Ever since The Fugees more-or-less disbanded after the release of “The Score” Wyclef Jean has been proving himself time and again as a solo artist. In fact it now seems that traditional bounds of rap was a format Wyclef found too limiting. Though Wyclef loudly and proudly proclaims himself a hip-hop artist at every turn, his vision of hip-hop music has moved from spitting lyrics to a beat to singing over them. To label this a positive or negative change is also too limiting. Wyclef has always been an artist with a poet’s soul, a warrior’s determination, and a global consciousness who sees no difference between the ghettoes of New York and the slums of South Africa. Liberated to go his own way, he has created songs that are by turns sentimental (“911”) and serious (“Diallo”), all while maintaining a loyal fanbase of Fugees fans and drawing new converts to his neo-soul along the way.
With “The Preacher’s Son,” Jean has eschewed rapping almost completely in favor of singing. When there is a rap to be found on the album, it’s almost always provided by one of his many high caliber guest stars. The lead single “Party to Damascus” features Missy Elliott. “Baby Daddy” features Redman. “Next Generation” features Rah Digga and Scarface. In typical “Ecleftic” fashion though Jean has also culled guests from a wide range of the musical diaspora. Patti LaBelle drops in to “Celebrate.” Carlos Santana strums his way through “Three Nights in Rio.” Buju Banton and T-Vice strike up a “Party by the Sea.” Even Monica gets in the mix on the spirited “Class Reunion,” one of the many treats to be found throughout the album.
With only a few exceptions and some co-production notations found in the liner notes, the album’s music is stitched together by Jean himself and long-time collaborator Jerry ‘Wonder’ Duplessis. By this point in his career, it’s become an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” formula for success, and by sticking to it Jean makes very few mistakes. Usually they have nothing to do with his grooves and everything to do with some overambitious crooning. The falsetto tones of “Baby” aren’t necessarily offensive, but they aren’t impressive either. “Linda” is a tale of a woman out for revenge that ‘Clef could tell the tale in a straightforward manner but instead uses hip-hop similes to remind us that “like Cypress Hill, she’s insane in the membrane.” “Rebel Music” is good, other than the fact Jean seems confused on this one as to whether he’s rapping or singing. It must be the latter, since Prodigy of Mobb Deep comes in for the save.
For the most part though when Wyclef picks a style or direction to go with a song it works out well. His Bob Marley feel on “Who Gave the Order” featuring Buju Banton captures both the mellow Carribean sound and the often sharply incisive political commentary of the Iron Lion Zion’s work. “Grateful” is his heartfelt ode to God for blessing him with existance, and it’s hook allows him to sum up his style nicely: “a man with a guitar, a dude from the streets, a cat with a song, a refugee MC, Wyclef Jean, a Fugee for life.” And the aforementioned “Party to Damascus” is a song that would be guaranteed to inject the jumps and shakes into tired feet on the dancefloor, with or without Missy’s sugary singing and coyly sexual rap: “boy I keep it realer than the titties on my chest, milk does your body good – come and take a sip.” The only thing that’s really debateable about “The Preacher’s Son” is not whether it’s a worthwhile album or not – it’s whether Wyclef Jean can be called a rap artist any more. The debate about what hip-hop music is will rage on, but meanwhile Wyclef Jean – the son of a preacher man, will keep on jamming with spirited soulful songs to the break of dawn.