Wyclef Jean interview.

Named after an English theologian and an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church, Haitian-born singer, guitarist and producer, Wyclef Jean shot to stardom whilst making up one third of hip hop group, The Fugees. After releasing six highly successful albums, his seventh outing, Carnival 2: Memoirs of an Immigrant, is set to rock our shelves on its release in December.

Here he speaks exclusively to CLASH about his new album, MySpace and his charity foundation Yele Haiti. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Wyclef Jean.

First up, tell us about your new album.

Well, you know how Carlos Santana has Supernatural and Quincy Jones has Back On The Block? Well, this is Wyclef Jean, Memoirs of an Immigrant.

This is the song-writing EP that everybody has been waiting for, where I go ahead and put all this mad music together and then find the sickest cast to perform on a piece of music. It’s crazy!

Why should people buy it?

People should buy this album because it’s the only one that you can play from beginning to end.

In the past, you’ve collaborated with Mary J, Destiny’s Child, Xzibit and Shakira, just to name a few. Collaboration wise, what are we to expect on this album?

I won’t really call them collaborations. Collaborations often occur when you call someone and be like, ‘Yeah let’s collab.’ However, with this album, I already had the vibes written and the energy in place and I just went and found a believable cast. So you can expect Wyclef and T.I. you know? T.I. comes in over a guitar that Wyclef is playing. Wyclef sings on the right side of the speaker whilst T.I rhymes on the left side. Every time I sing a line he rhymes a line. It’s sick!

We also have Chamillionaire on a joint called Immigration cause it’s a serious topic back home in Haiti, and of course the return of Mary J and Wyclef with the 911 everyone is waiting for.

What about yourself and Shakira?

The Clef and Shakira rhythm is a new sound I’ve come up with called the Columbian Swing. It’s a sound that has a bit of an Indian twang to it. It’s mad, trust me. It’s a single called The King and I.

You’ve also worked with Akon. Why did you choose Sweetest Girl as the first single off the album?

The music game is like a game of chess. Akon and I go back in the days of the Fugees. He is kind of like my little brother. He even flew 26 hours to come a do the video. It’s like, I’m from Haiti and I have a style and he is from Africa (Senegal) and he has his style. When I heard his sound, heard his flow, I knew that we had to work together at some point. For me, the first joint had to be perfect and feel right. We both had to do a record together so people can understand the swagger, “This is what Clef does. Now we understand.” Think of it as Haiti with Senegal.

We also have Weezy from New Orleans. It was the best of swaggers put together, but on a record where we can actually sing and you can feel the emotion. It’s some real stuff being talked about.

Music aside; you’ve also started up your own foundation called Yele Haiti. Could you give us a little info on what it is about?

I was raised in Haiti and I moved to New York when I was 10 years-old. We started this foundation because there’s a lot of gang violence in my country, kids fighting and what not. I wanted to go in and talk to these guys and give them alternative programmes.

So I went in and gave them just that, as well as sponsorship for schools. We empowered the youth where they had to give up their firearms and in return we produced recordings from them. I have a television station so I was able to put them on T.V. Then they were able to sell their CDs and become like a natural network.

What a clever idea!

I know. It’s like, you can’t just say to a youngster ‘Give me your gun.’ You have to work on programmes and show alternatives because a lot of people are saying, ‘Give me this, give me that.’ It’s also beyond the kids. You have to empower the community.

People should buy this album because it’s the only one that you can play from beginning to end.

How can your fans get involved?

The way you can get involved is by giving donations via the website Yele Haiti

Could you give us a success story from one of your projects?

Yeah man! One project was aimed at helping child soldiers. These kids were forced to murder adults and they’re like 8-years-old. I went to prison to visit these kids and to see what they were on about.

We developed the prison and made it more spacious and we also introduced chess to the children. I knew these kids were very smart and they were using their minds to manipulate a negative situation. So I was like ‘If we can reverse their thinking, because they are little, and have them take towards a positive way,’ and I swear, some of these kids are becoming little chess masters. You wouldn’t believe it!

When was the last time you googled yourself?

Today on the train! I took the train to London and I had to Google myself to prove to this guy that I was Wyclef Jean and he said, ‘What are you, a rapper’ and so I googled myself in to prove it.

Who is the most famous person in your phonebook?

The most famous person in my phonebook has got to be Nelson Mandela.

If you could put laxatives in anyone’s tea, whose would it be and why?

It would have to be my ex-managers tea because he’s taking too much of a percentage!

What would you do if you were invisible for a day?

I would go around and have sex with some of the baddest chicks!

Carnival 2: Memoirs of an Immigrant is released December 4th on SonyBMG.


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