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Wyclef Jean Explains 'Carnival III' Collaborations, Making 'Acoustic Trap' & His Hopes for Fugees Reunion

Wyclef Jean photographed at the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel
Matteo Prandoni/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

Wyclef Jean photographed at the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel Official Debut in New York City on June 2, 2016.  

"Never tune a legend's guitar," Wyclef Jean told the crowd at the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel's grand opening (June 2). After fiddling around with the strings of his guitar, he shredded through a behind-the-back solo that proves the former Fugees frontman has still got it.

It's been seven years since the Haitian native released his studio album From the Hut, To the Projects, To the Mansion, and two years since his Avicii collaboration "Divine Sorrow," the intended first single from a yet-to-be-released album Clefication. This year, though, Wyclef will return to the scene and go back to his roots with the forthcoming album Carnival III, which plays homage to his iconic 1997 debut The Carnival while also moving forward with a sound Wyclef dubs as "acoustic trap."

Wyclef Jean Exclaims 'The Carnival Man Is Back' in 'My Girl' Feat. Sasha Mari: Exclusive

The album's first single is a song inspired by his daughter called "My Girl," featuring up-and-coming singer Sasha Mari, which premiered earlier this year with a vivacious dance video that features a young boy playing lil Wyclef serenading his boo in Brooklyn. Wyclef also lengthened his extensive list of collaborations this year with "Kiss the Sky," a song with dance duo The Knocks.

Billboard caught up with Wyclef at the Renaissance event, where Bizarre Foods star Andrew Zimmern served up crafty seafood samples (FYI, Wyclef's most "bizarre" eats have been shark soup and frog legs). Here, Clef spoke about his iconic group the Fugees, forthcoming collaborations and bridging trap and acoustic melodies on Carnival III.

Billboard: What was the inspiration and message behind "My Girl?"

The inspiration for that song is my daughter. She's in the video and the one I pick up at the end. She gives me the drive to swag up and make music that's important to me. When you look at her, she's dancing to "Sweetest Girl" and "Hips Don't Lie." She doesn't even know who the Fugees are -- I got to explain that to her so it's like a breath of fresh air. "My Girl" is the metaphor for whichever queen you crown at the time. 

And the video was shot in different locations from your childhood throughout Brooklyn? 

Yeah, my daddy's church was actually right around that corner. That inspiration was like coming from Haiti and growing up in Brooklyn, I was always that flirtatious, bad, young boy. We grew up in a rough area, it was tough, then my father moved us to New Jersey. "My Girl" is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" -- it's like looking back and saying, "Wow man." What would have happened if I never met my own Mona Lisa in the grocery store, had that vibe hit the streets and felt the music?

What's the theme of Carnival III?

For [the first] Carnival, I was traveling a lot around the world and brought the songs into a hip-hop album with global music. That's what I'm doing now. I have different sounds on the album. I have one sound I invented called "acoustic trap," a sound from two generations so it combines the sound my daughter is into and my sound. As the electronic drums are going, my side -- the musician -- comes in. Anything against an electronic backdrop has to be organic with a human playing it. We also have Afrobeat, which is killing all over the world. It's a very important rhythm that we're introducing on the album. You know, I'm one of the original hip-hop guitarists that plays guitar and raps at the same time. I was one of the first ones doing it. I have a whole acoustic thread throughout [Carnival III].

What collaborations can fans expect?

I did a track with Joey Bada$$ and I'm very excited. I also have collaborations with Pusha T, Daryl Hall and Emeli Sandé. Anyone who's a real fan of Wyclef knows that you're picking up an audio film, that's the best way to explain [Carnival III]. It's like music that you get on a plane and can listen to from beginning to end.

How did you team with The Knocks for "Kiss the Sky?"

I love The Knocks. I got a chance to also collaborate with them on my album and on "Kiss the Sky." I love the song so much. I was like, let me strip it down and just do a raw acoustic. It's so funny because in my hood, they used to call me the "thug hippie." They'd be like, "You from this hood man. You're going to need to have a guitar or gun." I was like, I'll do the guitar.

The Fugees album The Score turned 20 this year. What do you remember looking back at the album two decades later?

I meet kids that are 16 years old that know The Score, like, "Yo, you wasn't even born, man." When you do music right, you do it from your heart. The Fugees music is not music for us. It's music for you. The Beatles is music for you. Bob Marley is music for you. When we do music, that's for the people -- it doesn't matter what year you're in. That music is always going to be there. I go back and I listen to The Score and it just brings back memories, like "Damn I was in high school. I remember the girl I was dating." The reason why people like the Fugees' work because it wasn't put together, it was high school kids [making music]. We all got together. [The other members] came to the hood to my uncle's basement and took a risk on me. I have been back to the basement -- we still got it. We're fixing it up now. We want to make it a studio again.

Any chance you still want to do a reunion tour?

I would love to, of course. And once again, Wyclef would love to do a Fugees reunion.

Critics have been giving Lauryn Hill a hard time for showing up late to shows. What are your thoughts on that?

I know she has a great stage show. I know when she focuses on rap, everybody forgets what happens once the music starts playing. I just know she's a great artist.

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