Last September, Wyclef Jean released his new album Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, which served as the third installment from his revered Carnival series. The 48-year-old plowed his way to another sizzling release, courtesy of his multi-faceted abilities on both the mic and guitar. Three months later, The Fugees star returns with a new mixtape titled Wycelf Jean Inspired By, which aims to win the ears of young and ravenous MCs in today’s rap circles.
While many artists from the ’90s are despondent to today’s quality of music, Clef has gleefully embraced the changes with open arms, so much so that he briskly whipped up a project in hopes of testing his musical genius. Wyclef Jean Inspired By finds ‘Clef wrestling with some of today’s hottest records and sprinkling his vintage flavor on it. Tracks like Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA” and Giggs “Ultimate Gangsta” were ransacked by Clef for his creative amusement and flipped in his own special way.
“I think fans are really going to be surprised because this one, I took it back straight to the culture,” Clef tells Billboard. “I went back to the cafeteria days, the battle MC days.”
The Score legend spoke to Billboard about his new mixtape Wyclef Jean Inspired By — which you can stream exclusively below — his love for new wave of rappers, and his decision to “bar-up” on his newest effort. Check it out below.
You recently released your album Carnival 3 and now you’re back with your new mixtape Wyclef Jean Inspire By. What made you decide to come back with a new project so quickly?
This for me, it reminds of the late ’90s where in Jamaica and the Islands what we used to do — because I used to play for a sound system too, Refuge Sounds — the artists would put out the album, but the 45’s were what always dictated the streets. An artist could cut an album and the next thing you know, he got like 10 new joints out on 45.
So for me, it’s a beautiful era because you get to put albums out and at the same time, when you want to talk to the culture, you put the mixtape out. You know, I just feel like with all the kids talking about Wyclef Jean and different things, I was like, “What would happen if I’m from 1997 and I took everything that inspired me from 2017 and wanted to flip?”
Now, I’m back on the courts, for real. So when I do “DNA,” when Kendrick hears it, or A$AP Ferg hears me spitting or when Kodak [Black] hears it, it’s like, “Really Clef?” I didn’t only take my time to bar-up, I also did a lot of re-production with guitars and playing on the track. So for me, I was really inspired, you know?
Not a lot of veteran MCs would be willing to flip a Kodak Black track, but yet, you were willing to do that. How were you able to put your pride aside to not only have fun with this project, but also show off your skill set?
Think it about, though? Can you imagine if Prince was like, “Yo. I’m gonna do a mixtape and I’m gonna flip?” Or Micheal [Jackson] or Whitney [Houston] was like, “I’m gonna flip?” At the end of the day, when you have a dude that plays like 15 instruments and actually can write for an entire orchestra, right, people keep forgetting that’s the genesis of my DNA.
I was an extra for Eric B and Rakim. I was barely 18-years-old. [“Don’t Sweat the Technique”] was my first music video ever. The hip-hop is embedded in my soul, you know what I mean? So when I hear like the new kids, it’s not a matter of pride, because at the end of the day, the culture is the culture. [The new kids] don’t see me often because I’m an alien.
So when they see me show up in person with the guitar, the drums, and all of that, now I’m talking to them in their language. We all have a coded language. The ’90s had that. We’re in the trap-era. There’s a code and language. I think that’s what the tape is going to do. It’s going to breakthrough to the new generation. It’s going to be make the Carnival fans wake up a little bit and go back like, “Oh. Maybe Clef has a project out.” [Laughs].
Which remix or track was the most challenging for you to flip?
Man, that is such a good question [Laughs]. Yo, the hardest one was “DNA.”
Because every bar is a bullet. It’s almost like that’s forbidden, you know what I mean? If I’m gonna bar-up on “DNA.,” my first thing is like, Kendrick, he already know me and he’s going to be paying attention. He’s gonna want to hear that 1996 Wyclef. He’s going to want to hear that mind, that “Ready or Not,” that guy.
I practically did the whole tape in like seven days ’cause I was inspired. But that was the one that was most challenging because you remember when Canibus did “Second Round K.O.?” Like, there’s literally no hook on that record. It basically stops for a second and then, I had to do justice to all of his rhythm patterns, right?
If you remember, Lil Wayne used to flip the tapes — and I’m a big fan of Wayne. It’s not just flipping the lyrics, but then there’s a cadence and a pattern within jazz. So for me, that was the hardest thing, but like I said, it’s dope because once I was finished with the entire tape, now I got the millennials frequencies after I did that tape. So you can imagine what’s going to come from me after.
Are fans going to be more surprised with your musicianship on this project because you tackled so many instruments or the bars?
It’s straight up the raps. Like, if I was to ask you the last time you heard me rap like this, you’d be like, “Man. I gotta really think.”
I used to always go to battles with my guitar. I would keep my guitar near me if I gotta do a solo or something, but fans are going to be amazed by how I took my time because you know with writing, you can’t fake it. With writing, you literally have to take time out and write. Our generation be like, “Well, we don’t be having time to write like that.” So for me, it you wanna be in the gas station and get that refuel, you gotta put in that time.
It’s been a minute since an artist from my era said, “Let’s stop everything and let’s just discuss through bars.” And if you hear me on this Kodak and you hear me on this A$AP [Ferg], your mind-state will change because a lot of the new kids, they think that I’m a singer [Laughs]. They don’t know me for rapping. This is actually an introduction of Wyclef Jean to a 19 or 20-year-old that’s listening to A$AP Ferg.