Wyclef Jean was born on October 17, 1969, in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti. Wyclef Jean's band, the Fugees, released their debut album, Blunted on Reality, in 1993. It was the group's second album, The Score (1996), however, that catapulted the Fugees to stardom. The Score sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. After making several albums, in August 2010, Jean made headlines when he announced that he would be running the presidency of Haiti (Jean, 1997).
This Haitian rapper's life story begins with eating dirt -- literally -- in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and ends with a presidential bid. His memoir's curious title is telling: many artists, selecting a précis for the span of their careers, might forgo ''purpose'' for one of hip-hop's revered R's -- ''real'' or ''rich.'' His subtitle is even more telling: over and above a hip-hop story, Wyclef's is ''an immigrant's story (Jean, 1997).''
That is what makes it a gem. This escapade-filled memoir -- short on revelations or scintillating tone, but brimming with droll yarns -- delivers a narrative that often gets short shrift in hip-hop historiography: a diasporic one. Hip-hop is a classic American rags-to-riches saga, yes, but it's also a postcolonial immigrant story -- as much Henry Roth as Horatio Alger (Braziel, 2008).
By age 17, Wyclef wore multiple musical hats -- in church bands, the school jazz and choir bands, and a rap group -- but hip-hop was more than mere music. In the context of ''Go back to Jamaica'' jeers -- all Caribbean immigrants were derisively lumped into one category -- and ''Haitian Day,'' when Wyclef says African- American youths beat up Haitians, it was a mechanism of both assimilation and ambassadorship: ''It was about earning a place of equality for all of my Haitian brothers and sisters in school.'' And soon, it was about breaking the rap mold. In a studio in his uncle's basement, Wyclef and two New Jersey neighbors, Pras Michel and Lauryn Hill, became the Fugees, who ''sold over 15 million copies but released just one major-label album'' -- a classic, ''The Score.'' The college-educated, musically diverse, diaspora-minded Fugees represented something radical (Hoover, 2013). ''We showed the world that kids like us could sing passionate songs. We could smile, make love and be happy,'' Wyclef writes. ''Hip-hop didn't have to be about thug life; it could be just about life (Brennan, 1998).''
Wyclef Jean was born Nel Ust Wyclef Jean on October 17, 1969, in the small town of Croix-des-Bouquets, just outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Jean was one of four children—three sons and a daughter—born to pastor Gesner Jean and his wife. When Wyclef was 9 years old, his family moved to the Coney Island area of Brooklyn, New York. "When I got to America," Jean later told Ebony magazine, "I was expecting to see money falling from the sky." But the Marlboro housing projects, where Jean and his family lived, didn't quite meet with Jean's initial ...