Wyclef Jean Heads up America-Africa Concert

Ed Gordon talks with hip-hop producer, musician and activist Wyclef Jean, who is headlining Thursday night's America-Africa concert in New York, celebrating rap music's trans-Atlantic ties.

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(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WYCLEF JEAN: (Singing) Looka, looka, looka, looka, looka, looka here, looka shorty got back, should I ask her for a dance? Hold on, there's too many in a wolf pack.

ED GORDON, host:

Musician Wyclef Jean is often in the news. Either he's collaborating with artists from Tom Jones to Destiny's Child, or he's performing to raise money or awareness for worthy causes. To that end, Jean is headlining the Africa-America concert tonight at New York's Lincoln Center. The event celebrates the links between hip-hop and rap in Africa and America. He joins us from our New York studios. Welcome, man. Good to have you.

Mr. JEAN: What's up? What's going on?

GORDON: Let me ask you something, before we get into the music, and that is that you have for a long time been involved in different causes, many of them to raise awareness for things you hold close to your heart. What makes you do that?

Mr. JEAN: Well, I mean, I came from Haiti when I was 10 years old. I grew up in the projects, Brooklyn, Marlboro Projects, when I came up here, and my father was a minister in the church right in the hood. He always believed in putting churches in the hood. And I think my father has a lot to do with my thinking. You know, he always told me to live for yourself. It's senseless, you know. It's no purpose, you know, to live for others. That's really where eternal life is at.

GORDON: When you think about that, particularly when you think about your homeland of Haiti, for those of us who have been there, when you look at the abject poverty that really runs rampant through that country, it must be difficult, to a great degree, to understand what the folks there still have to go through.

Mr. JEAN: I'm in Haiti like every three months. I have slum programs where I feed over 20,000 kids like every three weeks, actually, and just rebuilding the schools. I mean, I'm from a slum populated area, you know what I mean? And nobody necessarily felt sorry for me, you understand? So people in Haiti don't need pity. What they need is a sense of inspiration.

GORDON: One of the interesting things that I find in the concert that you'll be doing is the idea of how important hip-hop and rap has become globally, and you're showing and others are showing the link between that real lifestyle, to a great degree, and the continent of Africa. Talk to me about why you wanted to be a part of this.

Mr. JEAN: I've had the chance to travel the whole world, and every place you go to, the voice of the kids is hip-hop music. And what this concert is going to allow is to always show the link, and it's important that night to show the fact that, yeah, we are in New York, we are doing hip-hop, but look, these kids are from Africa. They are doing hip-hop. It has become a worldwide thing.

GORDON: Were you at all surprised when you initially found out how much hip-hop had spread?

Mr. JEAN: I'm not surprised. You know, my group was responsible for a lot of that, the Fugees.

(Soundbite of music)

FUGEES: (Singing) Right here, right now...

Mr. JEAN: An album we did called "The Score" contributed a lot to that, because we actually got up and went and toured Europe. Everywhere we left off, we definitely left a mark.

(Soundbite of music)

FUGEES: (Singing) We used to be number 10. Now we're permanent one; in the battle, lost my finger; mic became my arm, pistol nozzle hits your nasal, blood becomes lukewarm, tell the woman be easy; naah squeeze the Charmin, test Wyclef, see death flesh get scorned, beat you so bad make you feel like you ain't wanna be born, Jean...

GORDON: Let me ask you this. So much has been made about the idea of "The Score" being one of the seminal albums of hip-hop history. Do you concern yourself with the fact that maybe, we rely too much on the legend of that and would look forward to something that no matter how great the next album would be, you couldn't match it?

Mr. JEAN: No, we don't need to match the album at all. I think we just have to do an album for the time. I think what people miss most about the Fugees is everything that's going on in the world. If you had a band like the Fugees together, they would be talking about it, there would be challenging issues, you know what I mean?

GORDON: Wyclef, you know I can't get away from this next question, obviously, and I know you guys are probably tired of dealing with it, but there's the question of Lauryn Hill and whether or not she's OK. She, obviously, is a close person to you. You feel that she's doing all right?

Mr. JEAN: Yes, definitely. I feel she's doing much better than she was doing a few years ago. All of our artists, you know, go through the ups and through the downs, you know what I mean? She's going to pull through, you know what I mean, and we're going to help her pull through.

GORDON: Good. Wyclef Jean, thanks so much, man. Good to talk to you.

Mr. JEAN: All right.

(Soundbite of music)

FUGEES: (Singing) Yeah, I'm the L, won't you pull it? Pull it. Straight to the head with the speed of a bullet. Bullet.

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. You can hear any story from today's program or previous programs at npr.org. Just click on to archives at the top of the page. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

FUGEES: (Singing) ...frequently, your nerve endings belong to me. Wrongfully, you put me down, not receiving the full capacity of my smoke.

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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