By YRS Jerzy
Hip-HopVibe.com Staff Writer
Wyclef Jean barely needs any introduction: the legendary member of the Fugees and celebrated solo artist has been going a period of introversion lately, it seems. His upcoming albums have been in the works for some time lately and fans have been eagerly awaiting the next step from the beloved rapper. And he has finally delivered: he released not one but two different and very exciting albums this year.
Jean Drops Two Studio Albums Following Long Absence
Jean must have promised himself that 2017 would be his year. After all, he had been planning the release of his Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the original Carnival that was released in 1997 and marked the beginning of his solo career. But first came J’ Ouvert, released on February 3, 2017: a standalone album intended to function as a prelude to the Carnival III. That is why it was released so early in the year, to make space for the big thing down the line – but it works great as a laid back comeback you might expect after the seven years that Jean spent without releasing an album.
J’ Ouvert is really trying to smooth things in and you can get that from the overall island feel of the album, as Jean revisits his Caribbean roots. There is some really good production work invested in the album and a few tunes do stand out in terms of captivating basslines and colorful melodies. The album does not really make a splash, but it feels like it was not intended to: Wyclef Jean is just warming up for what happens next: in the first track, entitled “The Ring”, the lyrics pay homage to his anticipated comeback and the expectations that come with it, as he contemplates whether all the people waiting to see if he will “get another ring”.
J’ Ouvert: The Perfect Premonition of What is to Come
Leave it to Wyclef Jean to get political when it matters the most: in “Life Matters” he reviews the current social and political climate in the US, while in the standout “If I Was President 2016” he sings on his thoughts about the recent presidential elections and the new days that dawned after that in a refreshing and optimistic manner – over a truly wistful and captivating tune. Some of the other tracks, like “Rear View”, also offer ear-grabbing melody but are a bit underwhelming in terms of lyrics – especially for an artist like Jean. Tracks like “I Swear” (featuring Young Thug) and “Holding on the Edge” are immediate crowd-pleasers, providing hooky beats and uplifting production, and “Party Started” keeps you happy in terms of fast tempo and insane groove. “Lady Haiti” is a delicate tribute to Jean’s homeland, while in the dark gem “Hendrix” the rapper reflects on his life before he found success, all the while commenting on his life choices and his motivations compared to people who chose different paths.
In one of the most playful moments in the album, Wyclef Jean makes an attempt at the French classic “Ne Me Quitte Pas” – delivered acoustically, he envelops the melody in a subversive, slight beat and injects a few rap pearls every now and then to really make it his own. The result is nothing too extraordinary, but a beautiful and heartfelt feelgood song – somehow Jean manages to make the song his own and deliver it in a quite forceful rather than resigned way that really reflects who he is as an artist. After all, covering classics is one of his favorite signature moves; the Fugees famously covered “Killing Me Softly” in their 1996 incredible album The Score, while Jean himself was never one to shy away from a challenge: along with Pharoahe Monch, he did a remix of “The Gambler”, an iconic tune that touches upon casino life, originally performed by legendary country artist Kenny Rogers. He also tried his luck with the likes of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan.
Carnival III: The King’s Comeback
In the Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee Jean is more ready than ever to take center stage: this is another instalment in his manifest about music, one where he continues to experiment with genre fusing and full of nostalgia. In the album’s standout track, “Fela Kuti”, Jean offers upbeat reggae-funk, while in the album’s opener, “Slums”, he again gets political as he reflects on the struggles of people from his native Haiti with their national and cultural identity, as he recounts how he himself struggled to find his place in the world – as he does again in “Shotta Boys”, featuring Stix, which recants life in the ghettos growing up.
Both “Borrowed Time”, a ballad, and “Warrior” featuring T-Baby, that feature before and after “Fela Kuti” have a more introspective feel to them: here Jena deals with universal existential issues as he contemplates life and coming of age. Of course, a reference to mythical Zion could not be lacking, and this is exactly what we get with R&B gem “Turn Me Good”, while “Double Dutch” is again an opportunity for Jean to explore his political stance and revisit his choices. All in all, the album feels like a solid and coherent piece of work, full or radio-friendly and exciting tunes, where Jean shows off both his songwriting and his polished production skills.
After waiting for so long for his comeback, it is great to again have a taste of what Wyclef Jean is capable of. Both albums leave you wanting, though: they are great for teasing the appetite, but they only feed the hunger for more of that great songwriting we have come to know!
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