I didn’t have a psychiatrist after everything I went through in Haiti. Then when the earthquake happened, I got a call from George Clooney saying we should help out and be the face of it. That’s something I have a lot to say about.