Ready or Not: The Wyclef Jean Interview

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Wyclef Jean can’t sit still. The Haiti-born, New Jersey-raised musician has always been an overachiever. But while success can sometimes dampen the fire, Wyclef has never indicated he’s happy to rest on laurels. He is always seeking new inspiration.

Since forming the seminal Grammy winning hip hop act, The Fugees, and duly releasing one of the best-selling albums of all time, The Score, Wyclef has embarked on a critically-acclaimed solo career that has seen him release seven studio albums to date and new music on the way. And then, the earthquake. When Haiti was hit by a truly devastating quake in 2010, Wyclef threw his hat in the ring to become the next president. Despite being removed from the race due to a technicality, Wyclef has maintained his presence in the country and contributes through various aid programs.

Given that time – especially in Wyclef’s case – is the most precious commodity; we were absolutely delighted to welcome the enigmatic musician to this year’s Bread & Butter.

We caught up with Wyclef before the festival to discuss his hopes for his first visit to B&&B, how he is still contributing to rebuilding his home country, and his many aspirations for the future.

What are you looking forward to most during Bread & Butter? 

I’m looking forward to the idea of seeing the latest fashion trends. Overall, I’m looking forward to [my] most favourite thing in the world – indulging in different cultural experiences: everything from the fashion, the food to the live music. 

What are your hopes for your Bread & Butter talk?

I just want to leave there with the community getting inspired. I want them to believe they can accomplish anything they set their mind to – don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do. You can do everything. I want them to be inspired by my Cinderella story. 

How much does your style play into the persona you project when you’re performing onstage?

Being from a hip hop/reggae culture, everything is about being fresh. What we mean by that is this: from the swag of the hat, the jacket, all the way down to the sneakers, you gotta be fresh…Being fresh is one of the top priorities of what we do; that neighborhood thing. That idea of, “who is freshest on the block?” The same way we mix up the music is the same way we mix up the fashion.

The first sneakers you bought were a $1.99 pair of Jeepers Creepers from a Flatbush knock-off store. What were the last sneakers you bought?

Black Paciotti sneakers.

What is the most stylish city you’ve ever visited?

One of the most stylish cities would have to be Paris.  

We understand you’ve spent a lot of time in Stockholm making music. What is it about Europe that appeals to you?

For me it’s just the international reach; Europeans have this open-mindedness about them. They want to hear new music as well as classics. The thirst for wanting to constantly know more about music – rock, hip hop, house, country, just being part of the innovation of the game, is always there. It’s dope.

Having worked with the likes of Lauryn Hill and Beyoncé before they got big, you have a history of developing talent. Are there any new names we should look out for being developed in the Wyclef stable?

Definitely. The people that got next are a few: Jazzy Amra, J’mika, Hannah Eggen, Wavie Gang and Riley.

You have done a lot of work in Haiti. What is the biggest cultural influence the country has had on you?

The art as well as the roots of the music passed on down generation to generation, from family to family.

What’s the boldest thing you’ve done creatively?

After The Score, I put Carnival out in five languages in 1997. I put myself out there by putting an album out that mixes all of the cultures: from Afro beat, to salsa, to country, to reggae to everything. It was one of the boldest and biggest moves I’ve made.

In September you’re releasing your first full length album in eight years, Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee. Was this album and the topics you explore in it a reaction to the current political climate?

Well, my music is inspired by Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix…. so for me, the social undertone of my music is not something I ever think about too hard. It just is. There are two songs that I think are a reflection of the political climate, though.

One of the songs on the album, “Borrowed Time” expresses that, at end of day, life is too short to stress the small stuff. The next one I think falls into that is, “Carry On,” which features Emily Sandé. Whatever you been through, you got to carry on.
I think those two songs address political climate of day. But, overall, the album is a celebration of life. No matter what you go through, you need to get up and celebrate life.


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