Artist | Wyclef Jean | IG @wyclefjean
Word/interview | Dr. Cybil Bonhomme
Photographer | Tiffany Nolasco
Haitian Heritage Month is a time to highlight and celebrate Haiti’s trailblazers, warriors and unsung heroes. A month-long celebration offering an opportunity to honor and recognize the contributions of Haitians and Haitian Americans to American society, as well as to raise awareness about Haitian culture, traditions, and history. For this issue, we had the privilege to spend some time
with Wyclef Jean and really get a sense for all that he is about.
Wyclef Jean rose to fame in the 1990s as a member of the hip-hop group The Fugees, alongside Lauryn Hill and Pras Michel. In addition to his work with The Fugees, Wyclef Jean has released several solo albums, including "The Carnival" (1997), "The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book" (2000), and "Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee" (2017). He has also produced and written songs for a variety of other artists, including Shakira, Destiny's Child, and Carlos Santana.
Aside from music, Wyclef Jean has been involved in a range of humanitarian and political causes, particularly related to his native Haiti. He founded the Yéle Haiti Foundation in 2004 to provide aid and support to communities affected by poverty and disaster. Overall, Wyclef Jean is a highly influential and accomplished figure in the music industry, known for his distinctive style and fusion of hip-hop, R&B, and Caribbean music.
As the founder of Miami Vibes, I wanted this to be a platform where I get to pay homage to my homeland, so I annually dedicate our May issue to Haitian Heritage Month. And this year, we thought who better to bridge the vibes of Haiti and Miami than you, the infamous Wyclef Jean.
I love that. You are Lady Haiti.
“Lady Haiti” hahahaha, I love that! What an honor! It's so crazy. My first introduction to Kodak Black was a song I made that was called “Lady Haiti.” On his Instagram, that was his jam. He was dancing to it with his mom. He wasn’t vibing to the Fuji's or 911, it was “Lady Haiti,” a Kompa song that I had created. So, I'm in love with Lady Haiti.
That must be the best feeling in the world when you see someone being able to just be free and have fun to something you’ve created. The best. Really touches my heart.
What do you want our readers to know about Haiti? There are so many things, but let's just talk about the fun facts. So, the Louisiana Purchase is a very cool one. Napoleon's colonies in the western world proved too costly to keep. He agreed to recognize Haiti's independence and sold his holdings in North America to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. This was all due, in varying degrees, to Toussaint LOuverture's leadership. Toussaint was Haiti’s general and the most prominent leader of the Haitian Revolution. This purchase was America's biggest real estate deal and would not have happened without Toussaint’s leadership and the slave rebellion. I really want people to walk away understanding that Haiti is the first black republic to gain its independence and all the greatness that arose as a result of that.
Another great fact is the founding of Chicago. Many people are unaware that Chicago was founded by a Haitian man named Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. Du Sable was born in Haiti in the mid-18th century, and he eventually settled in what is now Chicago in the late 1780s. He established a trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River, which became a hub for the fur trade and a gathering place for Native American tribes and European traders.
When I tell kids about how Toussaint LOuverture was the first black general of the Republic, I have to break it down and have them see just how significant that is. He’s the catalyst for the first position a black person has been appointed to. The first black couch. The first black trackstar. The first black president. The first black surgeon. Basically, the first black anything. Toussaint LOuverture is the source for making all of these possible.
And I can not touch on this subject without talking about Jean Jacque Dessaline, the Haitian Revolutionary leader, who led to the independence of Haiti from France in 1804. He was murdered on October 17th, and Wyclef Jean was born on October 17th. So the greatest emperor of Haiti is still living among us, you know what I mean? (laughs)
Hahahah, I love that. I really want people to walk away understanding that Haiti is the first black republic to gain its independence and all the greatness that arose from that.
Who were some of your inspirations growing up? My greatest inspirations growing up were my mother and my father. People always ask me, “Yo man, why do you love America so much?” You see, I’ve traveled across the globe and back, and being in America is the only place that I see that Snoop and Dr. Dre can come from Compton, from the West side, and become billionaires. 50 could rise from the ghetto and then become 50, the movie director. Wyclef can come from the slums of the Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti and become a music mogul. So, for me, you know, I say that my parents are my biggest idols because I just remember them always giving the speech, “you have absolutely no excuses not to make it here. You have a bus card. We are going to find a way to feed you. We only ask that you don't break the law and we have three things that you have to strive to be: doctor, lawyer and engineer.” So rapper, imagine, was out of the question.
Wyclef Jean: Blazing the Trail
I think all Haitians can relate to that! (laugh) I also say that this is the place to strive because I watched my mama go from welfare to becoming a homeowner in two to three years. At one point my parents put us all in a tiny room and rented the entire house to pay for itself! So the original hustlers and entrepreneurs that I know of are my parents.
My father was a minister and he believed in putting churches in rural communities. My Daddy’s church was the first bilingual church in English in Creole in New Jersey, South Clinton Street in Newark. That was one of the greatest triumphs that I witnessed growing up. What I loved about my dad is that the places where people would consider to be the most dangerous and the places where people feared to walk at night, is exactly where he brought us to and put a church in. So, for me, those are my greatest heroes. My parents are the ones that make me optimistic to know that no matter what you see going on presently, if you keep knocking on that door, you're bound to find opportunities.
Wyclef Jean: Blazing the Trail
I feel like wherever Haitians go they tend to strive, because they really grasp the concept that “failure is not an option mentality.” Period, no such thing.
When was your big “a ha” moment? The moment you knew that you wanted to be a musician? Since my dad was a minister, I was always playing music in the church. I would play all the instruments. By the time I was about 15, I was playing about 14 instruments, all self-taught. At 16, a music teacher discovered me in high school when I was playing the piano in an auditorium. She came up and asked, “where did you learn these piano chords?” And I told her it was all by ear from always playing in my daddy’s church. The very next day she took me under her wing and taught me how to read.
She said that she wanted to teach me jazz and classical, and I was like, “no, that's for old people. I'm not doing that. I'm going to be a battle rapper like LL Cool J and the ladies are going to love me. I'm going to be the best rapper in the world.” She was like, do both. I would say my “a ha” moment was at 17 years old when my teacher took me to a competition. So, keep in mind, I left Haiti when I was 10, never seen airplanes, or anything. By the time I'm 17, I'm competing in a jazz ensemble in California, Pasadena, and we come in first place. So, while competing I knew this was for me. Music gave me a sense of belonging, and I knew that I would be doing music. To what capacity? I didn't know. I just knew that I loved it and I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.
That's really something special. What would you say is your most memorable time on stage? The most memorable time on stage is when I got a call from my daughter. I remember being in the arena, and my phone went off and I stopped the concert. I asked the audience to give me a second because I needed to take this call from my daughter. I picked up and said, “hey G, I’m doing a concert. Is everything alright? I’m going to hit you up afterwards. Everyone, make some noise for my daughter.” So, it doesn't matter if I'm performing in a small concert or in an area, if my daughter calls, I have to pick up. It’s those little moments you start to figure out what life is really about. Just like the simplest thing. Admiration and love. You know what I mean?
A cherished moment that I have offstage that really touched me was when Beyoncé sent me a clip talking about how I gave her and her group their first break. How I put them on their first tour. How I produced their first record. How before anybody else, I was there. That clip made me understand why Beyoncé is the greatest in my eyes and it’s because she remembered that I was part of her humbled beginnings. It’s always good to feel appreciated and have people sporadically reach out and show their gratitude.
Any projects in the works that you want to share with us? Well, I would say this is chapter two for me. I'm very focused on the private sector and you all are about to get the next five to seven years of the business side of Wyclef. One of the things that I'm excited about is a company we have called “ Attucks” named after Crispus Attucks. So, in a time where, you know, rappers are selling anything from sneakers, liquor brands to clothing, and everything fashionable, I've decided to embark in this space of automotive. We have the lightest electric supercar in the world. Automotive for me is a big thing watching what Elon did with Tesla. I was very inspired and feel that in the future I can come up with something. It's going to be like the immigrant's car, at the end of the day. We start with these big dreamers, right? I started with an LTD station wagon. From there went to an F1 McLaren. So, we are very excited about the Attics.
One of the companies we have is called Sodo Mood Labs. Sodo is named after the Magical River in Haiti. It's a scoring publishing company, and we do scores for movies from Showtime, Hulu, and various platforms. We are touched by the community of Little Haiti, so I want to open a branch of Sodo within that area and start to teach kids how to score audio engineering and machinery engineering, and coding.
Wyclef Jean: Blazing the Trail
Musically… just get ready. I have an album coming out, but I can't give all the secrets away, but I'm going to tell you like this: me and Little Wayne are in the studio together and we have a collab of not one song, but ten.We always connected, we are both Libras. So, being in the studio with Little Wayne was amazing. It was an honor, and again. I'm just living my dream. The best way I could explain it is like when Dr. Dre is in the studio with Snoop or Dr. Dre is in the studio with Eminem, or me in the studio with Lauren from the Fujis. That's the same vibe I get with Little Wayne. Big things on the horizon. Stay tuned.