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: What did you think of Obama’s speech on race?
Wyclef Jean: I mean, I think Obama gave a great speech on race. I could definitely relate to it because, you know, coming from Haiti, you know, you have, like, what’s still called the upper class and then what’s considered the lower class, you know what I’m saying? And sometimes, you know, because someone from the upper class makes it, the lower class wanna hate. And you say, “Where the hell is this hate coming from”? Like, why do they feel a certain way? Well, they feel that way because there’s nothing with being part of the upper class, but they take it back two generations or three generations before, and that hate is coming from the fact if they’re saying, “Well, our super-super ancestors were slaves,” you know, and we basically feel like we’re in the same position. So a lot of times when you see hate and the issue of race, you gotta ask yourself, “Where actually is this hate coming from”? No one is really making this hate up. Like, there was one time where people was really getting lynched. There was really one time [siccing] dogs on people. Like, there’s –- that’s Martin Luther King. He got shot. Like, this is for real. Like, there’s a time where people was angry, you understand?
And similar to Obama, I mean, what I feel is that -- you know, there’s Moses, right, and then Moses could go but so far. And then Moses looked and he said, Joshua, go ahead, handle it. So I feel like we’re the Joshuas of today. So I feel like being the Joshuas of today we gotta get past the old situation and moving forward for it to work. We all have to feel like we one race. I don’t know the last time you checked the economy. They don’t say, okay, well you’re not -- you losing your house because you’re white or you’re not losing your house because you’re black or you’re yellow. No. They’re like, “Yo, you can’t pay for this house.” We’re all in this thing together. So we need to get past this race issue and start dealing with reality.
Question: Is the new generation done?
Wyclef Jean: I think the new generation of Joshuas, like, we’re not done, but we need to start. And I think where we start at is unifying and really being one and really not waiting for things to be in a bad position to really talk about it, to really understand that we’re leaders. You can pick up a pen and write to Congress, you can e-mail if you don’t like certain things from the beginning because there is a real constitution and they need to respect the generation that’s coming up and that we’re dealing with that right now.
I think that’s very important, that you exercise your rights before something goes down, and that’s when you feel like you wanna deal with it. Then people don’t take you seriously ‘cause they’re like, “Oh, you only apply action when you feel it’s necessary.” We’ll, I feel that action is necessary all the time.
There’s so much things that are going on in the world -- from Africa, to Asia, to back in your own hometown where you are right now, you’re sitting in a community. You might not be happy with the community. Maybe you don’t want them to break that building down right there because that building represents a monument, something for the community. Well, talk about it. Write to the Mayor. You understand? Maybe you need more funds for the school, you don’t like the way this school is being treated. You like and you’re like, “Well, where is these funds for education”? Get together, rally with the kids, and talk about this. This -- you have -- this is what we have to do to start moving forward.