Wyclef Jean’s got his swagger back. After quietly dropping his Creole/English disc Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101 (Sak Pasé/Koch) in October 2004, the former Fugees frontman has been making some noise as of late. Producing two tracks on T.I.’s upcoming album, T.I. vs. T.I.P. (the two formed a working relationship after ’Clef asked to use Tip’s studio during a recent visit to ATL,) the multifaceted producer/singer/rapper is looking to return to the hip-hop spotlight. For the past three years, the veteran MC has been busy crafting hits for artists such as pop superstar Shakira (“Hips Don’t Lie”), country singers Big & Rich (“Please Man”) and German songstress Sarah Connor [“One Nite Stand (Of Wolves and Sheep)”]. In addition, ’Clef concentrated on promoting humanitarian aid to his homeland through his charitable foundation, Yéle Haiti.
As far as hip-hop, though, ’Clef hasn’t scored a Top 10 Billboard hit of his own since “911,” the 2000 collaboration with Mary J. Blige off his platinum album, The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book. The Haitian born MC looks to change that this September with the release of his sixth solo project, The Carnival 2: Memoirs of an Immigrant. ’Clef, however, claims the album is not an attempt to recreate his classic debut, The Carnival (1997). Instead, he’s injecting some youthful enthusiasm into his music, calling on T.I. to co-executive produce the disc. The LP will also feature appearances by heavyweights such as Lil Wayne, Mary J. Blige, Akon, Chamillionaire, will.i.am, Paul Simon and Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls. XXLMag.com recently caught up with Wyclef during a break from shooting a video for T.I.’s new single, “You Know What It Is.” In between takes, ’Clef reveals the science behind The Carnival 2, his relationship with T.I. and why fans shouldn’t give up on a Fugees reunion.
Tell us a little about The Carnival 2: Memoirs of an Immigrant. Based on the title, it sounds like you’re trying to recapture the vibe of the first Carnival?
No, we move on. You can never reduplicate it. This is 10 years later. The Carnival 2: Memoirs of an Immigrant is a continuation. Remember, on [the original] The Carnival, I said, “If you can get your ticket, you can come along.” So on The Carnival 2, once again, I’ve been traveling to Haiti, Africa, Brazil… I just caught a vibe. When I went to Haiti, I started doing my charity work with [my organization] Yéle Haiti. [There’s] eight million people depending on me, so I felt the relevancy, ya know.
Musically, how would you compare the two albums?
Sonically, I would say [The Carnival 2] is a continuation of where I left off. No one’s gonna hear The Carnival 2 and say, “Man, he fell of sonically.” I would say from those who got The Carnival 1; The Carnival 2 is just a continuation of the sonic [feel] but taking it to the next level.
A lot of artists try to duplicate their previous albums later in their career but most fail. Did that play a part in your mindset going into this album?
Yeah, I think what happens is, as an artist, you gonna have different paintings. One painting can inspire another. But I think if I try to recreate The Carnival 1— bringing back the “bishop” skit—that’s a gimmick. It’s not the ’Clef of today. It’s a different vibe [but] you will feel the inspiration of [the first Carnival].
What role is T.I. playing on the album?
T.I. is one of my co-executive producers. What I’m doing with the album… the mind state I have is sort of like Gershwin presents Porgy and Bess [George Gerswhin’s famous 1930’s opera]. I took artists like T.I. and put ’em over a guitar riff, or Akon and put him over a choir, or Lil Wayne. I wanna combine the young and old, like they’re gettin’ together. So what I did is, when I recorded a lot of stuff, I would play it for T.I. Because I wanted to know his vibe, like how was he feelin’ [about] this? ’Cause I would be singing a straight up song but [he’d] be like, "Man, this is crazy."
What did you take away from your time working with T.I.?
I would say what I really learned from T.I., working with him and being in the studio with him a lot, is sort of [the] flyness. ’Cause what happened is, sometimes you can come across so deep in the lyrics, [but] saying it more simpler is probably flyer. So I would say T.I. probably put my lingo and swagger up. [Laughs]
Pras recently told MTV News that a Fugees reunion is unlikely. After everything you guys have gone through, the on and off again reunion, is it safe to say it’s never going to happen?
Man, I wouldn’t really say that. I think as long as we keep putting good music out there… I might do a song [and] it might touch The Fugees. Lauryn might do a song and it touches me, ya know. I think The Fugees was something organic. But remember what you said, for The Fugees to do another album, it’s not trying to recreate The Score. It’s about the modern times—what we’ve been through and how people can go past what we’ve been through and still make it happen. So you know me, I never give up hope. I’m like the number one Fugees fan. I would never say I don’t think there will never be a Fugees album.