August 31, 2000

A Little Bit of This…

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For most hip-hop artists, image is everything. Whether of their own creation, or the work of a shrewd marketing department, once a rapper has defined himself to the public, he’s branded for life.

In sharp contrast to this steadfast adherence to a particular style is Wyclef Jean, who apparently suffers from a severe case of schizophrenia, both musical and personal. Since stepping onto the scene as a bald-headed, hoodie-wearing member of the Fugees, he has shifted from the neo-bohemian stylings of The Score, to the main attraction of The Carnival. Now he’s back with an album that lives up tothe promise of its title, The Ecleftic.

With each passing effort, Wyclef has continued to perfect his ability to blend various styles of music. From the instrumentation to guest stars, each track manages to mine very different territory while at the same time not disrupting the cohesion of the work. Tracks like club jam “It Doesn’t Matter,” featuring WWF champion The Rock, flows seamlessly into the heartbroken lamentation of “911,” a duet with Mary J. Blige.

It is quite possible that the reason The Ecleftic comes together so well is the scattershot style of Wyclef’s lyrics. While most songs have a unified theme, often spelled out in the hook, the verses themselves tend to be nothing more than stream of consciousness meanderings, which can only be truly understood is through repeated listenings.

But even those who don’t have hours to decipher the album will be undeniably impressed by the surprisingly well-versed work. Continuing in the tradition of The Carnival, The Ecleftic finds Wyclef working with some of the biggest names in music. While the smooth R&B of “Runaway” combines the vocal stylings of the legendary Earth, Wind & Fire with up-and-coming singers The Product G&B, the album’s oddest pairing is the aptly titled “Kenny Rogers-Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate.” The song is an absurd juxtaposition of the classic Rogers’ tune “The Gambler” with the frantic hip-hop of Monch’s breakthrough single “Simon Says.”

Noticeably absent from the album’s list of collaborators are many of the MC’s with whom Wyclef has been inexorably linked throughout his career. Leaving little to interpretation, he pulls no punches when it comes to his one-time rhyme partners. While “However You Want It,” pointedly attacks the once reigning, now whining, king of Battle Raps, Canibus, the most direct words come on the aptly-titled “Where Fugees At?,” where ‘Clef moves onto his one time group members Lauryn Hill and Pras. Unfortunately, based on the harsh nature of the lyrics, it seems as though a Fugees reunion album is still quite a ways off.

Probably the best thing Wyclef can do to make hip-hop fans forget about what once was with the Fugees, is to continue producing such solid solo work as The Ecleftic. By continuing to merge so many different types of music into one new style, he is transcending the genre of hip-hop, while at the same time helping it reach higher heights. This alone is proof positive that whatever may happen with the Fugees, Wyclef will remain his own man.

Archived article by Mike Giusto