Lead Fugees rapper and sometime guitarist Wyclef Jean was the first member of his group to embark on a solo career, and he proved even more ambitious and eclectic on his own. As the Fugees hung in limbo, Wyclef also became hip-hop's unofficial multicultural conscience; a seemingly omnipresent activist, he assembled or participated in numerous high-profile charity benefit shows for a variety of causes, including aid for his native Haiti.
The utopian one-world sensibility that fueled Wyclef's political consciousness also informed his recordings, which fused hip-hop with as many different styles of music as he could get his hands on (though, given his Caribbean roots, reggae was a particular favorite). In addition to his niche as hip-hop's foremost global citizen, Clef was also a noted producer and remixer who worked with an impressive array of pop, R&B, and hip-hop talent, including Whitney Houston, Santana, and Destiny's Child, among many others.
Question: Does hip-hop reinforce racial stereotypes?
Wyclef Jean: I think Hip Hop culture is a representation of communities. So wherever you go, like you go here and you go to Pakistan, you go to Russia -- wherever you go and you look for the Hip Hop culture, it’s gonna be an expression of what that environment is going through. And the kids are probably gonna be talking about the topics of what’s going on within that environment. So, you know, you might be in the States and be like, “Yo, this rap’s stuff all about bling-bling, gangsters, and,” you know? But going to the environment and talk to these kids and ask them when’s the last time they came and built a school here. When has they put new buildings here? When they had -- so the kids stay on a corner and they fantasize about this luxurious lifestyle that we portray because it’s a imaginary world of what we wish we had. Because, you know, we can’t see past that because they’re not really helping the communities and bringing in people to really help change these communities.
Question: Is that imagined reality a sugar pill?
Wyclef Jean: Yeah. I think there’s two forms of imaginary world. There is the imaginary world where, you know, you watch the TV and you think you can get it like that. That’s killing the kids; that’s wrong, you know what I’m saying? Because I was imagining that I was gonna play at Madison Square Garden, but I was working in a fast-food restaurant. Okay, kids? So that’s the truth, which means, like, don’t think like you see a cat out there and you see the blings and the cars that all of a sudden they just did that. And then you can’t get that, you’re like, “Okay. Well, let me go and, you know, sell some more of this crack, you what I’m saying? ‘Cause this Rapper say he just sold crack.” Well, the rapper didn’t tell you sell crack, he ain’t selling crack no more, and if he does he’s going to jail. You understand? And after he told you he sold crack in the lyrics, he’s back in the nice mansion. So you go ahead and wanna emulate that, and then you’re in jail for 20 years. Think, homey.