Nightline Playlist: Wyclef Jean

The former Fugees shares his favorite songs.


Dec. 8, 2007 — -- 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.

"There's very few songs when you sing them or say them, they feel like a song, so redemption song just felt like an everyday message."

Growing up in the projects, Jean and his father worked nights cleaning bathrooms in local hotels to make ends meet, but he never lost sight of the American dream -- something he was easily reminded of listening to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

"I liked that song cause it made me feel like whatever you wanted to accomplish in the U.S. you could do it at the time," Jean said.

Jean sites Michael Jackson's "Beat it" is as another song that defined him growing up, providing the perfect soundtrack to his high school years.

"'Beat It' just represented a time and a place at the time we was just coming up trying to figure what was going on," he said. "You know, going to school, but at times cutting class trying to figure out what to do with our lives, and you know, MJ 'Beat It' album was just the record that had a lot of attitude."

He was particularly impressed by the album's production, and he aspired to be like the young producer, Quincy Jones.

Jean has been going to New York City ever since he was a teenager and interned for RCA one summer, delivering mail to the mailroom. He says New York embodies a certain energy and purity for him.

"There's just no place like New York City," he said. "New York City just makes you feel like anything you want to accomplish you can do it, and it gives you that extra drive that no matter what you are going through, you're going to pull through it."

Like Frank Sinatra, who sang "New York New York," Jean felt he had to pay his dues to the city that had energized him so much throughout his life. In fact, one of his favorite songs on his new album "Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant," is called "Heaven's in New York."

"I mean, the typical song that captures that is Frank Sinatra 'New York, New York,'" Jean said. "I think Frankie did one for New York, I gotta do one for New York. You know it's really been a minute since we heard New York inside a record, and it's still the big apple and we definitely give respect to that."

He not only pays homage to New York, but keep strong ties with Haiti as well -- a place that still plays an enormous role in his life. He adopted his daughter, Angelina Claudinelle, from Haiti. And he continues to work with "Yelé Haiti to provides aid to the impoverished nation.

Yelé focuses on sustainable development by putting in place programs that feed the hungry and help fight AIDS, as well as creating art and sports programs for young people. Jean's latest album plays on his Haitian roots as well.

When he's at home, Jean says he enjoys listening to gospel music, like that of C.C. Wynans, but he says he mostly listens to satellite radio.

So what's on Jean's iPod?

"I made up my own iPod. It's called the Wipod. I made my own," he said. "It's an eclectic bunch. OK, this is Jean's Wipod: Fugees, 'Ready or Not,' Jean's 'Carnival,' 'Gone till November,' 50 Cent's 'In Da club,'" Johnny Cash, 'Delia,' Kenny Rogers, 'The Gambler,' Julio Iglesias, 'To All the Girls I Loved Before,' Marvin Gaye, 'Sexual Healing.' Now that's eclectic."