Ain’t no stopping Wyclef Jean now. With nearly 10 studio albums under his belt – 7 from his solo career and 2 from the days as one-third of the Fugees – the recording artist, philanthropist, and visionary continues to keep the music going. With his ears and mind focused on the pulse of today’s music, Jean has continued to perform on various stages across the world, write songs for a plethora of prominent artists and deliver music of substance to the people.
As of recent, one of those stages was at the 2nd annual Zumba Cruise, which set sail from the shore of Miami, Florida. With over 3,200 fitness enthusiasts on board to enjoy as many dance classes with Zumba instructors around the world, Jean provided the island vibes as he ship departed, playing chart-climbing hits like “Ready or Not,” “Gone ‘Til November,” “Guantanamera,” and his Shakira collaboration “Hips Don’t Lie.”
Nearly 20 years after the release of his first solo studio album, the singer-songwriter is ready to release The Carnival III: Road to Clefication, an album that he says will not only introduce the world to some dope, new talent but also give fans of his debut album something to appreciate just as much. “What fans can expect on The Carnival III is the futuristic version of what was in 1997,” notes the Yéle Haiti founder. In fact, the highlight of his 8th studio album “is the amount of new talent that I’ve discovered for the next millennium.”
Before Jean Zumba Cruise hit the stage, VIBE had the opportunity to catch up with the producer, philanthropist, and genre-fusing musician to chat about joining the Zumba cruise, staying in shape, his induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame and more.
Wyclef Jean: Kaya Fest [was] last night. Wyclef, Lauryn Hill, Stephen Marley, Sean Paul – I know you’re looking like, ‘Damn, how did I miss that?’ The focus of Kaya Fest is [about] the legalization of Cannabis and the idea that as we move [forward], it’s going to be part of society. How do you incorporate it for medical reasons, and help apply it to countries and different things? So my brother Stephen Marley decided that he was going to put something together. He wanted to create a bill, and it was probably targeted more[so] towards the stoners and different people that want to start those kinds of businesses. It was jam packed [show], like 15,000 people.
Where was it held?
It was at Bayfront [Amphitheater]. The Caribbean people – We block Bay Front, so apologies to anyone who wanted to come up, and you felt like the traffic was messed up. It was a bunch of Caribbean people blocking traffic as always.
So now we’re on a ship. Tell me about this partnership with Zumba?
I wouldn’t call it a partnership. The owners of Zumba are personal friends of mine. I’m always about the advancement of culture, and I love innovators. When the brothers were starting a movement, it was the idea of innovation. Anything that makes people feel good about themselves, that’s what I support 100 percent. The good thing about it [Zumba] for me is that the idea of you working out, but not feeling like you’re working out; feeling like you’re having fun – it’s so important for the human psyche.
Now, if you ain’t catch Wyclef on stage [last night] — you should. I’m over 40 something, and they know Uncle Clef move like he’s 17-years-old. Flying, jumping like I’m Superman like I’m running in the projects from the police. For me, there are certain exercises that I think are very important especially for people with health issues. Health is something that’s serious like if you check the data and analytics, and look at how many people are just dying because they don’t exercise the most important part of your body – your heart. Now, the idea of having fun and exercising your heart and doing something — you feel energetic and good about yourself. The owners of Zumba are friends of mine, so Zumba is a lifestyle […] You’ve gotta feel good about yourself, things are so messed up sometimes in the world, you need that escape.
When it comes to fitness, what do you when you want to escape? Is there a certain exercise that you like to do?
For me, I love dancing. I love learning new dances, too. For me, it’s always a challenge, especially with my daughter. There’s always a constant challenge in the house. ‘Dad you have to learn that new dance.’ She’s 12, so you have to stay cool and stay ahead of her. You gotta be on top of it. Along with what she’s doing, what’s great about Zumba is the variety of dancing. Bust it. You can be somebody that all you know how to do is the two-step, it’s alright. Because there is going to be a class that will be adjusted to your two-step. And teach you how to get better at it.
They call me a calisthenics champ. You can see me online doing push up competitions. I’m a Crossfit maniac. I love Zumba. Do you know why? Because when I’m on that stage it’s like I’m the Haitian Elvis. My waist action is crazy, singing that ‘911’ and starting to move like, ‘Ahh! Wyclef, we love you!’ [laughs]
It was announced that you’ll be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame on Sunday, May 7th. How does that accomplishment feel?
For me, I’m grateful. I come from Haiti. I come from nothing. I used to take a hut to school. By the time I got to Brooklyn, I landed in Marlboro Projects in Coney Island, and life was tough, you know? I don’t understand the idea of not winning. I don’t know what that means because when you come from nothing ain’t nothing a man can do to you. I used to eat dirt from the floor. When you get to America, you actually see a light pole with electricity in it, [and] dudes [are] calling it the projects…Where I come from what you’re calling the projects is like the suburbs.
[But] I left Brooklyn at a young age ’cause it was very violent. I got family that got shot. I was very tough, and it just seemed like for my parents I was headed to either prison or I would have ended up getting killed. Then they moved us to good ol’ New Jersey, ‘The Garden State.’ At least that’s what they thought, but there was nothing Garden about Newark, New Jersey. It was more hood than being in Brooklyn, but I found my way through a high school called Vailsburg High School. The teachers in there basically changed my whole life. I used to battle rap on the streets a lot and my father was a minister, so being a [minister’s kid], like Marvin Gaye, we played all the instruments in the church.
I was the church choir boy, building the choir. But when I go into this public high school; teachers cared, they actually cared. Teachers put me in a music program because they saw that I could advance. Then at 17-years-old, I became a jazz major competing all throughout America. New Jersey gave me my stamp, so it’s very surreal to be nominated in the hall of fame of New Jersey. It’s an honor and a great thing.
What’s your foundation Yele Haiti doing these days?
Right now I’m working with the Haitian government; I became a serious watchdog. I felt like when we decide to do more than sing and dance and sell liquor, we’re going to get challenged. That’s just the way it is, and you have to be ready for the rise and for the fall and to rise again. I feel that what I went through with Yele, [it] made me strong as a man. It made me understand, and it made me become more popular in my country than I was.
80% percent of the population can’t read and write, so I believe a lot in the cannabis industry and the hemp industry. I think there are different things to do to help bring back third world countries. And beyond foundations, I learned that foundations are temporary band-aids for solutions. When I started the foundation, that’s what I did; I wanted to give people jobs, entrepreneurship. We’re focused on that, and the idea of working with different countries and starting with Haiti. If a government is short 500 million dollars, and that can help put kids back to school, what are the kind of problems that can come up with for that?
Your first studio album, Wyclef Presents The Carnival dropped 20 years ago this year. Now you’re dropping The Carnival III in a few months. What should fans expect from this project?
Thank God for the kids, the reinvention came from the kids. It came from Young Thug and all the kids, and Thug’s first song is “Wyclef Jean.” I got the bug and wanted to do music again. But I’m a complete nerd like I always hear music differently. I had a sound in my head called acoustic trap. There was a record I did [later] and it’s called “Hendrix,” and it was acoustic guitar against electronic drums, and the vocals were sick. Then I did this song, and I remember putting it out. The Wyclef fans — the older ones – are like 40 something, so they have kids, so they’re waiting for a “Gone ‘Til November” or something. But my pulse with music is always with the youth. Because of these kids, my EP J’ouvert is streaming over 30 million to a new generation of kids that are like, 15 and 16. It starts with them. Quincy Jones was my mentor, and he said, ‘Once you lose the pulse of the kids, you’ve lost your pulse.’
What fans can expect on The Carnival III is the futuristic version of what was in 1997. In 1997, it was not cool to have an album with Spanish music on it, where it was going to play on an English language [radio] station. ”Guantanamera,” which I did with Celia Cruz, where I came from in New York, that’s the first time you heard a Spanish joint on a hip-hop station. After that Big Pun came and all of that. On the same album, we had French Creole, we had Zouk rhythms, drums out of Colombia, drums out of Benin and Africa. The fusion of music is so incredible through the internet, so it’s very exciting. When you pick up The Carnival III, you can definitely expect that journey with the foundation that we do being reggae, hip-hop, and Caribbean [music].
The greatest thing about The Carnival III is the amount of new talent that I’ve discovered for the next millennium. Remember [during] the last millennium we had the Beyonces, the Shakiras, the Whitneys, the Mary J’s. So now with The Carnival III, you’re about to hear some new kids that are going to blow your head off. I do believe that talent like that exists, and the beautiful thing is that it can come from The Carnival III, and the discovery now, people can go back on the internet and say who’s this, who’s that. I still believe in surprising the audience with people they haven’t heard before so look out for that on The Carnival III.