MIAMI (AP) — Anyone who needs to catch up with hip-hop star Wyclef Jean just has to refresh his Twitter feed.
“You know I’m direct about everything,” says Jean, 42.
Some things need more than a tweet to explain, though, so Jean has written an autobiography, Purpose, now on sale, that explores his political, financial and personal turmoil, including an extramarital affair with fellow Fugee Lauryn Hill.
Purpose opens with the hip-hop star in his New York music studio, working on a rap for the alter ego he created to tell the gritty stories about life on Haiti’s toughest streets. The music stops abruptly when he notices the headline crawling across the screen of a muted TV — a catastrophic earthquake had struck his Caribbean homeland.
In the book co-written with music journalist Anthony Bozza, the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that leveled Haiti’s capital is one of two phenomena with
the power to focus the Ex-Fugees frontman’s scattered energy.
The other is Hill.
The Haiti-born, Brooklyn-raised Jean tells a familiar immigrant story about living in poverty and trying to fit into American culture. Rap was the language that gained him respect with the black Americans who mocked his Caribbean accent and parents’ strict ways.
Episodes of rebellion, petty crime and diverse musical commitments build to Jean’s introduction to Hill through Pras Michel and the birth of the Fugees. Their entanglements take up the bulk of the book, but neither the Fugees nor Jean and Hill’s tumultuous relationship survived the success of their 1996 masterpiece, The Score.
Jean skims over much of his post-Fugees recording career and work in Haiti, including an unsuccessful run for president there in 2010 and the financial scandals that plagued his Yele Haiti Foundation. The Grammy-winning multimillionaire’s story is strongest when he’s focused on his passions: music and serving as an inspiration for Haitians aspiring to follow his path from a hut to a mansion.
In a conversation with The Associated Press, Jean compared the setbacks with the success he achieved with the Fugees, whose second album The Score remains one of the best-selling hip-hop records of all time.
AP: Do you think you’re going to run for president of Haiti again in a couple years?
Jean: (chuckling) … Keep in mind, right, that y’all always say “my run for the presidency” but there’s something you all must add: Wyclef never even got a chance to run for the presidency.
It was sort of like, before I could even spit out who my technicians are, what are my policies, it was like, “Yo, this guy don’t have no technicians, this guy don’t have no policies, he’s not running, get him out!” Right now, it’s definitely, like, not in the focus.
AP: How was working on a book different from working on an album?
Jean: It takes you back to a place and to a time. I always tell people, the easiest thing for me in the book was talking about the Fugees.
Because, you know, you’re young, you’re rock and roll. The hardest thing in the book was probably talking about my relationship with my dad.
Growing up in a Christian household and then defying that and saying I’m going to be a rapper, and after they bring you from Haiti and the expectations, what they expect from you, and the fact that he never really came to my shows.
AP: The book brings up some of your personal drama (extramarital affairs, including an on-again, off-again relationship with Hill) and your wife in the books comes off as being one of the most patient people in the world. What was her reaction to the book?
Jean: The main thing about me is, I’m just bluntly honest, you know what I mean? It’s like, I’m a man. Beyond my book, it’s in my music. If I’m
going through something, you’ll hear it in my music.
Like, if you’ve heard The Carnival — “To all the girls I’ve cheated on before, it’s a new year … I’m in love with two women, who is it going to be now?” This is not (something) I waited like 20 years later to be like, boom.
I just basically stated the stuff that happened when it happened. … They say, what’s the secret? I say, first, the person I was trying to be with had to be a friend first, and clearly I would say that’s how we made it through.
AP: Was there any kind of bitterness when ex-Fugee Pras Michel came out and supported Haitian musician-turned-politician Michel Martelly instead of you early in your so-called run for the president?
Jean: No. … There’s a clear line, you know, between music and politics. And if you decide that you’re going to be a political candidate or run for that, then you have to have (what are called in Haitian Creole) “iron pants.”
You basically have to be ready for everything to come at you, and whatever you expect, expect different. … As you can see, it was a lot of people coming at me, so that tells me a lot about myself, you know what I mean — my strengths, and what I possess.
I always say, you come at me, I only weigh a buck-seventy-five, but you’re coming after what created me and you’re going to have a lot on your hands, because that’s God.