Haiti is a country that has been plagued with environmental misfortunes as well as economic instability ever since it gained independence to become the first black-led republic of the modern world. With a small wealthy elite and a large underclass, this unequal balance in wealth has resulted in street gangs overturning cities and when things couldn’t get worse, hurricanes and tropical storms plagued the island.
Tropical Storm Jeanne crashed onto Gonaives, killing nearly 2,000 people and leaving another 900 missing (which have been presumed dead). More than ever, Haiti is in need of help, and one person who has a lot of plans to rebuild the destruction is rapper/singer/producer and now political and social activist Wyclef Jean.
Born Nelust Wyclef Jean in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, Wyclef found success in America after he moved to New Jersey and formed the hip-hop group The Fugees. With his cousin Praskazrel (Pras) and high school classmate Lauryn Hill, the three made the grade with their sophomore release, The Score, in 1996. With hits such as the Roberta Flack remake “Killing Me Softly” and “Fu-gee-la,” the Fugees sold more than 16 million records worldwide and garnered them two Grammy Awards.
The first to go solo, Jean evolved from a rapper to someone more noticeable for his work behind the scenes. With production credits for musical legends like Whitney Houston and Carlos Santana, Jean still found time to release his own solo material. To celebrate his country’s 200-year anniversary of gaining independence, Jean recently released his fifth solo effort, Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101.
With his new release, Jean isn’t looking for accolades; he’s doing this for the love he has for his country. The album cover shows Jean’s face superimposed on the body of Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of the Haitian slave revolt in 1791 that resulted in Haiti gaining independence in 1794.
“This album is a blueprint of my life. This album explains why I’m always ready to ride-or-die for Haiti,” says Jean.
While Jean has never ignored his Haitian musical influences on his past albums, Jean brings Creole music to the forefront. Inspired by his young cousins in Haiti who listen primarily to hip-hop and reggae music, Jean wanted his people to accept the native music of his country -copa. “It’s a way for me to educate the young ones coming up that it’s cool to speak Creole. When you listen to the text and the words that I’m saying in my songs, I’m giving you food for thought. It’s reality music.”
Spending the majority of his time between America and trying to restore peace and living conditions in Haiti has led Jean to start a movement of his own.
“I have this foundation, and it’s called Yele. I’m trying to energize and enterprise Haitians and Haitians by association. We are going to be raising millions and millions of dollars just to put back into the project of Haiti.”
Speaking on the meaning of the name, Jean says, “Yele is like of cry of freedom. It’s almost like you’re crying, but you’re not. It’s almost like not a cry for me, but more a cry for the country and a cry of ‘If ya’ll don’t get it straight, then there will be a revolution.'”
Another major project that Jean is undertaking is what he bills as the “greatest concert of the world,” scheduled for Dec. 5, which will feature appearances by Lil’Jon, 50 Cent, Sean Paul and the recently reunited Fugees. Taking place in Haiti, Jean is expecting an attendance of 1.5 million people.
“What the concert does is bring awareness. It makes the BBC, it makes CNN and everybody goes to Haiti and says, ‘You know what, no these people are not like a bunch of animals.'”
And if you are still in shock about the Fugees reuniting, this will be their second appearance since their comeback at Dave Chappelle’s Block Party that took place in New York City on Sept. 18. After Lauryn Hill finishes her second studio album, there are talks that the Fugees will reunite in the studio. “I think definitely in the future, fans will get to hear [the Fugees] again,” Jean says.
Jean is the perfect example of someone who was raised from humble beginnings, went on to find success, but still gives graciously to the people, better yet, country, who made him.
“I don’t get moved by money, but I’m a businessman. I’m all about making a lot of money. But money is not what moves me. What moves me is the fact that I can move people.”
Marcus Washington can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.