In celebration of Black Music Month, EBONY chopped it up with hip hop heavyweight Wyclef Jean about everything from his own music to looking out for the next generation. He also delves into Kanye West’s recent controversial rants and how he felt about Drake sampling a song written about his relationship with band mate Lauryn Hill 20 years ago.
We know you’re a proud Haitian who once ran for president of the first Black republic, and is politically aware of the world around you. As your last album was entitled Carnival 3: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, why is it important your music continue to address social unrest and important political issues?
For me, as someone who grew up inspired by bands like U2, by the hippie movement and by artists like Bob Marley and Fela Kuti, I always wanted to speak on important issues without sacrificing feel-good music. It’s not like I wake up and think, ‘Okay, I have to put some consciousness into my sound,’ but being the son of an immigrant, there’s always going to be a political undertone. Just looking at the statistics, I wasn’t supposed to make it. It’s never too blatant, but I hope I’m inspiring others who came to America looking to find that American dream for themselves.
For one, I would never bash my brother, because I remember when James Brown decided he was going to support Republicans and the backlash he got for it. It’s also very important to remember when brother Kanye is speaking, to not twist the words based on his state of mind, because when I’m looking at him, I more so see a brother that’s hurt.
What I will say is that my opinions are not based on his views, they’re based on factual history. Me, as Wyclef Jean, someone who has studied history, I know we have come a long way and have a long way to go. We’ve seen the dogs sicced on Black folks. When a K-9 is in front of you, or someone dresses in all-white with a hood on and comes to your door, you have two choices, you will either comply or it’s going to be death. That’s a double-edged sword, you actually do not have a choice. When we read the stories of Malcolm X, these stories are real. I denounce anything that has to do with bigotry, prejudice and division.
As far as leadership, a President’s term is a couple of years. The actual legislation and the congress are what we need to focus on. When we’re talking about our immigrant sisters and brothers, I can speak on behalf of DACA as someone who could’ve been a dreamer myself. I am always going to support the dreamers, 100%. There are so many much bigger issues that Kanye that need attention.
You’re one OG within Hip Hop who has embraced today’s young generation of rappers, working with and praising Young Thug and others. Why do you feel, generally speaking, that there is so much tension between hip hop artists of different eras?
I think it actually just boils down to musical taste, and this is why I’m so sympathetic to people like Young Thug. When The Fugees came out, people labeled us “alternative.” That just means you’re doing something other than whatever was considered hip hop at the time. You had to be doing what Biggie or Tupac or NWA was doing, then here comes The Fugees. We were talking about the hood from a different aspect. The media, including a lot of hip hop magazines, started saying we make “alternative” music, which is about taste, because they either didn’t like it or didn’t understand the direction of it.
What is your relationship like with Pras & Lauryn Hill today?
When it comes to Lauryn and Pras, I continue to wish them the best. There’s no negative energy. I recently texted Lauryn a couple of times, Pras a couple of times, and it’s nothing but love.
Have you heard Drake’s “Nice for What” record where he sampled Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor?”
Of course, it’s one of my favorite joints.
What are your thoughts on how he sampled this record that hip hop fans know was originally written about you?
I love the record! Look, it’s going to be hard to get rid of this boy from Haiti, alright [laughs]. Last year, Khaled sampled “Maria Maria” for “Wild Thoughts,” raising my publishing catalogue, and now, once again, ya’ll are reminded of Wyclef. This might be the perfect time for me to put an album out [laughs]!