Since his breakout moment as one-third of Fugees, Wyclef Jean has been a part of so many hits throughout his career that it can become easy to forget some of them.
For example, on the latest episode of their Drink Champs podcast, when N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN bring up Clef’s collaboration with Carlos Santana, 1999's chart-topping, GRAMMY-winning “Maria Maria,” I immediately had one of those "Oh yeah!" moments.
Anyone who listens to pop music today is surely familiar with the song considering it's heavily sampled on DJ Khaled’s Platinum-certified smash hit “Wild Thoughts” with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, but you might have completely forgotten (or not known) that Wyclef not only produced but also co-wrote the track alongside Santana.
Maybe I forgot, maybe I never knew in the first place, but upon discussing the inspiration for the song, Wyclef shared a factoid that I definitely didn’t know, and it blew my mind.
It turns out “Maria Maria” was partially inspired by Wu-Tang Clan. More specifically, it was inspired by “Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit,” the group’s seminal 1993 cut. In a display of pure musical brilliance, Wyclef breaks out his guitar and shows how a sample from the '70s cartoon Underdog, popularized by RZA of Wu-Tang Clan, made its way into a Latin pop smash hit.
"I'm a hip-hoppa but I'm a jazz major, meaning like I love jazz. Jazz is based on a composition, so I gotta set the scheme up. So there's a few schemes on that record, the other scheme is I'm a big fan of Wu-Tang Clan and I love the RZA. In that whole record, did y'all hear the part that sounded like Wu-Tang? So when I'm composing right? So the first part we composed was [plays main guitar riff] right? So that was the first zone you feel me? So then one of the things I thought one of the things the public would identify with with Santana as an instrumentalist... I was like what if I could take this RZA scheme... [Plays riff of “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F' Wit” sample] So my whole vibes be about the mashups, as a hip-hop student. I consider myself a hip-hop guitarist first."
The reaction of the whole room is one of surprise, disbelief, and resounding hype. N.O.R.E. even goes so far as to offer up his "hip-hop card" for not knowing that the “Maria Maria” riff was born from a Wu-Tang Clan sample.
In one moment, Wyclef not only further solidified himself as a true student of hip-hop culture in ways that permeate all of the music he has touched but let us know that he’s been subconsciously introducing new demographics to hip-hop through collaborations with artists outside the culture’s immediate reach.
Given this revelation, I must now go back and listen to everything Wyclef has ever produced to see what other insane Easter eggs I’ve been missing.
I suggest you do the same.