Life and music are a 'Carnival' to Wyclef Jean

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Life and music are a 'Carnival' to Wyclef Jean

Post by Guysanto » Sat Jan 19, 2008 8:41 am

Baltimore Sun

Life and music are a 'Carnival' to Wyclef Jean

By Rashod D. Ollison
Sun Pop Music Critic

January 16, 2008

Wyclef Jean has never been an easy one to peg musically. But his restless spirit in the studio is better focused on his latest CD, Carnival Vol. II: Memoirs of an Immigrant. Disparate styles -- metal rock, reggae, Southern rap, even Indian music -- are streamlined into a vibrant, unpredictable mix. His sixth solo album, Carnival pulses with glints of the different sounds he heard while circling the globe over the past few years.

"It's like when the great jazz musicians traveled and brought different rhythms back to the States -- like Quincy Jones or Dizzy Gillespie did back in the day," Jean said last week from a tour stop in Las Vegas. "That's what I wanted to do with this album. It was about opening the mind. I wanted to show that there's more music than what's on the block."

But the Haitian-born, Brooklyn, N.Y.-raised musician, who headlines Rams Head Live tomorrow night, didn't abandon his beloved 'hood fans. Polished bass-deep rhythms and his quirky rapping and singing still anchor Carnival's 14 tracks, which feature several high-profile guests. Among them are rappers T.I. and Chamillionaire, hip-hop soul queen Mary J. Blige, jazz-pop chanteuse Norah Jones and pop legend Paul Simon.

New controversy, however, could steer attention away from the solid album. Over the weekend, news surfaced that Jean and other urban pop stars -- including 50 Cent, Timbaland and Blige -- have been implicated in a steroids investigation, according to a report in the Times Union of Albany, N.Y. A spokeswoman for Jean's label, Columbia Records, had no comment.

Although Carnival Vol. II is musically progressive, thematically Jean looks back. He revisits the carnival concept of his 1997 solo debut, Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival Featuring the Refugee Allstars. The album spawned three hits, including "Gone Till November," and went platinum. He had attracted a fraction of the audience that bought The Score, the 1996 hip-hop classic Jean recorded with high school pals Lauryn Hill and Prakazrel Michel (aka Pras), collectively known as the Fugees. That album sold 18 million copies worldwide and helped launch the platinum-plus, Grammy-winning solo careers of Jean and Hill.

But unlike Jean, the New Jersey rapper-songstress has yet to deliver on the promise of her celebrated 1998 debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Her behavior (missed shows, disjointed interviews) has become erratic since the mammoth success of her first solo album, which sold more than 8 million copies and won five Grammy Awards. However, two years ago, the notoriously mercurial artist surprisingly reunited with Jean and Pras, and a Fugees album was in the works. But the project is on hold -- indefinitely.

"I'm putting a lot of great vibes out there, man," Jean said. "I hope Lauryn gets her act together, you know what I'm saying? It's my dream to produce another Fugees album. When that'll happen, I don't know, man."

In the meantime, Jean has kept busy as a producer (he was behind Shakira's ubiquitous 2006 hit, "Hips Don't Lie") and a recording artist. On his other efforts -- namely 2000's The Ecleftic, 2002's Masquerade and 2003's The Preacher's Son -- he partnered with a diverse range of artists with varying degrees of success. On his last album, 2004's dazzling Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101, the 35-year-old performer stepped away from pop altogether and gracefully explored the rainbow-hued music of the Caribbean.

But Carnival Vol. II is a full-fledged return to the global urban-pop of his 1997 debut. This time, the expansive musical scope is better realized, and the illustrious guests are well-used. Their voices rise like other instruments in the dense mix as Jean mostly raps and sings about different aspects of immigration issues.

"That's an issue that's close to me," said Jean, who at age 6 moved with his family from Haiti to Brooklyn. "America was named after an immigrant. So why can't immigration laws be fair? We all deserve to be here."

Lyrically, the album isn't preachy or didactic. Subtly at regular intervals, the artist makes references to refuge and protection. For instance, in "What About the Baby," a standout duet with Blige, Jean croons the line, "I got love for Miami all day/But if my Cubans get to stay/Why you turn my Haitians away?" "The message unifies it all at the end of the day," Jean said. "We're all everyday people. This world is one big carnival. We should embrace more than fight each other, you know?"

Jean partly credits his renewed spirit of universal love and rejuvenated musical imagination to his 2-year-old daughter, Angelina, whom he and his wife adopted when the Haitian girl was 3 months old.

"It gave me a fresh breath, man," he said, and you could feel he was smiling on the phone. "She's made me feel young again, invincible. She gives me a reason to live, a reason to want to see this world be a better place, man. I can do my part with my music."

Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun

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Post by Serge » Sat Jan 19, 2008 4:24 pm

Guy, this is a pretty nice, comprehensive article. As I said on my review of Jean's Carnival II CD, the guy is simply amazing. He gets all these artists to record with him, not because he needs to sell more CDs, but because he is continuously exploring the boundaries of music. He is totally sure of himself.

Let us hope that this controversy will not shadow his accomplishments. Unfortunately, I do not know of any such celebrity free of some kind of problem. I guess it comes with the territory: Britney, J-Lo, 50-cent, and so on.

But in he end, Carnival II is a nice CD.


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Post by Barb » Sat Jan 19, 2008 11:31 pm

Steroids can make one a more competitive sport player, but I am not aware of any case in which it has been used to unfairly make one a better musician. Music, last time I checked, was still not a competitive sport.
So what's the steroids controversy?

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Post by Serge » Sun Jan 20, 2008 1:13 am

Indeed. I am not sure why a musician would take steroids, certainly not to write better music. This is something that remains to be proven and I am really curious to know why they would do so.


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