Rapper, musician, music producer
Born: October 17, 1969, in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti
Grew up in: East Orange and Newark, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2016: Performing Arts
At a time when tales of thug life dominated much of hip-hop, Wyclef Jean and his fellow members of the New Jersey-based trio the Fugees established themselves as musical pioneers by injecting notes of romance, playfulness and social consciousness into the genre.
Jean was born in Haiti and raised by relatives until he and a younger brother were reunited with their parents in Brooklyn, New York. The family moved to Newark when Jean was a teenager. His father, a Nazarene minister, encouraged Jean to devote his obvious musical talents to the church, but the future star had other ideas.
Drawn to the rap scene, Jean joined fellow Haitian immigrant Pras Michel and New Jersey native Lauryn Hill in a group called Tranzlator Crew. In 1993, they signed with Columbia-affiliated Ruffhouse Records and changed the group’s name to the Fugees, shorthand for refugees. The trio’s debut album, 1994’s “Blunted on Reality,” had only limited commercial success, but did spawn a No. 1 dance hit, “Nappy Heads.”
The Fugees second album was different story. Released in 1996, “The Score” topped The Billboard 200 albums chart for four weeks and was later certified platinum for U.S. sales of more than 6 million copies. Widely hailed as a turning point for rap, “The Score,” artfully blended the group’s multiple musical influences, notably soul, jazz and reggae. It yielded four hit singles, including covers of “Killing Me Softly,” a ballad originally made popular by jazz/soul singer Roberta Flack, and the Bob Marley classic “No Woman, No Cry.” When the Grammys rolled around, “The Score” won for best rap album.
In 1997, Jean opened a new chapter of his career with his first solo album, “Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival Featuring the Refugee All-Stars.” Like Jean’s subsequent solo sets, “The Carnival” was packed with a diverse array of guests, from the Neville Brothers to Celia Cruz. A steady flow of solo albums followed, including one sung mostly in Jean’s native Haitian Creole.
Jean’s notable recording and songwriting collaborations include work with Carlos Santana, Whitney Houston, Ludacris and Colombian star Shakira, with whom he composed and wrote the lyrics for the giant worldwide hit “Hips Don’t Lie.”
In 2001, Jean established Yele Haiti, a charitable organization that achieved prominence for helping meet disaster needs in Haiti after Hurricane Jeanne and the 2010 Haitian earthquake. However, questions were raised about mismanagement of funds and the organization was disbanded by 2012.
Jean has long been active in Haitian politics and in 2010 announced his candidacy for Haiti’s presidency. His bid was rejected because he did not meet the residency requirement.
Throughout his career, Jean has made numerous appearances in films and on television, often playing himself. He also has written a memoir, “Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story,” which follows the arc of his life from youthful poverty in Haiti to stardom in America.