San Francisco was blanketed with waves of concertgoers this past weekend to take in the latest edition of the Outside Lands Festival. Headlined by Twenty One Pilots, Childish Gambino, and Paul Simon, the eclectic gathering of musical minds gave way to a special pop-up performance from Wyclef Jean of The Fugees fame, and we were fortunate to speak to the multi-talented artist ahead of his House by Heineken set.
Veering away from the usual questions about his Fugees past, we decided to instead speak to the Haitian-born star’s current place in music, and where his journey is taking him next. Brimming with quiet humility, Wyclef, fresh from an event in Brooklyn, initially appeared tired but warmed up as the chat went on.
“I always say that for me, it’s surreal,” Clef shared, remarking his still-ongoing journey as an entertainer. “We just came back from Coney Island in Brooklyn in my old hood, all my Nigerians and all my peoples, and I get here [to OSL] and I’m with my hippies. It’s just about bringing that One Love vibe, the Bob Marley vibe. Don’t matter if it’s two people or a thousand, or 15,000, 100,000, you’re always gonna get a Wyclef show.”
Wyclef added, “The stage is a celebration to me, it’s a celebration. Because if you came from where I came from, when I say I came from a hut to a donkey, to a Ferarri, that wasn’t no animated story. I’m always humbled first. Then I thank God. I’ve been doing this a long time.”
Legacy is important to Wyclef, as it should be for an artist of his measurable success and stature. When asked if he revisits his classic work with the Fugees or his own acclaimed solo work, Wyclef displayed the humility we noticed earlier.
“I’m a student of Quincy Jones and the music is all about the pulse of the youth,” Wyclef shared. “I remember this song I did called “41 Shots for Diallo,” which didn’t get any radio play here [in the U.S.}. I go to Nigeria, 200,000 people with Diallo signs. I learned that from Quincy Jones that when you make music, it’s a piece of history that’s going to touch someone different everyone and live beyond you. I don’t go back to my music, I made it. But everyone finds what they want in it.”
A moment of introspection and self-awareness took place when we asked about Wyclef’s next steps were, and he didn’t shy away from the fact he’ll be hitting the half-century mark this October. While music remains his first love, Wyclef is now venturing into the realm of storytelling.
“I’m about to be 50 this year and a lot of things are moving for Wyclef Jean right now,” he said. “I did a big deal with Netflix to produce a movie and at first I was like I don’t want it focused on my life or The Carnival and none of that.”
Wyclef continued, “I said ‘no we’re going to do a movie about the first 10 years of my life.’ So I want to cater to kids from six years old to 12. So this one is going to be called, The Prince of Port-au-Prince and how a kid escapes poverty through imagination.
I’m very excited about that because the level of the soundtrack and the score I’m gonna be doing for this project, it’s gonna be on the level of Aladdin or Spider-Man. So now, I got to show a kid that seven or eight that’s coming up and into music and what’s to know what music in Haiti sounds like, they’re gonna learn how to speak my language.”
Given that Wyclef was there to rock the House by Heineken stage and the Dutch brewing company was the official beer sponsor for Outside Lands, it was only fitting to ask if he partook of the beer, including the company’s new alcohol-free brew, the 0.0. We carefully asked if he indulged in a Heineken or two, and was met with a scoff and a knowing wink.
“Come on, go back to The Carnival, Clef gets down with the Heineken, and the brews,” Wyclef said with a smile. “I gets busy but I haven’t had a chance to have any Heineken. I’m gonna drink that Heineken 0.0 after the set.”
In an all too brief set, Wyclef rocked hits such as “Maria, Maria,” “Ready Or Not,” and several blistering freestyles in a set that commanded the crowd for the short time he had them.
At a festival with literal legends like Simon and culture champions like Gambino, Wyclef Jean showed and proved that despite achieving high heights, he still has plenty more to offer the world stage while solidifying his status as one of music’s best talents living today.
Photo: Jesse Lirola/@JesseLirola