In 1997, Wyclef Jean dropped his debut solo album The Carnival. Coming just after his group the Fugees decided to go their separate ways, it became a critically celebrated project that ultimately netted him a nomination for Best Rap Album of the year at the Grammys and took home the award for Best R&B Video for the single “Gone Til November.”
Now, 20 years later, Jean is going back to The Carnival for a third time and plans to release his next work The Carnival Vol. III: The Fall & Rise Of A Refugee, next month on September 15, but is available for pre-order now. Today, Uproxx Music is premiering a brand new video from that project, the lead single “What Happened To Love.” Co-produced by the Knocks with a guest vocal from LunchMoney Lewis, Wyclef’s latest offering is a sun-soaked banger, perfectly suited for poolside dance parties.
Directed by Jose Javy Ferrer, the video was shot in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It opens with a shot of Jean on the phone in front of his piano, chatting with different members of the Carnival band — which are all played by Wyclef — trying to get them all back together. In many ways, it calls back to one of his earliest singles “We Are Trying To Stay Alive,” as Wyclef dons a similar white suit to the one he wore in that clip.
In addition to premiering the new clip, I also had the pleasure of talking to Wyclef about The Carnival Vol. III, his work with the Grammy Museum at the Prudential Center in his home state of New Jersey, and of course, just what it’s going to take to make a Fugees reunion happen. Read our conversation below.
So, you have a new album coming out next month, The Carnival Vol. III, and this year marks the 20th anniversary of the original Carnival album. How does the new one tie into the original and what are you trying to say on this latest record?
This new one is special. This was celebrating the 20 year anniversary, but what makes this The Carnival is because it’s really being reinvented by a new DNA of younger Wyclefs that were inspired by The Carnival and The Score. This is what’s the most exciting thing about the The Carnival III. The combination of The Carnival III is Wyclef the producer with young Wyclefs, that were listening to Wyclef when they were 12 years old. Right? So the algorithm on the The Carnival III is crazy. Think about… there’s a song called, “Wyclef Jean” by Young Thug. You ever heard that song?
Hell yes I have. I was actually going to ask you about that song.
All right. The kid who produced that song is Super Mario, so when I heard this song, I was, ‘Who the f*ck did this beat? This sounds like some 21-year-old Wyclef,’ and it happen to be a kid, Super Mario. Now, guess one of Super Mario’s favorite albums? The Carnival. So, Super Mario comes in on the The Carnival III and it’s the uncle and the nephew. You know what I’m saying? So that’s what the songs sound like. It sounds like 2017 meets 1997… maybe that’s what I should have f*ckin’ called the album.
Can you talk about this first single “What Happened To Love?” How did that come together?
“What Happened to Love” is me and these kids called, The Knocks. Once again, The Knocks come in and they’re obsessed with “Staying Alive” from The Carnival. They’re like, “Yo unc man, we got to do something like ‘Staying Alive!'” We get together and we create this record called, “What Happened to Love.”
There’s almost like this feedback loop between you and a younger and older generation. You’ve got Super Mario and Young Thug paying tribute to you on Thugger’s album with a song named after you, and then you pay tribute to older musicians like “Fela Kuti” on your own album.
That’s really what it’s about. I was talking about Mario about this earlier. My thing is just preserving the culture, right? And keep doing my part. It was so funny because someone heard a link to the new album, one of the guys was interviewing me from England, and he’s like, ‘Yo, ‘Clef. Yo, this sh*t sounds like you 21, but you’re 40-something. How the f*ck did you pull this sh*t off?’ I said ‘Because I’m like Sinatra and them guys. I timeless. Or Tony Bennett — I done this for real.’ Nothing comes before the art form and in order for you to understand that art form, you’ve got to be part of the culture for real. What’s that mean? Whatever my daughter’s listening to, if she’s listening to DJ Snake and I’m listening to DJ Premier, we can have a battle off. You see what I’m saying to you?
You have to understand who DJ Snake is, so by the time, if I’m doing a remix, I can be like, ‘What happens if we mix DJ Snake with Premier? This is how it would sound like.’ For me that’s sort of the excitement.
You’ve got to keep things fresh.
Definitely. New sounds, new artists that’s part of my DNA. Push the future forward.
I know you’ve been doing some work with the Grammy Museum to bring a satellite exhibit to the Prudential Center in your home state of New Jersey. I believe you filmed a sort of production tutorial right? Can you talk a little bit about that?
You know, for me it’s very surreal because I went to Vailsburg High School in New Jersey, and I just got inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame and one of the things that I love most was bringing my high school teacher there because I just felt like teachers really cared back then. So, the idea of being able to be interactive with fans and communities and to take them into your mind, of saying, ‘This is how I created this record. Let me give you that studio experience.’ A lot of times the fans or consumers they just hear the music on the radio, they see it online. But this gives you like an in-depth personality of how I create.
How many Grammys do you have at this point?
I got nominated for like 20. I think I have three now. Three or four. You know you have a lot of awards when you can’t remember how many you have.
Do you have a favorite?
I would say probably your favorite is usually the first one, because it’s sort of like surreal. When you get a Grammy, that’s equivalent to having an Oscar, because it’s like your peers that are saying, ‘You know what, we acknowledge that you do records.’ Because all of us peers and different people, we work so hard and I think acknowledgment from the peers that are part of the same society that you are in, is such a cool thing. I remember the first Grammy when the Fugees won that Grammy — even though we should have won Album of the Year, but I ain’t gonna get into that — at the time, we still… hip-hop was still being developed within that Grammy space. They were still trying to figure it out. So the fact that we was able to break that and win one for “Killing Me Softly,” that was pretty incredible.
So, speaking of the Fugees, what was the story with the song “The Ish” that got aired on Hot 97 recently? How did that get out?
I don’t know if you saw my Tweet and Lauryn [Hill]’s tweet where I basically was like, ‘I don’t support this. This is fake.’ That recording was something that was done 10 years ago, practically. And then, I guess it got leaked through the studios. When I looked online, I saw different Fugee leaked things. Somebody had to convince someone that this was original. You know what I mean? And it wasn’t. The thing about the Fugees flow, it’s so timeless.
How did you feel when that got out there?
I didn’t want to bamboozle the fans or the brand, which is a very nostalgic brand right? Because the Fugees is not gimmicky, it’s not based on what’s the next hustle. To a fan that has The Score, it’s like having Sgt. Pepper, dog. At the end of the day, if they hear there’s a leak, they’re going to be like, ‘Oh sh*t, is this real?’ When it’s time for real Fugee excitement, I’m in 100%, but I would never bamboozle the fans.
So, what’s it going to take to get the Fugees back together? I heard recently there was a $90 million offer floating around out there.
At the end of the day, it can’t be about the money. It has to be about the art. You dig? Because I’m telling you, man, I’ve got so many billionaire friends, they are lonely, dude. It’s got to be bigger than the check, because the check, you can always get. Do you see how many people that will sell their souls for money? The Fugees is so respected because it’s like when you don’t bamboozle the crowds. You know what I’m saying to you?
What could put the Fugees back together? Okay. Wyclef’s gonna tell you: Dave motherf*cking Chappelle. He’s the one that put us back together last time, so we all need to f*cking start pressuring Dave Chappelle starting today. Dave really loves, and admires, and understands that intellectual property of rap. For us, it was re-invention, it was incredible. What’s funny is there’s a lot of kids that I meet today that are 19 and 20 years old, the way that they know me, they don’t even know me from the The Score they know me from the Dave Chappelle Block Party.
Before I let you go, I wanted to ask you what you thought about DJ Khaled’s single “Wild Thoughts” with Rihanna that sampled the track you did with Santana “Maria Maria?”
Me and Khaled, we go back over 25 years. He’s my brother. I think it’s incredible. I let my daughter be the judge of that. She’s 12 and she’s singing it all over the house. So it’s great.