Future of Music: Wyclef Jean

November 15, 2007 8:33 PM ET

What has music done for you in your life?
Music was the escape for me. It saved my life. I came from Haiti, and my first step was [New Jersey's] Marlboro Projects. A lot of the cousins I grew up with there are dead, from gunshots. The only thing that made a difference for me and kept me out of the block a little more was the fact that my mom bought me a guitar, and that kept me in the house. In the neighborhood that I grew up in, if I wasn't inside the house, I probably wouldn't be here today.

What changes do you see coming in music?
I feel like we're going into a very eclectic mode now, where the strong will survive. Kids can create beats now through their computer in two hours, so to last in the long form, you have to bring a musicianship to it. If you're hearing the track I did on the CD with me and Serj from System of a Down, you hear how the movement is syncopated, then I stop the record at two minutes, screw it up, then I pick it back up with a classical part, go back into the groove. A kid goes, "Damn, how did he do that? I can't really do that on my computer. On these Fruity Loops [software], I've got to keep it a certain way." I think this will inspire kids to say, "Man, I've got to learn more music and put more arrangements in the music." People are making music and they're getting it out there, but we're losing a sense of the live elements inside their music.

Has technology affected the way you relate to or interact with your audience?
Definitely. I learned the power of the technology when I did a song on the Dave Chappelle Show called "If I Was President." That song, never got any form of radio play, but everyone I know knows "If I Was President." How do they know it?" Through the computer.

Would you advise a young musician to sign with a major?
I would advise the young musicians to get their stock up independently so a major label can pay big money for it. They can go online and build 150,000, 200,000 core audience, then your deal is going to be worth much more. Keep in mind, the Fugees wasn't signed to Columbia Records in the beginning. We were signed to Ruffhouse, a small indie label, and when it started picking up big, then Columbia gets involved.

What do you think are the most important problems facing the world today?
I would say it's the lack of leadership in America, because America has a domino effect on the rest of the world. Once George Bush sent the people into Iraq and all that money was going into Iraq, when you have situations in Africa where you have rebels raping, killing, slaughtering children, they're like, "Man, we could keep doing this shit. America's not worried about us. They're worried about Iraq." You have real world famine, you have real world hunger. You have the AIDS epidemic sweeping the world. You have more and more people getting cancer, where money could be research for different thing, we're spending billions of dollars on the war.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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