Wyclef Jean

Rapper Wyclef Jean is currently concentrating on his solo career, including working for NetAid, the anti-poverty benefit concerts that took place last weekend in the United States, England and Switzerland.

Wyclef performed "New Day" (RealAudio excerpt), the song he wrote with Bono for the cause, with the U2 frontman at the New Jersey NetAid concert.

Wyclef was born Oct. 17, 1972, in Haiti. His family migrated to South Florida and then settled in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was in the New York borough that Wyclef 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 debut album, Blunted on Reality (1993), at their Booga Basement studio in East Orange, N.J. The single "Nappy Heads," which sampled Kool and the Gang as well as Earth, Wind and 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," re-titled "Killing Me Softly."

Wyclef, who sings, produces and plays guitar, issued the solo The Carnival Featuring the Refugee All Stars (1997), 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 nonviolent, genre-bending form of hip-hop, Wyclef 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 various types of music.

Last year Wyclef played the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C. He also was at the center of controversy when he denied charges that he pulled a gun on the editor of the hip-hop publication Blaze. Wyclef insisted the editor's claim was a publicity stunt. The editor, Jesse Washington, said the incident occurred during his meeting with Wyclef in which the two discussed the magazine's unfavorable review (which was never published) of Canibus' Wyclef-produced debut, Can-I-Bus.

Wyclef played Woodstock '99 in July and continued his series of Miami benefit concerts for Haiti in April. He also sang "Delia's Gone" at cable station TNT's concert tribute to Johnny Cash. This month he is touring the United States.

Other birthdays Sunday: Alan Howard (Brian Poole and the Tremeloes), 58; Jim Seals (Seals and Crofts), 58; Gary Puckett, 57; Alan Jackson, 41; Ziggy Marley, 31; and Christopher Kirkpatrick ('N Sync), 28.