Born Nel Wyclef Jean in Haiti in 1971; one of four sons and daughter born to Gesner Jean a pastor at Newark's Good Shepherd Church of the Nazarene and his wife; moved to Brooklyn near Coney Island in New York City with his parents at the age of nine. Addresses: Record company--Ruff House/Columbia Records, 51 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019; (212) 833-4321/.
Multi-talented hip-hop guitarist Nel Wyclef Jean, one third of the renowned band The Fugees, released a platinum-selling solo debut album titled The Carnival in 1998 to positive--and often gushing--reviews. Jean drew upon Creole folk music, Afro-Cuban, reggae, rhythm and blues, funk, and rap music to forge the refreshing brand of hip-hop found on his solo debut release, a variety of musical styles, also evident in the music of The Fugees. In addition to artfully fusing a myriad of musical styles, Jean is one of the few hip-hop artists to play the guitar and still be accepted as a rapper by hardcore hip-hop fans. In this respect, he melded together an appreciative aternative music fan base with his hip-hop and rap fans and achieved a rare feat. People magazine's Amy Linden wrote, 'Filled with humor, smarts and a true sense of playfulness, The Carnival is what hip hop should be all about.' Time magazine's Christopher John Farley wrote, "The Carnival puts Wyclef up there with Billy Corgan, Trent Reznor and Tricky as one of the most creative people working in pop music."
Jean was born in Haiti in 1971 and moved to Brooklyn near Coney Island in New York City with his parents at the age of nine, before eventually moving to Newark, New Jersey in high school. His father, Gesner Jean, was pastor of Newark's Good Shepherd Church of the Nazarene and fought to keep his four sons and a daughter off the streets through prayer. Jean studied at Newark's Vailsburg High School, learning as much as he could about music and the music business. Prakazrel 'Pras' Michel of the Fugees, his cousin, lived in South Orange, NJ, and Jean began experimenting with hip-hop along with Michel and Lauryn Hill of The Fugees while still in high school. Michel and Jean both have fathers who are deeply involved in their religious communities; Jean told Rolling Stone's David Sprague, "When I'd come back from the studio, I'd get a whipping from my dad, 'cause I was playing devil's music." When Jean was still underage, a recording contract fell through because his father refused to condone it.
In 1988 the Vailsburg High School Swing choir included Jean on bass and his cousin Pras on vocals; they sang for the Young Americans National Invitational Performance Choir Festival in Hollywood, CA. The choir won an award for costumes and Jean was honored for an original composition. Jean would write songs on the choir's bus from one event to another. Back in Newark, they formed a rap group called Exact Change, which was distinguished by the fact that they wore tuxedoes, rapped in six languages, and had a positive message. Then the two Haitian cousins and Lauryn Hill began rapping together under the name Tranzlator Crew, and by 1993 they were signed to Ruff House/Columbia Records and working on their first full- length release.
The group changed their name due to a legal objection by a new-wave group named Translator, and chose The Fugees as a shortened version of refugees--since they sought refuge in their music. Their first release, Blunted on Reality, was released to positive review, in late 1993. After producing their second release, The Score, in their own studio in East Orange, New Jersey, free of the constricting terms of their original production contract, the group saw their sophomore effort attain instant success. The Score was more focused and strident, and drew from the band's myriad musical influences--everything from Caribbean music to Roberta Flack and early '80s new wave music like Tears for Fears and the Pet Shop Boys. The Score topped the chart for weeks, sold more than 15 million copies worldwide, and was followed by an extensive tour that ended in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Score's 'Killing Me Softly,' a remake of Roberta Flack's early 1970s single, graced the R&B singles chart for seven months and the pop chart for six months. When the Fugees returned to the group's native homeland for a concert at the Bicentenaire in Port-au-Prince, an estimated 80,000 jubilant fans greeted them.
While The Fugees were touring, Jean continued recording; he initialy intended to release a solo album of songs in Creole, but he expanded his reach. He also did remixes for Cypress Hill, Sublime, Simply Red, Whitney Houston, TLC, Michael Jackson, and Bounty Killer while the band was on the road. The prolific Jean was the primary writer, producer, and performer on The Carnival, but he enlisted an impressive array of international talent for his debut solo release. Lauryn Hill and Prakazrel assisted his effort, as did the Latin supernova salsa singer Celia Cruz on "Guantanamera," the New Orleans-based Neville Brothers on "Mona Lisa," members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jean on "Gone 'Til November," and reggae's I Threes on "Gunpowder." Pablo Diablo was featured on 'Crazy Sam and "Talent." "Yele" features the Creole folk music of Jean's homeland, Haiti, as does "Sang Fezi," "Jaspora," and the calypso-infused "Carnival." The French-Creole songs on The Carnival topped the charts in Haiti. Jean is also slated to star as Jimmy Cliff's son in a sequel to the film "The Harder They Come."
Jean told Now magazine's Matt Galloway, "I represent the Caribbean to the fullest on this record ... I've always had a Caribbean vibe to my music ... (but) the foundation is still hip-hop. Carnival's a big charade where anything can happen. That basically translates into the streets of New York City and what goes on every day....It's not everyday rap music." Jean pointed out in an interview with Michael Roberts of the Phoenix Newtimes that older groups like Earth, Wind, & Fire and Kool and the Gang were comprised of musicians who could really sing and play music, and it's this adherence to genuine talent and depth that sets Jean and the Fugees apart from the rap and hip- hop fray. Roberts wrote, "Unlike a lot of their contemporaries, The Fugees aren't a gimmick. There's substance in their grooves." Jersey Online interviewed Wayne Slappy, Jean's high school music teacher; now a screenwriter, said of Jean,"Whatever planet he stopped at, he would just take over. That's part of his genius. I guess in his own way, he's the Michael Jordan of rap."
by B. Kimberly Taylor
Wyclef Jean's Career
Formed high school bands with Fuggees member Lauryn Hill and Prakazrel "Pras" Michel; the trio began rapping together as Tranzlator Crew and signed with Ruff House/Columbia Records, 1993; released Blunted on Reality as The Fugees, 1993; released The Score, 1996; released solo debut The Carnival, 1997.
- Selective Works
- Blunted on Reality (with the Fugees), Ruff House/Columbia Records, 1993.
- The Score (with the Fugees), Ruff House/Columbia Records, 1996.
- The Carnival, Ruff House/Columbia Records, 1997.
November 4, 2003: Jean's albums, Preacher's Son, and Greatest Hits, were released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_2/rap.jsp, November 6, 2003.
December 14, 2004: Jean released a new video as part of a humanitarian effort to help Haitians suffering from recent natural disasters and political violence. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com, December 15, 2004.
- Billboard, June 14, 1997.
- Ebony, November 1996.
- Entrtainment Weekly, December 26, 1997.
- Guitar Player, January 1998.
- Harper's Bazaar, June 1996.
- Interview, May 1996.
- Newsweek, October 6, 1997.
- People, July 7, 1997.
- Rolling Stone, September 5, 1996.
- Time, July 28, 1997.
- Us, August 1996.