Wyclef Jean: Rebel Without A Pause
Jean has more classic albums than most, and worked with every relevant recording artist from Whitney Houston to Mick Jagger. His musical agility has also led him to create his first ever mixtape EP, a retail project with DJ Drama, Wyclef Jean A.K.A. Toussaint St. Jean From The Hut To The Projects To The Mansion. Blessed with an exceptional talent and remarkable hit making ear, it is no wonder that so many find 'Clef’s sound pleasing. When peeling back the layers of his multi-tasking routine you will also find that Jean has his hands full with endorsements and a new book deal.
To be the helping hand that extends instead of retracts even when the circumstances are proven unbearable for most has made Wyclef a universally recognized giant among ants. He is that somebody, whose fame and influence has proven to be long lasting. HipHopDX was fortunate enough to speak with Wyclef for the first time in over four years, about his new musical aims and the many improvements towards peaceful advancements under his belt.
HipHopDX: You’re a major humanitarian. So many artists give back by just cutting a check, why was it still so important for you to sink you heels into the dirt and remain hands on with your outreach efforts.
Wyclef Jean: I mean I’m from the hut, to the projects, to the mansion. Like I said, at the end of the day we all gonna go back to the dirt. So you have two choices on Earth: you can either choose to do something and be relevant to the race that comes up after you, or you can just sit around and die with all of the wealth you’ve got. I was always raised on the gift of giving back. That’s just the righteous thing to do.
DX: Would you say that today’s immigrants still experience a level of discrimination upon arriving here in the United States while attempting to integrate into the American way of life or is that factor a thing of the past?
Wyclef Jean: No, it’s definitely not a thing of the past! Immigrants still got it rough. Wherever they’re coming from, there’s always the stereotype and they always have to work very, very hard to over prove themselves.
DX: I know The Timberland Company just announced an endorsement and partnership with you that will create a catalyst movement for the environment and help focus with the restoration in Haiti. This is a big deal with the joint efforts with you foundation, and the tour support, and social media campaigns. How did this development come to you?
Wyclef Jean: I mean everything that I do is always about social entrepreneurship. There has to be natural elements. Jeff Swartz, the head of Timberland basically saw the movement I was doing online with Yele Haiti. He and I sat and we had a conversation and we really kicked it off. We got the deal towards tree planting and with two dollars going to Haiti for every boot sold. That alone shows a progress in Haiti that has never been seen in history.
DX: As the Ambassador of Haiti, I’m sure your actively engaged in many political aspects. We saw Hip Hop really intertwine with politics this year during the election do you see this as an area that will continue to boom within our music?
Wyclef Jean: It’s always gonna be the area that booms within our music of Hip Hop because that’s the source of information that doesn’t compromise feelings. Hip Hop will tell you exactly how it feels when it feels like it.
DX: So there’s word that you’re working on a memoir. What made you feel that it was time to open up to the public through a literary outlet? Will you address the Fugees in the book?
Wyclef Jean: Coming from where I came from, and being one of the only Haitian entertainers to make it where I’ve made it to, I think when people read the memoir they will better learn the story. And you know it’s going to be several books. I just felt like it was time to do the first one. Wyclef Jean’s name is more famous than Wyclef, so I was like yeah I gotta go ahead and lay out the first story. In the first book, there’s no way that I can’t mention The Fugees [click to read] because that was done inside of the basement in my uncle's house and that plays a crucial part of the Wyclef Jean story, period.
DX: You’re a widely successful producer, so what new projects are you working for other acts that you’re excited about?
Wyclef Jean: Really, right now I’m just so excited about the whole online movement. I just started a movement called The Warriors. Through the Warriors with my Twitter and Facebook, I’m just finding so much talent that’s online that’s incredible. I’m finding not only artists online, but also painters, people who do movies that are looking for scores for film, all these kinds of things.
DX: Everyone has a gift yours happens to be a genius at making great music. How are you able to refresh your drive and find the inspiration to continually be creative?
Wyclef Jean: I mean people really be like, “How do you stay on it?,” and I’m like, "My inspiration is people." When you travel the world you see the movement of people and it lets you know your job ain't done. When you go to places like Africa and you see the little kids walking around on one side you, know it’s poverty, and on the other side you know it’s rich and it makes you feel like man, “Why is the only side I’m seeing in the press just the bad side?” It’s just things like that.
DX: Tell me about the mixtape EP that you’re working on?
Wyclef Jean: The first project coming out is the EP on November 10, it’s the mixtape with DJ Drama [click to read]. It’s my first Hip Hop mixtape ever! With it I created an alter ego his name is Toussaint based off the revolutionary (Toussaint L'Ouverture). The name came when I was working with T.I. [click to read] like two or three years ago. I was like, "Yo, I’m going to have an alter ego cause I feel like rhyming again. I’m going to call it Toussaint," and T.I. was like, "Nah, call it Toussaint St. Jean and throw some swagger on that thang." The first tape I got coming out is called From The Hut To The Projects To The Mansion. It’s a big deal because I stopped everything and just went back to rhyming like the past six months. I felt like it was important to pause and do this before moving on. This is my payback to Hip Hop. No matter what level you see me get to, without this level, I would have never been who I am so it is a big deal!
DX: Every artist has their pet peeves when it comes to their recording process and equipment. I always hear artist bragging on which mic they used during a session. What microphone do you have a preference to use while recording?
Wyclef Jean: Microphones are irrelevant to me I’m more of a sonic junkie. I just love sounds.
DX: You can play a lot of instruments what is the one instrument that you would like to learn to play?
Wyclef Jean: The trombone.
DX: The Michael Jackson film “This Is It” comes out on Wednesday are you making it a must see, do you have any expectations towards the film?
Wyclef Jean: Yeah I’m definitely going to see it. I’m going to be in Bermuda with Quincy Jones, so I’m going to see the premier that Wednesday night with Quincy.
DX: "Perfect Gentleman" was way ahead of its time. Looking at the Electro-Pop and Top 40 hits in Rap in 2009, how do you look at that record recorded a decade earlier?
Wyclef Jean: Really, I think that record should have gotten more credit than it did because it set up a whole trend for a lot of ways. But that’s totally what I do, I like to push the envelope and go further. People can go back and listen to “Perfect Gentleman” and be like, "Damn, 'Clef was doing that then," that’s cool.
DX: We see Will.i.am remain connected to the Los Angeles underground Hip Hop community. As the man who introduced the world to The Outsidaz, made hits with Diamond D, John Forte, etc., how do you stay connected to underground Hip Hop?
Wyclef Jean: For me, I’m hoping back into the connections for underground Hip Hop. I just got back in the studio with [John] Forte [click to read], by the way and we’re supposed to be doing some stuff together. But I’m hoping to take the lead back so they know I didn’t forget them. We’ve got open arms and I would love to do some more work on the underground.