Wyclef Jean on Haiti Earthquake, The Fugees, His Foundation and Lauryn Hill
Ex-Fugees Superstar’s Memoir Deals With Haiti Earthquake, The Fugees, His Foundation and Lauryn Hill
Story by Terry Shropshire
Photos by Keith Major for Steed Media Service
Wyclef Jeanelle Jean was just fine as long as he understood his place in society — and stayed in it. He was good to go as long he was just churning out hit records with assembly line precision, and he was all right when he was the first artist to unveil the Haitain flag onstage at the Grammy Awards, music’s highest and most-watched awards program.
But as soon as the ex-Fugees superstar began seeing himself as more than just another musician who entertained the masses, he was inviting trouble into his life. When Jean began to form an exploratory committee to run for the office of president of Haiti, the forces guarding Western Civilization’s status quo began to move against the Caribbean-born musician, he says. Jean details the events leading up to, and the aftermath, of the devastating earthquake, the debacle surrounding his foundation that worked on recovery and rebuilding efforts, and his aborted run for president of the country in his debut book, Purpose.
The Haitian American rapper, singer, record producer and politician also uses the platform of the book to refute a plethora of other misconceptions, misinterpretations and outright misinformation that have spilled into cyberspace about the star since the Yele Foundation was under federal investigation for fraud. He also takes pains to detail the history of The Fugees and the love triangle which found him torn betweet his wife and Lauryn Hill.
What was the motivation behind penning the book and what message were you trying to get across to your fans and readers?
First of all I never wanted my first book to come out before I was over 40, which … was important because I didn’t feel like I did enough. And I still feel like I didn’t do enough. And when the book came out, I [felt] like I would be mad old. I was like no, no, push the book back. Wait till I’m 50. Then I said no. This book is important. You come from the hood and you’re from the projects … you gotta read this book because whatever you think, [wherever] you’re going, and if you feel like I gotta be on that corner, ”I gotta sell that crack Clef, I don’t care what you’re saying, I gotta get this money right now, I gotta have these big watches, I need these blings. I need them now.” And then I’m gonna just tell you, you really gotta read this book because, you from the projects and I’m from the hut, right? The projects got bricks, right? The hut don’t got no [sic] bricks. The projects got some form of electricity. The hut don’t got no [sic] form of electricity. So, what I’m trying to explain to you is: coming from Haiti and landing in the projects, I felt right. Because what happens is, the only thing that nobody could take away from me, no matter what ’hood you come from or what ’burb you come from, is the imagination to dream and to make that dream become a reality. You gotta understand, when I was in that village in the ’hood, they were like ”America! America! It’s gonna be big!” And we just kept that dream alive. So when I got to America, what I did was that I took that sense of purpose. And the reason I decided to go back to my country after I made it was to show them that. … Some people leave the country and never go back. You feel what I’m saying? But the idea was to take a piece of that dream back to my home country, ya dig?
People talk about moving from one city to another as culture shock. But you describe in your book the rough transition it was moving from one country to another and not speaking the language.
My culture shock was I was in the hut, and from the hut I came to the projects and I could not speak any English. They put me in school and I [had] to adapt and I [had] to adjust. And a lot of the ways I started learning [to speak] English naturally was through rap music … hip-hop gave me a sense of belonging. … It didn’t matter whether you were from Puerto Rico or Cuba or Haiti, as long as you [could] break-dance, you [could] rhyme, you [could] sing, you [could] pop lock, you just felt like you were entering something. What hip-hop and reggae did for me, it gave me an entry and help[ed] me deal with the [culture] shock … but where I found my culture, my true culture, was inside this music.
During the Yele Foundation controversy, there were a lot of things that were said and a lot of negative innuendos striking at your character and motivation. Your book breaks down what really happened.
Basically, my book’s purpose is that … there was so much stuff on me online. Every day there was a Wyclef story. “Yo, what happened to Wyclef’s foundation?” or “Why did Wyclef steal money from his foundation?” No, but at the end of the day you still read it, and half of the people believed it. … social media has that kind of power over you. So guess what? You get to hear firsthand from the man’s mouth. What I’m gonna tell you is if you got ears, pay close attention to what I’m telling you. If you watch a movie called J. Edgar , you will understand exactly what happened to me. When a man decides that he’s no longer just going to be a singer, and he decides that he’s gonna take a whole nation and put it on his back and ride with that nation, then you better get ready for it. Because all kinds of things gonna be planted; they gonna find all kind of faults. At the end of the day I found my purpose. Like my daddy said, ”As long as my hands are clean, then [I’m] gonna be clean.” Peep it with the book. When I was a Fugee and I ran and I put the flag on my back, that was the first time America [saw] the Haitian flag at the Grammys. So it was cool then, but it wasn’t cool once I decided that I was gonna run for president. So the irony [is] once [you] decide [on] that other plan, then you gotta deal with that J. Edgar Hoover system.
You also talk in detail about the origins of The Fugees, which produced one of the best-selling rap albums of all time.
We talk about The Fugees. Lots of people wanna know about The Fugees, what happened. Everything you[’ve] seen on social media, you get to hear it firsthand as opposed to people just putting stuff up on social media. [There’s been a] lot of talk of marital affairs and different women I’ve been with and certain things that pop up on blogs. … If you listen to my music, my music is pure. I say exactly what I feel. So I never come to you like some angel, you know what I’m saying? When people read the book, [they’re] gonna be like, “Yo, Clef is mad funny” because it’s a very witty book. It’s not something [that] feels serious. At times, though, it gets very, very serious. When I had to go back to Haiti and go back to the earthquake [site]and pick those bodies up from the floor, that was a serious moment. When I knew that a kid was going to die and he looked at me … I had to give him comfort.
Other topic broached in the book:
His complex relationship with former Fugee bandmate Lauryn Hill: “I heard about the little drama she got in, in the news. I’m wishing her better on that. You know? Actually, I was on the phone with Pras earlier. It’s all good. Nothing but love for The Fugees,” he said. ”I am with Lauryn Hill all the way. I am just a phone call away. If she needs me, I am there.”