Wyclef Jean :: Masquerade
Label: Columbia Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
If Wyclef Jean has already proved one thing, it's that he's bigger than
his former running crew The Fugees. When he first went solo with "The
Carnival" you could still find Pras, Lauryn Hill and John Forte' making
cameo appearances throughout, but by 2000's "The Ecleftic" they had
vanished almost completely. Indeed, Lauryn Hill can be found singing
unplugged solos on MTV, Pras quickly dropped off the scene after "Ghetto
Supastar" went nowhere, and John Forte' is languishing in prison on
drug charges. Being freed up from his group seemed to be liberation
for Jean, as "Ecleftic" featured duets with everyone from Mary J. Blige
to Kenny Rogers. It was not traditional hip-hop, but when was the
Haitian-born refugee ever supposed to be a traditional rap artist?
Jean proves he can push the boundaries successfully and still stay true
to his roots on "Masquerade." The solo albums to date form a trilogy of
storytelling, with the third bringing us back full-circle to the first.
People wear masks at carnival to disguise their faces, but what Jean is
actually doing is lowering the mask and allowing us to see the truth
of what lies beneath. Criticisms of negative living, false idols and
shady business have always stung sharply from Jean's prophetic lyrics,
and "80 Bars" proves the sting has only gotten sharper with age:
"Now at the funeral, I can see the priest bless you
But in the afterlife, I'ma still touch you
Knockin on heaven's door, you're beggin to get in
That's when the son of man greet you with the face of Satan
Now you look frightened in the belly of the whale
That's when the warden say, 'I wanna welcome you to hell'
Bones is five bucks, get off the phone, time's up
I've seen him cut from his head to his.."
Wyclef may be aiming for a wide audience of young and old alike, since
some of these more explicit details are censored over. Normally I think
that's more offensive than leaving so-called "curse words" on records in
the first place, but in this case Wyclef Jean gets a pass. Part of the
reason is that he and long-time collaborator Jerry 'Wonder' Duplessis
produce or co-produce 100% of the songs on this album. This is Jean's
vision musically and lyrically, and his quest to share it with the masses
will succeed due to it's strength - censored or not the message gets through.
Being edited has nothing to do with being hardcore on the title track at
any rate, spitting broken english with M.O.P. and Bumpy Knuckles (Freddie
Foxxx) while Miri Ben-Ari stirs things up with her hip-hop violin. He
can flip the script though and go from rhyming with the hardest to
lambasting the fakest as he proves on "You Say Keep it Gangsta":
"All that ice-grillin, talk 'bout you King of New York
Now you wanna call the guards - that ain't gangsta
But it's too late when the guards show up
Cause your body's goin straight to the morgue..
You say keep it gangsta - but when the beef come
You're the first to run
You say keep it gangsta - yo that ain't yo' gun
It belongs to..
You say keep it gangsta - you roll with a hundred
But when the beef come, don't nobody want it
If you weren't a fan of Jean doing things with hip-hop that nobody
else thought of or dared to do before, then you probably won't enjoy
his duet "Pussycat" with Tom Jones or his cover version of "Knockin'
on Heaven's Door" - even though there's nothing wrong with either one
and the latter is surprisingly good. Wyclef also embraces the reggae
side of his personality with cuts like "The Mix Show" or the Bob Marley-esque
"War No More," where he gets hassled while at the airport:
"First thing they do they wanna ask me for my passport
They said 'Wyclef, we love The Fugees - The Score..
.. but did anybody give you any strange package to bring on board?
I was like 'NO!' Here comes the National Guard
This looked like a scene - from the movie 'Star Wars'
One foot in, one foot out, standin in the airplane
I'm on tour! I'm on my way to Japan"
Wyclef enjoys singing as much as he does rapping; thankfully, he's good
at both of them. If you enjoy the diaspora of African music and not just
the North American variety, you'll be able to appreciate songs like "MVP
Komba" and his PJ's "Ghetto Racine" remix in creole. If you want some
straight up raps though Jean comes through on songs like the mournful
"Daddy" and the inspired update of "Oh What a Night" where Jean's humor
shines through with lines like, "Lived on the first floor, we was so poor,
that if you rung the buzzer the roaches would answer the door." This
unique mix of wit and wisdom, rapping and singing is what makes Wyclef
Jean a consummate entertainer - the kind of man who can say, "I ain't
gon' brag and boast and say I did it all, but I'm the only rapper to
play Carnegie Hall" and not make you feel like a hater. Jean can do all
the Pepsi commercials he wants, as long as he keeps turning out his own
unique vision of rap and sharing it with us - his own "Ecleftic" style.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: June 18, 2002