Wyclef Jean Interview
|Next Project:||From the Hut to the Projects to the Mansion EP|
|Twitter:||Wyclef Jean on Twitter|
|Website:||Wyclef Jean's Website|
Having helped to create the highest-selling album in hip-hop history, won multiple Grammys, collaborated with everyone from U2’s Bono to Carlos Santana and established a foundation to provide humanitarian aid to residents of his birth country, Wyclef Jean has accomplished more in his musical career to date than most do in an entire lifetime. Those who simply know Clef as a pop superstar, however, aren’t getting the whole story; long before the Fugees alum was an internationally-known recording artist and humanitarian, he was a hungry battle-rapper with his feet planted firmly on the streets. On his new, DJ Drama-hosted mixtape/EP, the emcee/singer/producer harks back to those days, stepping into the role of gritty yet noble revolutionary Toussaint St. Jean to tell us how he really feels about the ‘hood and the music industry.
Released November 10, via Carnival House/MegaForce/RED/Sony Music, From the Hut to the Projects to the Mansion is a hard-hitting effort with a sweeping, cinematic style, as evidenced by reader-approved features “We Made It,” “More Bottles,” “Warriorz” and “Suicide Love.” An epic experience in its own right, the EP also provides a tantalizing glimpse of one of the many personae Wyclef will inhabit on his forthcoming, self-titled full-length, set to drop in March of next year.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” Wyclef Jean steps into the Booth to discuss the possibility of a new Fugees album, why he and “Slumdog Millionaire” collaborator Cyndi Lauper were a match made in heaven, and how you can help revolutionize the industry as part of his new “Warriors” movement.
Listen to the Interview
Wyclef Jean Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy, “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is an artist, producer, philanthropist and humanitarian amongst his many, many titles. A man who has changed the world with both his music and his heart, please welcome one of my all-time favorites, the great Wyclef Jean – how you doin’?
Wyclef Jean: What up, Z? What’s good with you, family?
DJ Booth: What’s good with me is, I was traveling the last three days, and on my iPod was From the Hut to the Projects to the Mansion. It was like my own personal travel soundtrack.
Wyclef Jean: [laughs] Yeah, that’s how we went in, man! I really wanted that one to feel like a novel. I missed rappin’ a lot, know what I mean? Just doing a lot of big records and being, like I said on The Score, “Wyclef the multi-talented, average heads can’t handle it.” Sometimes I think, when I do so many big records, and I’m singin’ with Shakira, and writin’ all these big songs, I think people forget that the essence of what I do is From the Hut to the Projects to the Mansion, so we wanted to take it back for a minute, you know?
DJ Booth: I read that you based loosely the character of Toussaint on the 18th century Haitian revolutionary hero, Toussaint L’Overture. Was it difficult to create music under a separate persona?
Wyclef Jean: Not at all, because the same way that you see that I’m rapping about, like, on “The Streets Pronounce Me Dead,” when I say, “The streets say it’s been a while since they heard me spit/ they said I spit so hard my ghostwriter must be Canibus/ But far from it, this is how I started/ But my battle raps couldn’t get me groceries from the supermarket.” What a lot of people don’t know is that Wyclef started off as a battle rapper, when he decided that he would rhyme.
DJ Booth: You mentioned “The Streets Pronounce Me Dead.” It has a very epic feel to it. Upon first listen, I got the feeling that you were using this song to maybe unleash a few years’ worth of pent-up emotions about your journey. Was this song a chance to just really exhale?
Wyclef Jean: This is definitely an exhale. When you’re gonna exhale on a track – and big shout-out to my man DJ Drama, of course, and V12, who came with the track for this one – you can’t sound mad. You’ve gotta exhale a flow where it just feels good. It’s like, if you go in the ring and box and you’re angry, you’re gonna lose the match. So, that track just felt like I could’ve just talked to hip-hop about, like, “I know what you’re thinking, but this is what it really is.”
DJ Booth: You mentioned what Wyclef and Toussaint have in common, but what makes them different?
Wyclef Jean: Toussaint is just an extension of Wyclef, you know? ‘Cause Wyclef is Wyclef, Wyclef Jean is Wyclef Jean, but inside of Wyclef Jean you’ll find Toussaint. Like “Flatbush Avenue,” “I heard ‘em say you should walk away.” And Toussaint tells the tales of the ghetto, and the tales of the heart, and Wyclef more keeps it international.
DJ Booth: When someone comes up in this world, as we both know, they often discard their past and focus only on their successes and their future. What has allowed you, for all these years, to stay so grounded?
Wyclef Jean: Really, I would say I get it from my dad. He was in the hood, he was a minister, and he would always put churches in the ghetto. Right in front of my eyes, I’d see men get blown away all the time in the hood, and my dad would say, “Look how funny it is – one second a man is talkin’, then he returns to dirt. And what happens is we’re all gonna return to dirt, so at the end of the day we’re all equal. The first thing you must learn is to always treat a man and a woman with total respect and honor, ‘cause if you do that, the legacy you will leave behind will be work. And it will be true work that the kids can follow, as opposed to a facade of you doin’ something, and you’re doin’ nothing.”
DJ Booth: Absolutely. Well, as the old expression says, actions speak louder than words, and you have done more than just talk about it.
Wyclef Jean: That’s right, you hit it right there.
DJ Booth: One of the best attributes I believe that you contain as an artist is your ability to tell a story through your music, but never compromise your artistry in the process. When you are writing your material, how do you go about painting what really is a stunning, vivid portrait?
Wyclef Jean: Well, the tip is, I never write it down until the actual song’s finished. Then I type it down, you know what I mean. I’ll usually just be walking around the studio and seeing the picture, and as I see the picture I run in the booth and I lay it down. Sometimes the picture can come in six bars, 12 bars, 16 bars, sometimes they come in 64 bars. So I lay it down as I see it, and I’m always walking around and I’m imagining the area of what I’m talking about. That’s why, when I go into the booth and I spit it, it sounds so vivid.
DJ Booth: Do these thoughts ever come to you outside the studio? I keep a pen and a pad next to my bed, because I have some of the most crazy dreams that inspire stuff.
Wyclef Jean: No, most of the joints do not come from the studio. I’ve never really [written] something that was inspired… I mean, out of everything I wrote, maybe 10 songs came from the actual studio. Everything comes from walking around, seeing different things, you know what I mean? You might see a female, and she triggers something, or you see an old lady walking down the street, she triggers something. You go to Africa, you see the vibes, that triggers something.
DJ Booth: I saw that you had plans to author a tell-all memoir about your journey from nothing to something. What do you hope this memoir can accomplish, and your story out there?
Wyclef Jean: Yeah, I think the memoir I’m doin’ – the first memoir I’m doin’, ‘cause I’m plannin’ to do a few – for this one I wanted to focus on, how did I get from A to B, and it’s more a story which I wanted to be about Wyclef, the grandson of a voodoo priest, the son of a preacher, the nephew of a mason, to show how the spiritual balance of, no matter what I’m goin’ through, I could still exist. It’s important, when you see darkness, to understand that there’s light ahead of that, and I’m the living testimony of that, you dig?
DJ Booth: How often do you take that proverbial step back, and kind of look over your career and all that you’ve accomplished, both inside and outside of music?
Wyclef Jean: I always look outside. I always look up to people like Quincy Jones, and know that I haven’t accomplished nothing yet – I have a long way to go.
DJ Booth: Absolutely, there’s always more to attain. In addition to this EP, you also have a brand new, self-titled studio album that’s set to tentatively drop this upcoming spring. Is the character that you developed through your own real life, Toussaint, on this project, going to live on in your future work, or is this the last that we’ve heard of him?
Wyclef Jean: I think Toussaint will definitely always appear, whenever it’s the rhyming side and the hip-hop, you’ll always hear Wyclef, a.k.a. Toussaint. And I’m hoping some stuff spawned from that EP and can make it over to the album. That will be great, ‘cause the album will be a bigger audience picking it up.
DJ Booth: Now, obviously, you have several guest features on this project. Should we expect Cyndi Lauper to also appear on the album, or was this the one-time collaboration thing?
Wyclef Jean: No, I love Cyndi. “Slumdog Millionaire” is one of my favorite joints but, like I said, the EP is really a mixtape EP, so I think some of the stuff from the EP – like, right now on iTunes, the way that the Cyndi Lauper [collaboration] is reacting, it’s a great song to go on the actual album, because that’s something you wanna see Cyndi come out and perform in a stadium with me, you know what I mean?
DJ Booth: Absolutely. In your career, you have produced for and recorded with hundreds of artists. What made you think, “OK, ‘80s starlet Cyndi Lauper, we need to collaborate on this song?”
Wyclef Jean: I knew I was going really dark on this CD, I would go really hood. When I hear girls like M.I.A., all of those swags remind me of Cyndi Lauper; like, Cyndi Lauper is that original “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” tone. I wanted it to have an ‘80s sonic in the voice in it, and I figured, often imitated, never duplicated – let’s get Cyndi Lauper.
DJ Booth: Now, when you thought about who would be the best person for this, could you ever imagine that you’d get her on the track and then you’d perform it on the David Letterman show, and that it would just feel so organic and natural, when you have two artists who have never worked together, from, really, different generations coming together?
Wyclef Jean: I had never worked with Cyndi Lauper, but I had always envisioned, when I was in the hood, doing a song with her. She always lived in the soundtrack of my little room, you know what I mean? Going up there with her and really talking about how we were going to perform this song, and the chemistry, it just gelled, and the magic happened, ‘cause it’s artists that I’m fans of, you know? If it was someone I wasn’t a fan of, and I just tried to put them on a record, there’s no way you would’ve gotten a performance like Letterman. When you see it, you’re like, “Damn, they must have been performing together for 20 years!” That was really our first time onstage. We just rehearsed at the Letterman show and then we went.
DJ Booth: Well, it looked like you had a lot more experience than that working together, I can tell you that much.
Wyclef Jean: [laughs] Yeah, she’s the bomb. I love her.
DJ Booth: Were you a “Time After Time” fan, also? That was my favorite Cyndi Lauper song.
Wyclef Jean: Come on, man, you know “Time After Time” is the one! [laughs]
DJ Booth: Absolutely – I was hoping you’d agree with me. Considering all that you’ve accomplished thus far, how do you go about setting new goals, not just inside of music but out, with all the work that you do.
Wyclef Jean: Right now, my next movement is a movement called The Warriors. And The Warriors is a movement I started on my Twitter, then I moved to my Facebook. It’s @wyclef; over a million people follow me on Twitter.
DJ Booth: Including me!
Wyclef Jean: And the movement has to start with 25 thousand people. And the reason why we’re warriors is that we rise to the occasion; anyone that’s felt like the system put them down, and then they rose to the occasion, they’re a warrior. It’s not about whether you come from the hood or you come from the suburbs, you know what I mean? It’s about reality and life. So we’re looking for 25 thousand people to join the movement.
DJ Booth: Well, hopefully the people listening to this interview will be inspired by all that you are about, all you do, and this project, and join on. I’m a Warrior, I’m already a certified Warrior.
Wyclef Jean: Yeah, you’re a Warrior, baby, I respect that one hundred percent.
DJ Booth: One down, 24,999 to go.
Wyclef Jean: No problem! [laughs]
DJ Booth: Clef, I announced on Twitter that you’d be joining me inside the Booth for the interview, and immediately I got flooded with, “Ask him about the Fugees! Is there ever gonna be another Fugees album?” I’m sure you get this question asked weekly. Am I right?
Wyclef Jean: Yeah. And it’s actually a good question, because people within hip-hop don’t really care about groups like that, you know what I mean? Once you’re done in hip-hop, you’re done. But somehow the Fugees is the soundtrack to everyone’s house. What I’m hoping is that this group really gets inspired by the new movement that I’m on right now, with the whole Warriors movement, the new music that I’ve got comin’ out, the movement with the youth, and I’m hoping they’ll get inspired and be like, “Yo, let’s find Clef and let’s get this thing crackin’.” And it would be an honor to go in and make it a super album.
DJ Booth: Well, you know what? I want everybody to find out more about everything you have goin’ on. Give them a website, a MySpace page, again, your Twitter account, so they can be a part of The Warriors movement with the great Wyclef.
Wyclef Jean: Yeah, the Warriors movement is at twitter.com/wyclef. You can go there, you can hit the tic-tac-toe, and put “#wyclefwarriors,” and you can follow me. And if you wanna be a warrior, you can hit “I wanna be a warrior,” and then we’ll start following you. And when we follow you, we will DM, and just basically give you information on how we plan to revolutionize the music industry. Once we revolutionize the music industry, then we can revolutionize our communities and everything in the world, ‘cause what happens is, the communities are listening to the music. So, once we revolutionize that, everything is gonna [fall into] place. So now, we need to reinvent everything – that’s what I’m on right now.
DJ Booth: And, you know what? For about a year, I have been complaining about how artists do not know the right way to utilize their Twitter account – it seems that you’ve kind of written the gameplan for how to actually do that.
Wyclef Jean: Yeah, in four months I got a million [followers] on Twitter. On Sundays I give the sermons like my dad used to give. I utilize it as a revolutionary tool, as a thinking tool, as a tool where I can recruit people, DM them, and give them information that I feel that they need going forward.
DJ Booth: I will do my best to make sure that my 10 thousand followers become Wyclef followers. I know that I’m 990 thousand away, but I’ll do what I can.
Wyclef Jean: Yeah, you got it, man, a hundred percent. Keep in mind: true revolution is only seven people, right? And when you’re talkin’ about a great man, you’re not talking more than one person. It’s not about how many people are followin’ you, it’s about the fact that you’re a great man, that’s all it’s about.
DJ Booth: I couldn’t agree with you more, Clef. It’s been an honor and a privilege to have you join me for this interview, and I wish you nothing but the best of continued success throughout your career.
Wyclef Jean: Respect, my brother, nothing but respect, man.