Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Wyclef Jean

  • Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival Featuring Refugee Allstars [Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1997] A-
  • The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book [Columbia, 2000] A-
  • Masquerade [Columbia, 2002] **
  • From the Hut, to the Projects to the Mansion [MRI, 2009] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival Featuring Refugee Allstars [Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1997]
From kompas to reggae, Celia Cruz to Neville Brothers, the diasporan flavors ("Jaspora," one title spells it, nicely kreyolizing the Greek/Jewish term) are half decoration, half concept, and less than integral either way. Like his soul brother Puff Daddy, master of the simplistic strategy with which the Fugees wrested dominance of hip hop songwriting from the moribund Death Row consortium last year, Wyclef doesn't feature the grandiose depth charges with which Wu-Tang torpedoed hip hop beatmastering well before that. He uses the sampler--augmented by the live quote, the honored guest, and now the genre excursion--like MC Hammer before him, for one-dimensional tunes on which to float his well-articulated morality tales and popwise carnivalesque. Cognoscenti may bitch that it's only r&b, but r&b has been the shit for half a century, and this is where it lives. A-

The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book [Columbia, 2000]
Last time he merely claimed African diaspora. Here he casts his net wide enough to snare all of pop if it'll have him, as in "Kenny Rogers-Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate," featuring live appearances by both luminaries, or the pot song illustrating the proposition that if hip-hop is his wife, the guitar is his mistress. He sings roughly but warmly, and makes up as many hooks as he samples, a ploy I'm glad he can afford--one more way to mix things up. His obligatory shout-outs to the hood reject thuggism as good-humoredly as his voluntary testimonial for the red-light district rejects moralism. Clef is obviously bitterer than he lets on about the respect he doesn't get. That he keeps it to himself is the essence of an appeal that tops any schoolmarm's I can think of. A-

Masquerade [Columbia, 2002]
Frankie Valli versus thugs, Tom Jones versus deadbeat dads, Bob Dylan versus war--somehow I don't think it'll work ("Masquerade," "PJ's") **

From the Hut, to the Projects to the Mansion [MRI, 2009]
As ex-stars' moralizing post/anti-gangsta rhymes go, medium hard and sufficiently scientific ("Slumdog Millionaire," "Walk Away"). **

See Also