Wyclef Jean is a man who shouldn’t need an introduction. But in the interest of everyone being on the same page, here’s a short one:
He was one-third of the seminal Grammy winning hip hop group The Fugees. The Fugees’ 1996 album The Score is one of the best-selling albums of all time. It’s best known single ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’ became an R&B anthem for an entire generation of music fans.
The Fugees broke up in 1997 at the height of their popularity, and Wyclef immediately launched a successful solo career with his debut ’97 album The Carnival.
Although he hasn’t released a studio album since 2009, he’s remained a busy artist ever since. He’ll release his eighth studio album this summer with The Carnival III.
I called Wyclef Jean early the morning of January 20th. A day already infamous for what went down in Washington, DC, ushering in a new era of American politics, and for American’s themselves.
Wyclef is sharp and chipper, my call no doubt sandwiched between a sea of other interviews he’ll be conducting for his new EP “J’ouvert”.
We speak about different things over the next few minutes, but the first thing I ask about is the 2016 version of his popular unreleased song ‘If I Was President’. It is Inauguration Day, after all.
It’s Inauguration Day in the States. You resurrected the song ‘If I Was President’ with a hilarious and somewhat touching music video just before the election. It’s obvious to me why this song was resurrected, but how important do these words become when America is in such a state of uncertainty?
Wyclef: Well, I did the song because of how tense things are in America. And I was like ‘look at the end of the day, we gotta break it up’. Because the politicians are always going to be the politicians. And once they finish doing what they do, it’s usually the people that suffer. So if you look at it right now, it’s the people that are divided because of what’s being said. And Obama is going to the Inauguration, Hilary Clinton is still going, you know? I think Bernie is still going. So the people that are fighting amongst themselves are the supporters. Politicians always find a way to work it out. So I wanted to just make that point and just lighten it up. So I made fun of everyone’s candidate.
You know, one of my favorite parts of Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is when you get the school kids together and sing ‘If I Was President’ with them. What are your hopes for this song and this EP at this point in time? Are you hoping to use it as a tool to repair some of that discord among the people, bring some hope back?
Wyclef: Well it’s like, Marvin Gaye had the song ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘What’s Going On’ just talks about the times. I’m an artist. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a commercial space or a dark space if there’s an issue I’m going to talk about it. So this (EP) is a celebration of my Caribbean culture, right? But at the same time, it starts off with ‘The Ring’, which is about a plane landing down in the Caribbean. And being in the Caribbean, it’s like an escape. But every once in a while, you turn on the TV and see what’s going on back at home and say, ‘I gotta get back home’. So for me, you still gotta face the election and you still gotta face the things that are going on back home. And until we change these policies, police are going to do what they do. That’s just how I see it.
J’ouvert is a French Caribbean term meaning dawn or daybreak. A new day, starting over, etc. You haven’t released music under your own name in a while. Why now? Is there something significant about this EP dropping at this particular point in time?
Wyclef: I mean it’s 2017. Every ten years I drop a Carnival, like an eclipse of the moon. And this is the twentieth year anniversary of The Carnival. And when I’m listening to, like Drake’s ‘One Dance’, and I’m a big fan of Drake, Drake was freestyling Wyclef at fourteen years of age. And I’m listening to Rihanna’s ‘Work’. Eighty percent of the sound that I’m hearing on the radio has like a Reggae-Caribbean undertone on it, you know? We named it Tropical House, right, but Tropical House is The Carnival, 1997, that’s where it started. And I’m always doing music, but to me, it just felt like after watching the tides, it felt like it was time to just jump back into the ocean, you know what I mean? And I knew I could surf this time, in the big ocean.
And The Carnival III, you’re still planning on dropping that this summer?
Wyclef: Yeah definitely, summer going into the fall. We got so much music, and it was important that we start with the grass roots movement, because we wanted the fans to really soak that up.
I want to ask before you go, the Young Thug video, which was an internet sensation last year and went viral immediately after it was released. There’s still people debating about whether it was real, a hoax, a stunt. What was your reaction when you first saw it?
Wyclef: Well Young Thug, that’s my homie. And I didn’t actually even know he was doing a video for the track until it dropped and I started getting all these calls from people like, ‘did you really give Thug $100,000 for that video?’ Haha. I was like, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about’. It’s a great video though and it’s great because it does what videos are supposed to do, you know? It does something different and makes people think.
Wyclef Jean’s latest album J’ouvert is out now so grab your copy today. Keep up with him online at: