Two decades after first solo album, Jean returns to music community. A review by Aidan McWeeney for the Cavalier Daily.
Wyclef Jean has released an album central to his purpose of global awareness, social activism and equality for racial and ethnic minorities.
Jean is originally from Haiti, but as a child immigrated with his family to the United States and settled in New Jersey. He first entered the music industry through The Fugees, a New Jersey hip-hop group consisting of Jean, Pras Michel and the incredibly talented Lauryn Hill. The Fugees mixed reggae with hip-hop and soul, creating songs with political intention. The group is probably most recognizable for its 1996 album “The Score,” which includes its award-winning rendition of “Killing Me Softly” and interpretation of “Ready or Not.”
Jean has a diverse range of musical talent, playing multiple instruments, singing, songwriting, acting and rapping. He also has experience on the production side of music and movies. Unbeknownst to many, he was influential in the beginnings of Beyoncé’s career due to his production for Destiny’s Child, writing one of Whitney Houston’s hits “My Love is Your Love” and collaboration with other successful performers such as Michael Jackson, Queen, Earth, Wind & Fire, Shakira and more.
His most recent release, “Carnival III,” boasts 12 tracks, over half of which are accompanied by other artists like Emeli Sandé, The Knocks and Stix. The music in this album is very eclectic, pulling from various styles to create a coherent sound. The tempo and tone ebb and flow throughout the course of the album, allowing the listener to hear specific emphases on certain lyrics or rhythms. Jean is known for writing both upbeat party hits like “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira, as well as slow, meaningful and oftentimes solemn pieces like “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)” on “Carnival II.”
Jean released both “Fela Kuti” and “What Happened to Love” from “Carnival III” as singles in June. Both are fast tempo, smooth songs, the latter having a more romantic narrative. In contrast, “Carry On” is a much slower song with lyrics of encouragement for love to conquer hate — quite topical in the current national context. The first song on the album, “Slums,” immediately dedicates the album to Jean’s fellow refugees around the world. The diverse sound in Jean’s music is representative of a greater goal towards unity in diversity. Jean is able to bring together distinct musical styles like jazz, hip hop, reggae and traditional African beats and instruments into compositions.
Like much of The Fugees’ music, as a solo artist Jean is intentional in the message behind his work. The “Carnival” series just became a trilogy, but Jean is rumored to release a fourth installment, “The Return of the Perfect Gentlemen,” in 2027. During the past decade, Jean has been very involved in philanthropy, particularly in his home country of Haiti.
Some mark this album as a return for the 47-year-old artist as he has taken breaks in his music career to focus on social and political activism. Many debate why Wyclef Jean did not become a mainstream star earlier on in his career. Some would believe that he did not necessarily have the star power that Kanye or a Drake has, though others believe that Jean diverts from the mainstream in order to focus on the fusion of different styles of music like Caribbean beats, Latin rhythms and hip-hop influences. This mix, coupled with his poignant and poetic lyrics, is his way of sharing his and others’ stories as a Haitian immigrant, but also as an American.