Wyclef Jean has released very little music this decade, and yet the 46-year-old pop/rap producer, singer and songwriter has had no trouble keeping his name in
Wyclef Jean has released very little music this decade, and yet the 46-year-old pop/rap producer, singer and songwriter has had no trouble keeping his name in the news.
He unsuccessfully ran for president of Haiti, published a memoir ("Purpose: An Immigrant's Story") and played the head of a music label on the ABC drama "Nashville." Jean also perplexed the internet when he posted a photo of himself, in only his underwear, straddling a motorcycle on his birthday.
Now, though, Jean is getting back to what first made him a household name 20 years ago — music. For longtime followers, it's a return, but for young fans, it's more like an introduction.
"All these new Wyclef fans think I'm a new rapper. They're like, 'Yo, there's this kid. He sounds like Future without the Auto-Tune. I think his name is Wyclef,'" Jean said, laughing, on the phone last week from a New Jersey recording studio. "It's funny, but it's dope, you know?"
Jean, who will headline Baltimore's free arts festival Artscape on Friday night at the BGE Main Stage, has a resume many new artists should envy. He long ago created his hip-hop legacy as a founding member of the Fugees, and further cemented his place with solo hits like "Gone till November" and "Sweetest Girl."
Diversity has been key to Jean's longevity. On top of his work as an artist, Jean co-wrote Whitney Houston's "My Love is Your Love" and Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie," a single that reached No. 1 in 55 countries.
Despite Jean's success, he's been quiet music-wise until recently. In March, Jean released the wholesome ode to love, "My Girl," and followed it last month with "Hendrix," a blues-meets-rap track of personal reflection. There's plenty more on the way, and all of it will be bound by honesty, he said.
"The only thing that's going to work is purity, right?" said Jean, who's based in New Jersey. "It has to come from a level of being honest."
Jean said he has so much music that he plans to release two EPs — first in September and then in February, tentatively — before putting out his eighth full-length album, "The Carnival III," later in 2017.
Fans can expect a diverse sound overall, with collaborators ranging from rapper Pusha T to the Swedish electronic dance musician Avicii, Jean said. Jean, a "big fan of superheroes," compared "Carnival III" to "Batman Begins," the film that provided details of the title character's backstory.
"You've seen me with the Fugees and 'The Score.' You've seen me with Whitney. You've seen all of that, but here is a story y'all haven't heard from me," he said. "This is what it was like, before the [fame]."
The music will likely touch on Jean's experience growing up in Haiti. (He was born in Croix-des-Bouquets, and moved to New Jersey as a teenager.) In 2010, Jean made headlines around the world when he announced he was running for president of Haiti. The country ruled he was ineligible because he hadn't live there for five years before the election.
His political aspirations, coupled with controversy surrounding the allocation of funds raised for Jean's now-defunct earthquake-relief charity Yéle Haiti, resulted in widespread criticism, but the singer said he was trying to help at a time when other artists stood by. ("Have we made mistakes before? Yes. Did I ever use Yéle money for personal benefits? Absolutely not," Jean said in response to allegations at a 2010 news conference, according to various news reports.)
"Whenever you decide that you're going to do more than just sing and dance … it comes with scrutiny," Jean said. "My people know my heart past the propaganda. If you're honest with yourself, then everything else is OK, right?"
Now refocused on music, Jean is most concerned with the rollout of "Carnival III," but his past inevitably becomes part of the conversation. Fans still wonder: Will the Fugees, his celebrated hip-hop group with Ms. Lauryn Hill and Pras, ever reunite?
The influential act's landmark album, "The Score," turned 20 in February, and there was no reunion of any kind. For his part, Jean said he's "3,000 percent" open to a reunion, but said the final decision has always been the enigmatic Hill's.
"It's not up to me at this point; I'm in. It's really up to Lauryn," Jean said. "The nucleus of the Fugees is Lauryn, you know what I mean? I think if she could come to an agreement, the rest of us would figure it out."