Wyclef Jean & Lauryn Hill’s Collabo From The Carnival Was 1 Of Their Last And Best (Audio)
In 1997, The Fugees disbanded. At the time, Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, and Pras were at the peak of their careers, with their multi-platinum and Grammy-winning sophomore LP The Score still clearly visible in the rear-view mirror. That same year, Wyclef released his debut solo LP, also a multi-platinum selling affair, and the kickstarter to a long and dynamic career for the MC, singer, songwriter, and activist.
The Carnival earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album (it lost to Puff Daddy & The Family’s No Way Out) and Best Rap Solo Performance for “Gone Till November” (which lost out to Will Smith’s “Men In Black”). But beyond the commercial success, the album is also noteworthy for its two appearances from Lauryn Hill (Pras is also featured; the album’s full title is Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival featuring Refugee Allstars), with whom ‘Clef would eventually experience a bitter parting of ways. The Latin-infused “Guantanamera” featured Cuban icon Celia Cruz in addition to his former bandmate. But it’s Wyclef Jean’s and Lauryn Hill’s “Year of the Dragon” that is an oft overlooked collaboration, and one of the last the two would work on together.
In the song, both Wyclef and Lauryn spit some serious bars about childhood, particularly what it was like growing up in their respective neighborhoods. “I remember comin’ from Haiti growin’ up in Brooklyn/On Flatbush got my first sneakers tooken,” rhymes ‘Clef about the transition from his homeland to the streets of his New York City neighborhood. He continues, “Learn the game quick so I got my first device/Mom moved to Jers’ so we could get a better life.” New Jersey would be where he crossed paths with his future Fugees mates. Ms. Hill takes it back to “Yellow cheese bus gettin’ beatings if I cuss,” recalling the days of “Name plait hair, straight metal braces on my teeth/Fat laces on my feet when crack first hits the streets.”
Listening to “Year of the Dragon” in 2017, 20 years after it was first released, provides that all-to-familiar sense that not much has changed by way of living conditions in the neighborhoods most neglected by America’s so-called leaders. In fact, Wyclef mentions both Ferguson and CNN in the record, though the former is the name of a character, and not a reference to the Missouri city that has become synonymous with the contemporary civil-rights movement (“I saw civilians runnin’ for their life/Like the devil on judgement night running from Christ/Ice and Amaretto, please, as I fell to my knees/Being shot by Ferguson the vigilante” and “So CNN know what I’m sayin’? Ferguson is at court and he’s his own lawyer”). In her closing verse, Lauryn kicks some clever storytelling, spinning yet another familiar tale about a woman taken over by the vices surrounding her. “Clef it kind of remind me of this chick I once knew
Use to be a dime now she’s strung out in Bellevue,” she says. “Tragic depression made her lose all her teeth/Lost and turned out gave her body to the streets.”
Just a few months after cutting “Year of the Dragon,” Lauryn Hill began work on her monumentally successful debut solo LP, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. As Heads are well aware, Wyclef Jean appeared nowhere on the album, nor did her other Fugees mate, Pras. Never again would Hill appear on a Wyclef Jean album, as their affair became highly publicized and discussed in the media. To this day, the two remain on tempestuous ground, as Wylef touched on in a recent interview with Sway. Nevertheless, “Year of the Dragon” will always stand tall as a reminder of the chemistry and undeniable lyrical skills the two shared.