Reflective memoir from a breakout hip-hop star of the 1990s, served with a generous helping of braggadocio.
Jean, who co-authored this book with prolific celebrity biographer Bozza (Why AC/DC Matters, 2009, etc.), has been in the public eye recently for his controversial efforts on behalf of his native Haiti, including an abortive run for the presidency. The narrative opens dramatically, with Jean’s initial trip home after the devastating 2010 earthquake (“I had to help any way I could, not as Wyclef Jean, but as a Haitian”). Jean then looks back at his improbable journey from rural childhood to genre-defining triumph with the Fugees. As an adolescent, Jean left Haiti for New Jersey, where his strict father established himself as a fiery Nazarene preacher who regarded hip-hop as “bum music.” Yet Jean’s passion for musical expression developed early; he played in the church band to please his father, while making connections in the rapidly expanding universe of East Coast rap. By his early 20s, he’d joined fellow Haitian Pras Michel and two young women, forming the group that eventually became the Fugees. The author’s greatest strength is his nostalgic discussion of the music scene of the ’90s, when any success seemed possible, and his focus on the nitty-gritty of artistic development, as the Fugees moved from their run-down basement studio to sold-out stadium tours and platinum records. On the whole, though, the narrative is strangely paced: Jean intersperses humorous, self-deprecating anecdotes with repetitive storytelling and frequent assertions of his many accomplishments. The author awkwardly discusses the Fugees’ dissolution at the height of success. Jean acknowledges his long extramarital affair with Lauryn Hill but seems to regard its destructive reverberations (including her virtual disappearance from the music industry) as inevitable, the product of their passion and artistry.
Slick, unwieldy overview of Jean’s stardom and humanitarian ambitions.