On the cover of his 2002 solo album, Masquerade, Wyclef Jean is covering his face with his hands — a weary pose that he says sums up his mood for much of this decade. “I definitely lost inspiration after the passing of my pops [in 2001],” says Jean. “I wasn’t focused on the game.” But after writing and producing Shakira’s 2006 worldwide hit “Hips Don’t Lie,” Jean was energized — and he didn’t let a disastrous attempt at a Fugees reunion slow him down. As its title suggests, his new solo album, Carnival Volume II (Memoirs of an Immigrant), evokes the polyglot pop sound of his two-times-platinum 1997 solo debut, The Carnival, with sounds ranging from hard rock to hip-hop and Latin pop — and guest stars including Serj Tankian, Will.i.am and Paul Simon. “Now I’m past the point of the Fugees,” Jean says. “I feel like 1997 again. I feel like Wyclef can hold his own.”
As a hip-hop kid from Haiti, how did you get into rock music?
My father was a Nazarene preacher, and his English wasn\’t too good. He went all over America as a missionary, and one day he comes back with a cassette by a rock band called Petra, this Christian rock band. I’ll never forget it. We started listening to Christian rock: Petra, Stryper.
Yeah, of course! I also had, like, Amy Grant. That was part of our church culture. Then I was like, “Yo, man, we got to start listening to some other shit.” So we started listening to Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Pink Floyd. And my dad would accept it because he couldn’t speak English. If I was listening to Metallica, he would say, “What’s that?” And I would say, “It’s Christian rock!
How did “Hips Don’t Lie” come about?
It’s like you’re a boxer and you have a great legacy on your wall. Then you get that one phone call: “Hey, could you do it again?” You\’re like, “Yeah, I can do it again.”
You felt like it was Rocky Balboa?
No, not like Rocky Balboa! Rocky Balboa was terrible! It’s more like Ali versus Foreman in Africa. I went to see Shakira in Miami, and she said, straight up, “If my hips are not moving, it’s not a hit.” So it was like, “Let’s work on getting your hips to move.”
Isn’t it distracting if Shakira’s hips are moving while you\’re trying to write a song?
Man, it is the biggest distraction in the world.
So what happened to \nthe Fugees album?
I was like, “I can’t wait to get in the studio with the Fugees — it’s the moment I’ve been waiting for.” I had these experimental beats, and Lauryn [Hill] goes, “You haven’t done anything in a minute. Why should I listen to you? How do I know you have a pulse?” Man, that hurt. After that, I walked out of the studio.
Are there songs on the solo album that might have been Fugees songs?
The first song, “Riot,” with me and Serj, was the kind of next-level shit I was on. You’ll be like, “What the fuck?”
The Fugees did manage \nto do a bunch of European dates. How was that?
Man, it was like pulling thirty-two teeth out of my mouth. You can’t be on a stage an hour and a half late, like she was. So I blew up on, like, the tenth night. Cursed her out. I was like, “Listen, either you want to fucking do this shit, or I’m going to fucking go home.”
How did you leave things with her?
I felt sorry for her, because I think she needs psychiatric help. I felt like she’s bipolar. You can’t get angry with someone who’s sick. So I even called her mom, and I stressed to her, “Yo, you need to get her psychiatric help.” But I think they all fear her to death. She wasn’t always like this — but if someone has the ego and you keep feeding the ego, it’s going to turn monstrous.