December 4, 2003

Wyclef Jean: Son of a Preacher Man

Print More

Wyclef Jean, the prolific producer and performer, has returned with his fourth proper solo LP. The Preacher’s Son, recently released via Clive Davis’s J Records, is another installment of Mr. Jean’s socially conscious and eclectic brand of hip-hop. Mr. Jean brings the full force of his production skills to the table and succeeds in creating what might be considered one of the creative highlights of his solo career.

Like most of his other projects, The Preacher’s Son incorporates elements of reggae, jazz, classic R&B, and soul into a colorful and innovative tapestry of sounds and styles. Easily one of the most in-demand producers and recording artists in hip-hop, Mr. Jean — an ex-member of the now defunct Fugees and a genuine son of a preacher — has sometimes allowed his ambition to outpace his actual songwriting skills. Tracks off previous releases sometimes sounded sloppy and awkward as Mr. Jean struggled to find room for so many disparate musical ideas in one coherent sonic landscape. That’s not the case here. Indeed, not since his solo debut with 1997’s Carnival has he managed to keep the songwriting and production this tight and focused.

The Preacher’s Son also features an impressive cast of contributors including Missy Elliott, Patti LaBelle, Redman, and Carlos Santana. The guests make valuable contributions to the record (check Ms. Labelle’s vocal chops on “Celebrate” — damn) but these appearances only serve to complement Mr. Jean’s own stellar lyricism and production. This album is a welcome return to form following 2002’s messy and disappointing Masquerade.

The record starts off strong with “Industry,” a track on which Mr. Jean speaks to the violence and feuds that have plagued the rap world over the past decade or so: “Imagine if Biggie and Pac never got shot/ Nas and Jay-Z they were still homies/ Squash the beef with Ja Rule and 50/ Benzino shook hands with Eminem/ And on the same record I heard Eve, Foxy and Kim.” The strong opening continues with the revved-up “Party to Damascus” and the melancholic reminiscence of “Celebrate” — the former featuring the considerable freestyle skills of Ms. Elliott and the latter showing off Ms. Labelle’s soulful pipes.

As usual, Mr. Jean offers a welcome alternative to the tired gangsta rap shtick and bland club tracks currently being offered by many of his contemporaries in the music industry. Indeed, in his work with The Fugees and on subsequent solo LPs, he has consistently offered smart and insightful commentary on urban life. Continuing in the tradition of this socially conscious brand of hip-hop, The Preacher’s Son addresses the role of men raising children who aren’t their own on “Baby Daddy” and a declining sense of community in immigrant and minority neighborhoods on “Celebrate” among other contemporary urban themes.

The record’s most glaring flaw is probably the batch of throwaway tracks. It’s a particularly frustrating aspect of this set because the overall quality is otherwise remarkably high. Ultimately, The Preacher’s Son is a terrific album. Mr. Jean is an innovator who still finds a way to stay true to his roots. And while the filler keeps this excellent outing from being a great one, it’s still a success for the man from Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti.

Archived article by Mathew Gewolb