10 Questions for Wyclef Jean
Wyclef discusses Haiti, his affair with Lauryn Hill, and why he would vote for Barack Obama if he could
In his memoir, "Purpose: An Immigrant's Story," Wyclef Jean writes about his early childhood in Haiti, growing up in "war zones" in Brooklyn and New Jersey, and the formation of the Fugees, but it's the section about his affair with Lauryn Hill that has been getting the most press this week. Jean spoke with Loop 21 about why he chose to share the details of his relationship with Hill, what he thinks would help heal his homeland of Haiti, and why he thinks Mitt Romney is the wrong choice for America.
Loop 21: Why did you decide to write a book?
Wyclef Jean: When my mom told me the story of my birth, how my father tore up a page from the bible, boiled it and gave it to her to drink so that I could be born, it instilled in me the gift of storytelling. I’ve been writing about my life—every time on the road, everything I was going through, I was writing down.
With everything that has been said about me on social media, everyone has an opinion about me. Wyclef the name is bigger than the actual person. It was important to get this memoir out of my chest. I had to do it so that at least now, for people that have an opinion of me, good or bad, they can say, ‘let me read who the hell this guy is.’ After they read, they can make their own concrete decision if they want to listen to my music, support my charity. It should be based on hearing the side of the actual person.
Loop 21: Why did you decide to share such candid details of your affair with Lauryn Hill in the book? There were several stories this week about how she led you to believe she was pregnant with your child; why share that information?
W.J.: When things happen and at least 100 people know what’s going on, I guarantee you they are going to start coming out of the woodwork with their versions of the story. What’s crazy about this story is that it was already out there. People already got their book called, “We saw Wyclef in the hospital but that wasn’t his baby.”
When you read the Bible, you have the gospel according to Matthew, John, Luke. Jesus had his version of his story, but there were still 12 disciples and at the end, they were all going to tell the same story, but everyone their own way. In writing the book I knew all these things about Lauryn were going to come out so I put it out there myself. I am the one who was in the hospital when she had the baby, I am the one who knew how I felt that day.
Loop 21: You write that Lauryn no longer trusts you, saying: "It's sad that we can't get back to a place where she can just think of me as her big brother." Are you surprised by her reaction? Do you think there's a way you could have remained friends, as you did with Pras?
W.J.: With Pras, it’s different. I wasn’t sleeping with him. At this age, of course, it is fixable, but the other individual has got to want to help.
Loop 21: When you were running for president of Haiti last year, Pras said that while he chose to support your opponent Michel Martelly, he still loves you like a brother. What is your relationship with Pras today? Do you talk to each other much?
W.J.: I talk to him all the time. Same love. If you are involved in politics, it’s not based on emotion. So it’s fine if [Pras] is like ‘[Wyclef] is my man. He can cut dope records, but I don’t think he is the best person to run this country.’
Loop 21: You say in the book you think a Fugees reunion is unlikely. Would you be wiling to do whatever it took to let bygones be bygones so that you, Pras and Lauryn could work together again?
W.J.: Definitely. Keep in mind reading my memoir that it’s based on my 20s. In childhood, things get funky. Now, at the age that I am, I am not an adolescent, not immature. Asking that question is like this is like Kindergarten. This is what we did in our 20s. The Rolling Stones came back and rocked. Police came back.
Loop 21: The images of Haiti we see are typically negative. What do you think needs to be done so that we see a more positive side of Haiti?
W.J.: There’s this mandate that says [Haiti] is one of the most dangerous places in the world. If you go to Haiti, you go at your own risk. One of the things the media can do is help us show a different image of Haiti. What about Jacmel? What about if you go to the countryside? None of this stuff is being promoted. You need the right group of Haitian Americans to start. With this leadership, you can put the right information out there. But the problem is that Haitian Americans are not unified. When Martin Luther King, Jr. did his movement, even when other ministers tried to hate on him, the people were unified. Look at Jamaica. When Jamaica decided they wanted to sell their island as a place for tourism, they trained everybody so no matter what, you saw the commercial that Jamaica is irie. You know they were killing dudes in Tivoli Gardens, but they started to develop other places, like Montego Bay. Until Haitian Americans decide as a group that they are going to do the same for Haiti, nothing will ever happen.
Loop 21: Thousands of people in Haiti are still living in such deplorable conditions. What do you think is the solution? How, if you'd been elected president, would you have "fixed" Haiti?
W.J.: Just thinking about the people in the tents, it would be a Band-Aid, a temporary fix, but I would reroute people into locations outside of Port au Prince and build temporary housing there. The thing about it is that in order to fix the place, the first thing is to look at the political stability, the GDP of the country, analyzing import and export. As a country, we don’t have trade now, so our greatest asset at this point would be human capital. We knew after the earthquake there would be big corporations coming in, so there is opportunity there. But we need to have statistics, to count how many people are really in the cities and the country, and that would be the first stage that would allow for policies to help people find work.
Loop 21: Many people in Haiti say that while they’re still suffering two years after the earthquake, they aren’t angry at the government, they aren’t angry at organizations, because they are in God’s hands. As the son of a minister, what do you think of that?
W.J.: What I would do is tell them the story of the man who is about to drown, and as the man is about to drown, a big ship is coming by, and as the ship is passing by, the captain says, “Yo man, get on board!” And the dude who is drowning says, ‘Go on by. I’m in God’s hands.’ God has put a government in place, and the government has to react for the people. These disasters they see year after year, well God sends institutions, and he gave the people at these institutions brains, and with these brains people have to think, ‘Well, every year there’s going to be hurricane. How are we going to prepare?”
Loop 21: You say that your organization Yéle is "Haiti's greatest ally and asset." Why? What have you done that is better than what other organizations have done?
W.J.: At the time when I wrote the book, the reason I said we were Haiti’s greatest ally is when you looked at people from the World Food Programme and different organizations that were operating before the quake, they were having problems getting food into the slums because Aristide had just left and they were shooting up those trucks. Do you know who was able to get into the slums? Yéle. To get their trucks in, different organizations were sticking Yéle Haiti tags on their trucks for protection. We were working with a lot of different organizations on the ground to help them have an impact by helping them to reach the people.
Loop 21: Whom are you voting for in November, and why?
W.J.: I have a green card, but I encourage everyone who supports me to vote. I encourage people to vote for a president who will create policies for everyone, not just in America, not just in Haiti. I have to think of the Middle East. I have to think of Syria. I was just in Canada last week and the American dollar is down. This year everything is a problem. When you think of all that’s going on, you understand the best candidate is Barack Obama. It would take someone with a cool head and a calm mind to deal with all these situations. Mitt Romney is not the one. He is a flip flopper. He is a flip flopper with flip flop sandals on. That’s what you call a double flip flopper, and you can quote me on that! Every two seconds he’s saying something different, and if in a room full of people where he doesn’t think there’s a camera he can say that about 47 percent of Americans, can you imagine what he thinks when he is alone?