8. Wyclef Jean

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 8 is Wyclef Jean.


Wyclef Jean first became famous as part of The Fugees. Teaming with Lauryn Hill and Pras, the group’s second album The Score won the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 1996. It’s a great album that I eventually bought, but the first Wyclef album I ever owned was actually his solo debut The Carnival in 1997. I remember it well because it was one of, if not THE, first album that I was allowed to buy with a “Parental Advisory” label on it. It’s somewhat ironic since Wyclef’s rap style is more insightful than inciting. But I remember having the discussion with my parents about how I was old enough and mature enough to know that just because someone else uses explicit language, it doesn’t mean I should. Those who know me know that to this day, I rarely swear.

The Carnival was a revelation for my just-about-to-be teenage ears. Although Wyclef typically gets lumped in as a rapper, his hip hop style was so much more than rap alone. On “Gone Til November” Wyclef delivered a smooth groove featuring the The New York Philharmonic Orchestra. On “Staying Alive” he rapped over a Bee Gees disco sample. On “Mona Lisa” he crooned with The Neville Brothers. The album was unlike anything I had ever heard before, rich with different flavors and textures. Some of the songs weren’t even in English, which brought Wyclef’s background as a native Haitian to the forefront. Wyclef’s was a minority voice I hadn’t been exposed to before, and it felt like I was getting this sneak peak into another world that I previously didn’t know existed. Continue reading 8. Wyclef Jean