Wyclef Jean Explains Why Country Music Is The Original Gangsta Rap (Video)
Last week, Wyclef Jean released Carnival III: The Rise and Fall of a Fugee. The orator uses a storyteller’s title on his eighth album. There have been ups and downs to the man who represents Haiti, Brooklyn, and north New Jersey. However, things are great for him right now. In addition to the new Heads Music/Sony Records release, Clef’s sounds are at the top of the charts, thanks to DJ Khaled, Rihanna and Bryson Tiller’s “Wild Thoughts.” That track has reached #2 on the Hot 100, and features a sample of Carlos Santana’s, Jean’s, and Project G&B’s 1999 #1 smash hit “Maria Maria.”
In speaking with Ambrosia For Heads, Wyclef says his third Carnival installment seeks to bridge 1997 and 2017. He did the last at the 10-year-mark, in ’07. Throughout the interview, the co-founder of The Fugees mentions his daughter, and how he’s perceived by younger generations. Spitting an intense rhyme over two parts, he says his 13-year-old compared her dad’s flow to that of The Migos. At 6:00, he laughs, “I [told my daughter], ‘Imagine, before Migos—in 1994.” Wyclef’s sometimes punchy rhyme style emphasized cadence when Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff were just toddlers.
Asked about his secret to relevance, ‘Clef says, “When everything comes back around, you’re always relevant because your vibration was never based on a trend. So, something that you were doing 20 years ago, everybody’s doing now—because you’re already thinking about what’s the next thing.”
Besides that cadence, Jean and The Fugees were blending song and rhyme verse in the mid-1990s. In 2017, it has become commonplace. Wyclef points back to the pioneers for doing it, such as Cold Crush Brothers, Fearless Four, and others. “To me, singing has been going on since the first Rap groups. The word for it [then] was called harmonizing…but the MC, with the monotone, was the dominant figure…it was a lot of fear to say ‘I’m gonna be a singer and a rapper at the time.’ They don’t exist. [For The Fugees], it was, ‘I’m gonna make people love these R&B records, as much as they love these Pop records, as much as they love these Hip-Hop records.'” He continues with his Grammy-winning, multi-platinum group’s plans: “For me, as The Fugees, we was comin’ in [and] just wanted to be a band. We wanted to be looked at as a band, not like a group that says we’re three MCs. You look at us [like] you look at The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. Like, when we stand on that stage, we can pick up them instruments; we can rock like anybody. We wanted [fans] to put us in the gladiators’ league.”
At 9:30, AFH’s Justin “The Company Man” Hunte questions Wyclef about the honesty in his songwriting, especially as it applies to tracks like 1997’s Carnival single, “To All The Girls.” The writer begins, “I’m a big fan of Country music. People laugh, but if you would have went to Marlborough projects [during my youth], dudes could play poker or cee-low, and every one could sing ‘You’ve got to know when to hold ’em / Know when to fold ’em / Know when to walk away / Know when to run,‘ [Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler’]. That’s that original Gangsta Rap. [Laughs] For me, Country music is dope because it does the same thing Hip-Hop does.” On 2000’s The Ecleftic: 2 Sides To A Book, Wyclef imagined Rogers’ 1978 film hit set against Pharoahe Monch’s newly dropped “Simon Says,” care of “Kenny Rogers – Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate.”
Jean continues, “It’s hard for a writer to put themselves in different spaces of vulnerability. What Country does is, it tells those [vulnerable] stories. So, me, when I listen to Johnny Cash, he tells those stories. When I listen to Bob Dylan, even though [he is primarily a Folk artist], he tells those stories. Bob Marley tells those stories.” However, Wyclef admits that there are consequences too. “Some of those stories got me in trouble when I was tellin’ ’em, you feel me? It’s clear, you’re listening: ‘To all the girls I ever loved before, it’s the new year,‘ and then I’m saying I’m in love with two girls, I cheated on this [other] girl. In that time, when I was goin’ through that, if I didn’t say that, somebody else who’s goin’ through that, they wouldn’t be able to say something. So for me, I think that was very important.”
Carnival III: The Rise and Fall of a Fugee features D.L. Hughley and Emeli Sandé.