Interview: Wyclef Jean

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Image by DDB PR

JUICE went all the way to chilly Shanghai in mid-December as a guest of Hennessy Artistry to attend their massive Pudong Expo extravaganza (read report here). Among the artists on the bill was Wyclef Jean, former Fugee and the man behind The Score, which has got to be one of the best hip hop albums ever. In a marathon run of press conferences, the last interview of the day was allocated to the man of the moment and having patiently waited for that time to roll around, JUICE lost no time leaping over chairs and tripods and over the heads of hapless journos not as quick-footed as ourself just to pose our golden question. This was our one question and this was his one answer…

Hello Clef. We’re big hip hop fans. We wanna know what you think of the the evolution of hip hop, how does it compared with say 10 to 20 years ago?

Wyclef is about to speak, when he is interrupted by the translator, who promptly translates our question (wtf) as Clef sips on his Hennessy.

Well, hip hop was created in the Bronx and it went to Brooklyn and all over right. Hip hop is just a culture. It’s the state of the community you are living in and it was a rebellious form because, from the clothes we wore, to the dialects that we spoke, to the dancing, to the graffiti, it was a way of expressing ourselves and our everyday lives. Rap music is part of the expression of hip hop, the same way you have dancing.

The evolution of it is a great evolution, because what happens is, now you have a way where kids can make commerce, like they don’t have to stand at the corner to pull your wallet or to stick you up. A kid can dream and say, “One day I can be on television.” So versus him standing on the corner, he has Pro-Tools at his house or he’s busy setting up MySpace pages, so that you can see what he’s gonna do. I think hip hop has saved a lot of kids you can’t even imagine. I come from the community and I have peoples in the prison, cousins that got killed and I got shot before. So when you hear this music, it’s not just the music; it’s everyday life.

What hip hop has done is, it has allowed you to walk freely in Harlem through parts of Brooklyn. You can just come and visit. Even New York City is kinda cool right now because hip hop has saved the world. This culture has travelled through every ghetto, every suburb around the world, in every language. When any kid feels like, “Y’know what, we don’t like what’s going on in the system, we’re gonna talk about it”, they do it through hip hop. Or they wanna do a new dance, they do it through hip hop. We don’t like the way you’re dressing or it’s corny, we’re gonna express ourselves through hip hop. What I do is explain this to different cultures because sometimes a culture does something and they don’t understand.

You might see us with our pants sagging or sneakers with no laces on them. Sometimes you might see us move our hands a certain way and then everyone adapts the culture. It’s important for you to understand the philosophy that’s behind that. The first thing you must understand is the idea of the pants that sag.

Clef stands up and pulls his pants down a little gesturing.

You see his pants like that right? The reason why his pants are like that is because the culture comes from prison and over there, the first thing that happens is they take your belt from you. So when they strip you of your belt, it’s (the saggy pants look) a way of saying ‘you can take my belt from me, but you can’t take what I am as a man.’ See, these are different cultures. When you go to prison, they take your shoelaces from you so that you don’t hang yourself. What I’m trying to explain to you is this music is much deeper than what you see in the media. You have to live it to really understand it. You know what I’m sayin’. (pause) Wow, that’s a lot.

Clef sips on his Henny. The translator does her thang. Thank you, Clef.

Wyclef Jean performed at Hennessy Artistry Shanghai in Pudong Expo on Saturday December 6. Check yourself up with him at