Wyclef Jean: My Life In Music

WRITTEN BY
Greg Milner

You may know Wyclef Jean as the leader of the Fugees, who combinedrap, soul, and reggae to become one of the biggest hip-hop acts ofthe '90s. But this Haitian-born rock fan's musicalinfluences are even wider than that. He grew up playing guitar inhis father's church (an experience evoked by the title of hisfourth post-Fugees solo album, The Preacher's Son) andhas gone on to cover Bob Marley and collaborate with Santana. WithThe Preacher's Son, Jean says, "I'm goingback to just being an artist, a craftsman, and a songwriter."Judging from the following list, that could mean just aboutanything.

A. Yellowman King Yellowman (CBS, 1984)"Growing up in Haiti, I listened to [dancehall legend] Yellowman allthe time. I was 13 or 14 when this came out. There was something abouthis style and the clarity of his voice. And the production, the basslines?when this thing came on in the 'hood, you could hear the bass amile away. He had this vibe, this charisma. He was King Yellowman, knowwhat I'm sayin'?"

B. Miles Davis Bitches Brew (Columbia/Legacy, 1970)"I was getting a little older, and I was already a musician when Ifirst heard this. There was a mood about this record, and I wasfascinated by how Miles could take you into that mood. [I learned that]through sound you can set the scenery. Depending on the environment Iwas in, I could change it when Bitches Brew came on. I found that fascinating."

C. The Police Synchronicity (A&M, 1983) "Myfavorite album of all time [up to that point]. I was seeking rock, butI was like, 'Yo, I want to hear some real rock, but with a reggae twangto it.' My brother was like, 'Yo, Sting, man -- he hard.' He bought methe Synchronicity CD, and I played the thing to death."

D. Bob Dylan Infidels (Columbia, 1983) "The things this guy was saying on 'Jokerman' -- I was like, 'What is this dude smokin'?' [Laughs]Lyrically, he came with it. Some people be listening to the voice, butwith Dylan, I be listening to the lyrics. I've been a Dylan fan since Iwas a youngster, the same way, like, Jimi Hendrix liked Dylan. We allliked Dylan."

E. Run-D.M.C. Run-D.M.C. (Profile, 1984) "Iactually learned how to speak English [by listening to] a lot of rapmusic, like Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel. But I was blown away byRun-D.M.C., man. I was listening to a lot of rock, too, and I was like,'Man, this is it.' I was like, 'I wanna be Run-D.M.C.'"

F. Stryper To Hell With The Devil (Enigma, 1986)"I grew up in the church, and because we were from a Christianbackground, my father didn't allow rap in the household. He couldn'tspeak English very well, but anything that had the name Jesus in it wasallowed in the house. I found myself steering toward what was calledChristian rock, like Petra and Stryper."

G. Public Enemy Fear of a Black Planet (Def Jam, 1990) "This just blew me away. The fusion of samples, the message, Chuck D's delivery -- I think it's pure genius."

H. Michael Jackson Dangerous (Epic, 1991) "Igot into the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson by DJ'ing a lot in the '80s.It was like, 'Wanna get everyone on the floor? Drop some MichaelJackson.' Never fails. But I didn't get into Dangerous until afew years after it came out. I liked how [producer] Teddy Riley steppedin and gave it a vibe. Since I was a huge fan of Quincy Jones and whathe did with 'Beat It,' I was like, 'Man, who could take this somewhereelse?' So I think Teddy deserves a lot of props for what he did on thisrecord."

I. Santana Supernatural (Arista, 1999) "I wasmesmerized by Supernatural. When I worked with [Carlos] Santana, Irealized that the guitar is just truly an extension of his arm. A lotof people play guitar [makes wanky guitar sounds], you know? You don't feel nothing. This guy plays themes, and the themes are a connection to his soul. Supernatural is one of my best workout records."

J. Alicia Keys Songs in A Minor (J Records, 2001)"When I first heard Alicia Keys, I said, 'Man, that girl is playingpiano. She's singing. There's hope.' It was just raw, dog. I callmyself a hip-hop musician, so I'm always like, 'Yo, what's up with themusic? I want to hear some music, some real playin'.'"

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