Although Wyclef Jean’s The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book is still bearing fruit — the album and its two singles earned Jean a nomination for England’s Top of the Pops Award — Jean is already miles down the road. “I get bored very fast so I’m already like twenty-four songs into something else,” he says. “I’m concentrating on this new one.” The new one being his third album and Ecleftic follow-up, Masquerade, which is due out next year.
Jean is taking inspiration for Masquerade wherever he can find it, be it walking through old neighborhoods — “I been just basically writing a lot of songs, feeling a lot of energy,” he says, “roaming through Flatbush [Brooklyn], New Jersey” — or reading everything from the Celestine Prophecy — “It’s hot. It’s sort of like every time you read that book, it tells you something different” — to current events, which often turn up in his music.
Ecleftic tackled the 1999 shooting death of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo, by New York City police officers in the song “Diallo.” The same controversial subject produced criticism and praise, depending on which side you fell on, for Bruce Springsteen when he tackled the topic. But Jean’s handling of the tragedy, though hardly unnoticed did not make the same waves. “I think my style of writing is just a different style; it’s more of a thinking style,” Jean says of his ability to make statements without being divisive.
“My idol is like Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, people like that,” he says. “I think the ability to write a song which the whole world is going to sing along to is a natural thing. The sound is not so hardcore that you won’t listen — it’s usually nice hooks, melodies.”
A recent meeting with Nelson Mandela at a charity show in Spain particularly moved Jean. In fact, what he believes will be the last song on Masquerade was inspired by Mandela.
“He looks like a real prophet,” Jean says. “Everything out of his mouth is just jewels. What I took away from everything he said was basically, ‘Whatever you’re doing in life, make sure that it can effect people one hundred years from now.’ It influences everything that I do since I came into this game as a musician. I always go for the art first. And it’s different when I’m doing records for people, because when people come to me they’re basically trying to get a hit song and when I do records for myself I try to do the most artistic, musical album I can think of doing, as opposed to just trying to get two singles and songs that are just constantly going to play on the radio.”
Jean is also keeping busy with his two new labels: Booga Basement Records, which features hip-hop/R&B trio City High, and Yclef Records, a division of Clive Davis’ J Records that is home to the Product G&B, who sang on Carlos Santana’s Jean-penned hit “Maria Maria.”