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Multi-platinum musician, producer, activist and aspiring politician Wyclef Jean's new memoir Purpose: An Immigrant's Story provides a candid insight into his life and career. In an interview airing on Monday's Tell Me More, he sits down with host Michel Martin to discuss his family, his music and his hopes for Haiti. Jean also talks about his rocky romantic past with Lauryn Hill, how it inspired his music, and how it eventually broke up the group that made them both stars, The Fugees.
On His Childhood In Haiti
Spending his early years in Haiti gave Wyclef Jean a vivid experience of poverty, but also an appreciation for his family. "I always remember us eating from the floor at times when we were hungry, red dirt. We look back and laugh at it today," Jean says about himself and his siblings. "That dirt must have had some minerals in it because we're OK today. But we [were] happy. No matter what we [were] going through, as long as we had each other, we had the rain, the sun, we were happy."
"Drug dealer" Music, And His Father's Pride
The family came to America when Jean was a young boy. His father, a preacher, fought to keep him away from what he called "drug-dealer music", and refused to acknowledge or celebrate Wyclef's success for many years.
"The height of my career, being a Fugee, all I wanted him to say was 'Yo, son, I love you, you have done your work in America.' He never came to a Fugee show, never," Wyclef explains. "Probably two years before he died was when I got the closest to him, because I had a show at Carnegie Hall...Somehow I tricked him, and he came to the only Wyclef Jean concert. That night, every star possible was in that room to come see me...So after the concert...he comes to me and he's like, 'Do you know when you have made it in this country? When white people, black people, yellow people, green people, all come to see you, but they don't see the color, they see the man.' That was his way of telling me that you've made it."
Starting The Fugees, And Loving Lauryn Hill
As a teenager, Wyclef joined fellow Haitian-American musician, Pras Michel, who later introduced him to Lauryn Hill. Together, the trio created the band, The Fugees, and brought hip hop to a mainstream audience. Their album The Score is still one of the best selling hip hop albums of all time, a success that Jean attributes in part to audiences connecting with its "undertone." "There was romance. There was passion. There was love. There was lust," he explains.
The Arrogance Of An "African King"
His relationship with Hill began while he was also with his current wife, Claudinette. While Wyclef credits the romance with fueling The Fugee's success, he's also candid about how it led to the group's destruction. "It was important to detail the level and intensity of what really went down and led the group to what eventually was the break up," he says.
In retrospect, Wyclef sees his behavior as reckless. "My arrogance. My Caesar complex. My African King 'I can have five, six women at a time,' and then being a rock star...at the time, these are all the components that lead you blind and make you think you own the world. And then karma strikes." Wyclef says he was devastated to discover that he was not the father of Hill's child. "Once that happened, it just broke up that fusion of whatever it was. It was like, we are clear that that can be no more."
Lauryn Hill's Mental State
Wyclef says that he welcomed the chance to explain his side of the relationship and the break up with Lauryn Hill. "It was important to come clean...It still is a healing process, but I still want to spark something in Lauryn too, because, there's times that I've reached out," he says. "You've read me on the Internet sometimes. I say 'yo, I feel like she's imbalanced [sic.], she's bipolar at times', and I feel people around her have her like that so that they can control her. So I've always been vocal and honest...if this thing leads to her writing a book...it would make me feel very happy."
On His Failed Run For The Haitian Presidency
In 2010, Wyclef campaigned to become president of his native Haiti. He was excluded because he supposedly didn't meet the residency requirement. Wyclef still feels that his exclusion was unfair, but decided not to contest the ruling. "People in the country know that I could have rised [sic.] that place up if I wanted to the same night. Why didn't I do that? Because before me, I've seen regimes tear the country apart. Kids die. Just on the ego of a man saying 'No, I've got to be president.' I didn't run to be president, I ran on the urgency of wanting to help the youth."
He hasn't ruled out a run in the future, but now is focused on changing Haiti from outside of the government. "I don't have to be president to do great things for my country, but at the same time, to get legislation and policy passed, you have to be in some kind of office," he says, "So I don't know what the future will lead to."