Wyclef Jean

On this day in 1972, rapper Wyclef Jean was born in Haiti. As vocalist, guitarist and

producer of the Fugees, and with his popular traveling Carnival show, Jean has become

one of the most important and influential figures on the contemporary music scene.

Jean's family migrated to South Florida and then settled in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was in this

famous New York City borough that Jean spent a great deal of time with his cousin,

rapper/producer Pras Michel. The two, who grew up listening to jazz, Jimi Hendrix and

reggae, formed the hip-hop troupe, Tranzlator Crew.

The pair hooked up in New Jersey with Michel's high school friend, teen actress/vocalist

Lauryn Hill. The trio soon changed their name to the Fugees (short for "refugees"),

because they were threatened with a lawsuit by the new-wave band, Translator.

The Fugees signed with the Columbia Records-associated Ruffhouse label and

recorded their hip-hop debut album, Blunted On Reality (1993), at their Booga

Basement studio in East Orange, N.J. The single "Nappy Heads," which sampled Kool &

The Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire, became a minor pop-hit. But the Fugees initially

earned their critical reputation for their live shows, during which they skillfully swapped

instruments.

The Score (1996) made the Fugees superstars on the strength of the hits

"Fu-Gee-La" and their #1 cover of the Roberta Flack smash, "Killing Me Softly With His

Song," retitled "Killing Me Softly" (RealAudio excerpt). Also in 1996,

the Fugees joined the "Smokin' Grooves" tour.

In 1997, Jean issued the solo The Carnival Featuring the Refugee All Stars, which

featured appearances by his two Fugee bandmates. The disc reached the top 20 on the

Billboard 200 albums chart and featured the hit single, "We Trying to Stay Alive,"

which sampled the Bee Gees. While the Fugees were noted for their non-violent,

genre-bending form of hip-hop, Jean the solo artist continued to break musical

boundaries by venturing into Caribbean music. He also pleased fans with his Carnival

tour, which included shows with a party atmosphere that blended all types of music.

Jean said of those performances: "I just try to mix things up. I try to give the crowd a little

of what they want to hear and a little something that they never even thought they'd hear.

I love to keep a crowd on its toes."

This year, Jean played the HFStival and the Tibetan Freedom Concert, both in

Washington, D.C., and was embroiled in a song war with fellow rapper LL Cool J. Jean

issued the cut "Retaliation" (later retitled "What's Clef Got To Do With It") in response to

LL's "The Ripper Strikes Back," which concerned LL's feud with Canibus (who Jean has

produced) over another track.

In August, Jean was at the center of more controversy when he denied charges that he

pulled a gun on the editor of Blaze, a new hip-hop publication. Jean insisted the

editor's claim was a publicity stunt. The editor, Jesse Washington, said the incident

occurred during his meeting with Jean in which the two discussed the magazine's

unfavorable review (which was never published) of Canibus' Jean-produced debut,

Can-I-Bus.

Jean is continuing his Carnival tour with the Refugee All-Stars (including Michel and

beat-programmer John Forte) this fall on the college circuit.

Other birthdays: James Seals (Seals & Crofts), 57; Gary Puckett, 56; and Ziggy Marley,

30.