Words By Jesse H. | @JHagen34
“I tell ya, I ain’t got nothin’ but funny money man…”
In a genre that isn’t particularly well-known for its philanthropy – save for a few notable examples and sparse lyrical references (“My Adidas”) – Friday’s report from the NY Times following-up on Wyclef Jean’s contentious charity work in Haiti is discouraging to say the least.
The report was prompted by the closing of Jean’s charity, Yele, and the release of Jean’s new memoir, Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story, in which he claims to have suffered a public ‘crucifixion,’ when questions were raised about what happened to $16M that Yele collected in the wake of a massive earthquake that devastated the already-impoverished country of Haiti (Jean’s home) in 2010. Jean later abandoned a bizarre Haitian presidential bid due to the scandal.
The numbers that the Times publishes on the charity, which officially folded this summer, look damning indeed: $600,000 on a home base of operations (now deserted), several unfinished projects, and hundreds of thousands of dollars used for illegal benefits for Jean, celebrity endorsers and various Yele staffers.
In fact, the report finds that 50 percent of the troubled charity’s $9 million in 2010 spending went to travel, salaries, consultant’s fees and office/warehouse expenses. Comparable celebrity-backed charities operate at around 10 percent of money spent being used for those costs.
“If I had depended on Yele… these kids would all be dead by now,” reads a haunting quote from the proprietor of a Haitian orphanage.
What makes the Times’ findings even more upsetting is that Jean seemingly still styles himself as the people’s hero within the pages of his new memoir: comparing his suffering to Jesus and MLK Jr. and pages later, boasting about a watch collection that costs half a million dollars.
From a Hip-Hop standpoint, Clef hasn’t been a relevant artist in years (his last notable musical contribution was “You Know What It Is” from 2007’s T.I. vs. T.I.P.), but he is of the age and the influence to potentially be a positive, charitable ambassador for a genre that could sorely use more of those in the public eye.
The three-page article does a nice job of holding Jean accountable, and is worth a read, especially for specific financial details and heartbreaking images of the still tragedy-stricken Haiti. However, it doesn’t touch on a larger underlying question for Hip-Hop itself: why does the genre have so few high-profile charitable efforts?