Date of Birth: October 17, 1969
Other Names: Nel Ust Wyclef Jean, Wyclef,Toussaint, St. Jean, Nel, Clef
Occupation: Haitian rapper, musician and actor
Known for: Winning 3 Grammy Awards and 1 Golden Globe, Band member of Fugees (New Jersey Hip-Hop Group), filing for presidency in 2010 Haitian Presidential Elections, Raised relief funds after 2010 Haitian Earthquake
Wyclef Jean was born in Haiti in a commune called Croix-des-Bouquets which lies in the Oest Department of Haiti. His father, who was a pastor at Newark’s Good Shepherd Church of the Nazrene, named him after John Wycliffe who was an English philosopher, biblical translator and seminary professor at the Oxford University in the 14th Century. He was one of four sons and a daughter in his family. When he was only nine, his family migrated to Brooklyn, New York and subsequently settled in East Orange and Newark, New Jersey. As a child, Jean was fascinated with music and began experimenting with it until his mother noticed and got him a guitar. Jean began looking up to reggae artists such as Bigga Haitian who is the first Haitian singer to break the Jamaican reggae scene and MC Tiger Paw Raw and Lobster V. Crab.
He studied in Newark’s Vailsburg High School and briefly attended Five Towns College on Long Island in the later half of 1980s. His father was not supportive of his musical inclinations because it did not go in tandem with his religious beliefs.
By the time he completed one semester, he had to drop out to pursue a career as a professional musician with The Fugees. In 2009 he enrolled in the Berklee College of Music to earn a diploma. The college tailored a program specifically for him to include offline on campus classes as well as online courses. The curriculum included a variety of courses in ear training, theory, improvisation and guitar.
His musical career was also interspersed with his interest in politics, given he ran for Haiti’s presidential elections in 2010. However his bid for presidency was rejected because he did not meet the criteria of constitutional residency for the president which means he should have lived for at least five years before the election.
He also wrote an autobiography titled Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story with help from the journalist Anthony Bozza, which was published in September 2012.
When it comes to his personality, Jean is usually described as authentic and his personality commands attention. He attributes his success to knowledge of his field and knows how to play about 15 different musical instruments. His high school teacher challenged him to read sheet music and so he did learn how to do that. He won the Grammy Award for The Score which won in the Best Rap Album category and Killing Me Softly which won in the Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal category in 1997. In the year 2000, he won Album of the Year for Supernatural. He was nominated for the Golden Globes in the year 2004 for his song Million Voices in the movie Hotel Rwanda in the category- Best Original Song. Gone Till November got him the MTV Award for the Best R&B video.
He has won National recognition in Haiti with the National Order of Honour and Merit in acknowledgement of the dedication he had for the promotion of Haiti around the world. Jean was also inducted in the New Jersey Hall of Fame in the year 2017.
Jean’s first attempt at forming a band became concrete under the name of Tranzlator Crew. The Tranzlator Crew consisted of Wyclef Jean, Pras Michel- his cousin, and Lauryn Hill which later became the foundation of The Fugees. The name-’Tranzlator Crew’ had to be changed because of a legal objection. Since its foundation in 1992, Jean began a romantic relationship with Lauryn Hill outside of his marriage with Claudinette Jean. The relationship broke up in 1997 leading to the splitting of the band also. Their first album as a band, Blunted on Reality, released in 1994 could not achieve mass commercial success however it did peak at number 62 on the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The single, ‘Nappy Heads’ was both the first single of the band and of the album to reach US Billboard Hot 100 at number 49.
With ‘Ther Score’- their second release, the band shone in the spotlight as it topped the charts of Billboard 200. The Record Industry Association of America- the trade organization that represents the recording industry of America certified the album as six times platinum. The Score went on to become the second and final album to be released by the Fugees before the band split up. As far as the impact of the album is concerned, the wide range of samples and instrumentation and the alternative hip hop style that the album contained inspired most of the hip-hop music scene of the 1990s. It became the third best-selling of 1996.
As per the memoir of Jean, he was kept in the dark about the parentage of Lauryn Hill’s child Zion David and made to believe that he was the father, however it was far from the truth. When it was discovered who the actual father was, Jean stated that, ‘She (Hill) could no longer be my muse. Our love spell was broken’. This discovery led the group to split up and it essentially began Jean’s solo career. He announced his first album popularly known as ‘The Carnival’. It not only included the Fugees- Lauryn and Pras but also the group founded by his siblings known as the Melky Sedeck Group, the I Threes (who were the backup vocals for Bob Marley), The Neville Brothers and Celia Cruz. (660) 5:45
His second album was known as The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book. The album debuted at number nine in the US Billboard 200 Chart. It included a guest appearance from the Country Hall of Fame musician Kenny Rogers. This album also peaked at number 3 on the US Top R&B/ Hip Hop Albums Chart. It also made its way to the UK Albums Chart at number 3.
In his humanitarian work- he participated in the Benefit Concert created by four major American Broadcast Networks Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS. He sang a cover of the famous Bob Marley song, ‘Redemption Song’.
His fifth album Sak Pasé Presents: Welcome to Haïti (Creole 101) was a tribute to his Haitian ancestry as most of the songs were in Haitian Creole. He has also covered songs for movies like The Manchurian Candidate which was released in 2004 and wrote a song for the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ known as ‘Million Voices’.
Another song that made the world sit back and take notice was Shakira’s ‘Hips don’t Lie’. This song became a smash hit and the highest selling song of the 21st century.
A charitable organization legally known as the Wyclef Jean Foundation was established by Jean in 2001. It was incorporated in Illinois, US. After Haiti suffered substantial damage in Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, Yele Haiti provided scholarships to about 3600 children from the funding it received from Comcel which is a telephone service company in Haiti. After the 2010 Haiti Earthquake that devastated the entire country, Jean raised $1million in funds through a plea on twitter. He then not only raised additional funds for relief work in Haiti but also produced a telethon titled, ‘Hope for Haiti Now’ with actor producer George Clooney. These funds were then utilised in donations made to orphanages, hospitals, medical clinics among other areas of need. Jean had managed the foundation from 2005 and resigned in 2010 when he applied for presidential elections. After it closed in 2012, it was investigated that the foundation had raised more than $9 million dollars in funds about half of which was spent in travel by Jean and other representatives and salaries of employees and fees of consultants.
In the 2014 World Cup, Jean collaborated with Carlos Santana, Avicii and singer songwriter Alexandre Pires to write the World Cup Anthem. He also collaborated with Young Thug to work on the song, ‘Kanye West’ and toured the US, featuring college kids in his album called, ‘Wyclef Goes Back to School Vol I’.
Jean is working on a show called, ‘Run That Back’ which is a talk show where he has a conversation with people from all walks of life like Clive Davis, Lena Waithe and Will.I.Am. He is also working on music technology with an application called the Sodo Mood Lab. Jean has also signed a deal with Netflix on an animated musical of his life. The premise will be his childhood life when he grew up in poverty in Haiti.