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 is the Yéle Foundation?
Wyclef Jean: Yéle, Y-E-L-E -- we have a foundation and a website, Yéle, Yele.org. It’s a foundation I started a few years ago, and we started it because we wanted to bring self esteem back to Haiti, and currently 7,000 kids have scholarships. We started something which is called Hip Hop [Ensete], Hip Hop for Health, mobile clinics going throughout Haiti giving people HIV tests, giving them condoms, but through music. There’s also a Children Prison program where we’ve went into these prisons where there’s kids, introduced chess, took over the prisons -- put more beds, basketball courts -- and these kids are reading. And every time I go down there tears come to my eyes because I knew how it was in the beginning. A lot of these kids was in gangs, most terrible violence you could thing about. And Yéle is actually - the movement is really working, and it’s -- the greatest thing is when I look at a kid, and I noticed that I can rise his self esteem. Because someone rose my self esteem, that’s why I’m here. That’s Yéle.
Topic: Making sure it works
Wyclef Jean: Well, the first thing is we have a documentary coming out which is called “Cry Haiti,” and this is my work on the ground for the past three years. I didn’t leave the ground until I felt that the people on the ground understood what we was doing and we was training. So I kept going back and forth, back and forth, and now I feel like we have a great team on the ground, we have a great [NGOs]. But to get it, it took three years of me going back and forth to Haiti. A lot of times when you’re starting foundations, for it to really work you have to be hand-on for the first couple of years, and right now it’s a natural will. It’s moving.