Wyclef Jean's first introduction to hip-hop, the music genre that made him famous, came in the form of a small act of rebellion. Young Jean had just moved to the New Jersey projects from Haiti and was introduced to hip-hop through Sugar Hill Gang's "Rappers Delight," a song he felt expressed what everyone in his community was going through at the time.
"When I got to the U.S. I was 10 years old out of the project, and the first sounds I heard was a bass," Wyclef remembered. "I was like, 'What's that?' And my dad was like, 'Get back in the house, I don't want you listening to that music.' And of course that's the music I started listening to, and that was hip-hop."
Though he continued listening and later singing hip-hop, his musical roots are entrenched in Haiti, where he lived until the age of 9.
"Coming from Haiti where it's a lot of roots inside of the music, all I used to do is remember waking up to the sound of drums, just sonics and different drums and rhythms," Jean said.
Jean was thrust into music at the age of 3 when he sang at his father's church. He immigrated to the United States with his family in 1981, living in Brooklyn for a year and then moving to South Orange, N.J.
In high school, he formed a band with classmates Lauren Hill and Pras Michel, called the Tranzlator Crew. They later changed the name to the Fugees and sky-rocketed into fame with their second album "The Score." "The Score" sold more than 6 million copies and earned two Grammy awards: best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocal, and best rap album.
While he garnered a lot of success singing with the Fugees, he had one teacher in high school who reminded him to keep his eyes open to other kinds of music.
"I remember the teacher telling me in my ear, 'You have to do more than just rap, you aren't going to make any money rapping,'" Jean said. "You have to learn how to read sheet music, so that definitely got me into Miles [Davis] and different people."
He took his teacher's advice, and through listening to Miles Davis realized that he wanted to do more with his music.
"I always knew as a musician I wanted to do more than just to sing or to rap or to write songs. I wanted to do scores," he said. "And what I used to love about Miles Davis is he always used to put you inside of a mood. You felt like you was in a place and a time which can be described by mankind, and I always wanted to get into score music, and so I looked up to that."
Jean has worked tirelessly to help his native country of Haiti. In 2005 he established a foundation, Yelé Haiti, to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to the country. This year, Jean was named roving ambassador to Haiti, and Haitian President Rene Preval called him "our best asset to promote the country's image around the world." Jean and his wife have one daughter together whom they adopted from Haiti.
One of his biggest musical inspirations growing up in Haiti was Bob Marley. Jean says because of Haiti's close proximity to Jamaica and their love of reggae music, this was an "automatic."
"It seemed like the music of Bob Marley, the lyrics just felt like inspirational growing up. That definitely gave me a vibe coming up," he remembers.
He was particularly moved by "Redemption Song," which he says changed his life "completely." He saw this song not just as lyrics but a mantra to live by.