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International superstar Wyclef Jean has sold over 100 million albums and 20 million singles worldwide, as well as being the recipient of three well deserved Grammy Awards®. Since his early beginnings with acclaimed New Jersey based Hip Hop trio, the Fugees, the native Haitian rapper-musician-actor has amassed an impressive catalog of hits; most notably “Gone Till November,” “911” and “Sweetest Girl,” while producing a string of award winning hits for the likes of Shakira, Carlos Santana and Whitney Houston, to name a few…
Let’s hop right into this single / video, “I Swear” — Tell me about this particular composition? How did it actually come to fruition?
I was in California in a session, with Marley Waters and JPatt from The Knocks, working on 3-4 records and the CEO of Heads Music, Madeline Nelson, came and asked me to write a song. When we were putting the EP together, the CEO reminded me about the record and said it would be a perfect fit for me and Thugger.
On it, of course, you teamed up with Young Thug — How did this unique/interesting collabo happen?
Thugger was working on a mix-tape, and he named one of his songs after me. He also featured me on the mix-tape on a song called “Kanye West.” The vibes were so strong after he played me some more material, and I could feel his pure songwriter style. I understood how talented this young man is, and I felt “I Swear” would be a great way for us to do something different, something fresh and new.
“I Swear” comes courtesy of your latest ‘J’ouvert’ EP — Conceptually, what does that title represent both to and for you?
“I Swear” represents a bond of loyalty. It’s the code of ethics and honor, that no matter what we are going through it’s going to be okay…based on everything…it can be about a relationship between a man and a woman, a father and daughter, two best friends…it’s just the idea of saying if we bond and we make an oath, do you got my back and do I got your back?
‘J’ouvert’ is a precursor of sorts to your long overdue forthcoming 8th solo studio collection, ‘Carnival III: Road To Clefication’ — At this point in time, what all can you reveal and/or divulge about said upcoming set?
The album is a continuation of ‘(The) Carnival.’ It starts off with the EP, which I call it the appetizer. The EP is my ground game, which prepares the younger generation for the ‘Carnival (Volume) III,’ and a continuation for my hardcore fans that have been waiting for a Fugees’ album and a ‘Carnival (Volume) III.’ I can’t promise y’all a Fugees’ album yet, but the ‘Carnival (Volume) III’ is here.
It’s been reported that for the LP you’ve assembled a pretty unique roster of talent; Walk The Moon, Afrojack, Emeli Sandé, Avicii, and, of course, the aforementioned Thugga — How did you even decide who would be the best fit for what exactly you were actually trying to accomplish?
Walk The Moon fit the EP because it still is the celebration of my Caribbean heritage, Pan-African, and for my hipsters who has the police synchronicity. They always say I’m half thug / half hippy, (so) when they hear the Walk The Moon record they’re definitely gonna dig that. Thugger “I Swear” was definitely an interesting one because no one saw that coming – that kind of track – but I knew that Thugger could deliver. John Lennon had “Imagine,” and Wyclef and Emeli Sandé have “Carry On”. We pushed Pusha T over to the album, Joey Bada$$ to the album…we want everyone to look out for the 2017 version of Daryl Hall, Wyclef (and) Pusha T’s “Rich Girl,” and I also spent a lot of time in the Middle East; got a joint called “Back From Abu Dhabi.” I’ve been digging in the crate, so you know it’s gonna get crazy!
How does the new material either differ and/or compare to previous Wyclef efforts?
There’s nothing new under the sun, but the sonic’s changed. Meaning the drums become more current/modern to the sonic’s of the drums, some of the synths, but the songwriting and the idea of the cleverness, the wittiness, the metaphors and hooks is Wyclef. The genesis of most of my music derives from piano or guitar for writing.
What particular string of events led to your current signing to eOne Music?
What led me to eOne was me signing with a small independent label, which I believe, is the future of all labels; it’s called Heads Music. It’s an all female ran staff; CEO female by the name of Madeline Nelson. The label basically did the heavy work and has turned down three distribution deals. Then, Shadow sent the song “I Swear” to Alan (Grunblatt), the president of eOne, and Alan was looking at The New York Times and saw an article, and saw I was releasing an EP…me and Alan have history from previous projects, so Alan reached out and that’s how eOne became the distributor.
‘Carnival III: Road To Clefication’ also signifies your “official” comeback, considering it’s your first new full length project since 2009’s From the Hut, to the Projects, to the Mansion — That said, what all had/have you been up to, both personally and professionally speaking, during this seven-plus years musical hiatus?
Well I was Gone Till November, but I didn’t know it was going to be that many Novembers! I went back to Haiti, was helping my country, I started a foundation, I ran for president of my country, they took me out the race, and then I went out to Sweden worked with Avicii and a few other people. These past couple of years, I’ve been working on an algorithm that takes everything that’s stereo and creates a surround sound – a 360 sound – a new way on how to listen to music…so in the process of still developing this, I found my way back to the music.
What was it – specifically – about now in 20-17 that prompted you to return to form [music]?
Well, if I die tomorrow there are 300 Wyclef unreleased records! Artists constantly are doing music, but for the reinvention you get inspired and ride the wave. So my daughter is 11 years old and she thinks her dad is cool, and I’m gonna always stay cool for her…and in this process, it leads me back to a commercial space…and in order to want to be in that commercial space, something has to inspire you or you will just keep doing music. So I would say definitely my daughter brought this inspiration.
With that being said, how has not only the industry itself, but even more-so you, either changed and/or evolved since your whole inception into music?
Even though the industry changed, there’s so much great music. You have to go online and search! There are so many great artists. I believe the landscape is so open and it’s refreshing and very energized, but you have to find it. Everything is at our fingertips. Unlike in ’96 when we was coming out, I had to go to the record stores and really dig to see what was coming out of Brazil, what was coming out in Africa. Now everything is at your fingertips.
Longevity, what do you attribute yours to?
I attribute it to three teachers; my gym teacher, my chorus teacher and my Jazz teacher. In high school I found jazz at an early age, and understood that the secret potion to Quincy Jones and a lot of the greats is that if you can make the conversion from Jazz to popular music then it’s invincible, because you can always redefine a generation. Because the genesis of a generation is the pulse of the youth, and when we put on those old Coltrane records, or the Miles Davis records, (The) Manhattan Transfer, it don’t matter what the era is, somehow those records can talk to a generation. Sometimes when I perform, I like to start off just playing Jazz because it’s a lot of the foundation. Everyone has an idol and someone they look up to, so production-wise I was always like, “Man, I want to be like Quincy Jones!” And in no way yet am I like Quincy Jones, but I plan to get there one day.
On a more serious note, are you happy with the current state of Hip Hop? And, even more specifically, where exactly do you “fit in” when it comes to today’s trending sound-scape?
You have Drake who reminds me of some of what I was doing in ’97 with the singing, the rhyming, (then) you have Kendrick Lamar who’s a straight spitter, who also reminds me of the way that we used to flow on ‘The Score’…J. Cole, you also have Thugger and Future, who basically is singing melodies…and I remember Fugees was doing all of this, and people were like that’s not Hip Hop! I think that our space is an infinite space. You can remaster ‘The Score’ or ‘The Carnival’ and put it out right now, and the kids are gonna think it’s a brand new record coming out because the relevancy of what we’ve done has been based on the culture.
What has been your greatest achievement(s) so far?
My greatest achievement has been the fact that I have been able to inspire millions of people from my homeland and getting the chance to at least put my name down to actually be part of president of my country, and inside of that I would never have been able to do that without the number one thing; I got into music because I wanted the unification, and today in this lifetime I am probably one of the most eclectic producers. Show me a rapper that can go from Johnny Cash singing “Delia’s Gone” on stage with T.I. on the plane, then with Lil Wayne, then with Shakira and then come back with Thugger.
In light of the election, you unveiled a brilliant updated version of your 2008 entry, “If I Was President,” where you hilariously took on the roles of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders — Now in the wake of it all, what are your thoughts on the current political climate?
Donald Trump’s the President so we gotta go with it, and once again he says he’s gonna be the president of all people. No one is sleeping. In my opinion, there was weakness on both sides; The Republicans and The Democrats, but The Republicans spread out that map, and it’s important to understand that this is the United States of America and it takes all of us to make it work. So that’s what it’s gonna take for us to move forward and unification.
Lastly, and I am pretty sure you’re sick of being asked this, but is there even a status with the Fugees? Do you, Lauryn and Pras still communicate these days? And, will we, the masses, finally ever get a full on proper reunion, either on stage and/or wax?
I’ve been asked this question one trillion times, and I’m gonna tell y’all the person who can get the Fugees back together, and we need need to start a petition on Twitter, is Dave Chappelle because he’s the one that brought the Fugees back to the Block Party. Dave Chappelle will sign first, I will sign second, and then we’ll get millions of people to sign petitions and I will deliver it to the Fugees…
Official Website: www.wyclef.com
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