Artist: Wyclef Jean
Rating: 8 / 10
The most prominent Refugee of late is none other than the man from Haiti, Wyclef Jean. He’s hitting the streets this time around with Masquerade, the third installment from the Fugee. The once one of two so called pieces of “extra baggage” of Lauryn Hill has proven that he’s the luggage of no one. I tend to agree; Wyclef has a unique sound that he blends with hip-hop and Caribbean flavor. Third albums are a hump in the road of an artist. If the first succeeds then the second is most likely going to sell off of the name of the first. By the time the third release comes around you have to have something to keep them coming back because now they know you and whatever gimmicks sold the first two might not fly this time around. In some respects the masks are removed and what you are capable of is brought to light. So what does the face of ‘Clef look like behind the “Masquerade”?
The intro starts off as a Radio station spot of Hot 93.1 with an inspirational message by the radio DJ followed by Wyclef trying to get some knowledge into the heads of some drug selling youths. The intro makes a segway into the beginning of ‘Peace God’ where Wyclef trades verses with one of the young dealers. A brief exchange breaks off into the beat where it gets “crouching tiger style”. Nice beat with a sampled loop from a piece of Chinese music where ‘Clef asks, “Feel it?”. No doubt. The hook brings you in immediately; “Peace God, you gave me the voice to speak God (Speak God) / Wyclef Jean ’bout to hit the streets hard / Peace God (Peace), you gave me the voice to speak God, masquerade my message to the streets y’all.” Good way to open.
The masquerade is uncovered even further when the first single released off of this album ‘PJ’s’ comes in with the drums and the chimes. A head nodder for sure that showcases Wyclef speaking on life in the projects with some sparse vocals in the chorus. ‘Clef can rap, he has his own delivery that’s not typical and he can produce songs but what about just straight spitting? ’80 Bars’ is the answer. No chorus – just getting at the mic over a beat laced with some guitar, low piano and pads filling up the environment. Next, the preacher’s son gets at the kids that claim that they are the end-all-be-all thugs on the title cut, ‘Masquerade’. He’s hooked up here with MOP and its here where its shown that collab tracks can have discrepancies. The hook, the title, and ‘Clef’s verse are all describing emcees that come off EXACTLY how MOP are getting down on this track. Note to MOP: Pay attention to the concept and write accordingly.
‘Gangsta’ somewhat follows up on the theme of the preceding track with the self styled Haitian-Sicilian kicking a brief verse with a ragga tone helped out by Sharissa and Butch Cassidy. ‘Party Like I Party’ isn’t a poor track… it just doesn’t stand out as much as what we’ve heard so far. The familiar sounding track ‘What A Night’ has Wyclef speaking on his life in music from first coming to America to where he is at now. A nice catchy hook helps to make this an enjoyable track.
Tom Jones and Wyclef Jean? Yes, or rather a revisited version of Tom Jones’ ‘Pussycat’. At first listen, this song gives that “huh? What?” type of feel but take another go ’round… a fun track although its nothing you’ll hear bumped in a club or see a video for though.
Just over the half way mark on “Masquerade” we are treated with a vocal collaboration between Wyclef and Claudette from City High. Whilst making the video, Wyclef desribed this as “the modern track with the old love song feel.” Makes me want to grab a girl and slow dance; Claudette possibly? Well, you better treat that girl you’re loving right in that last song or else a “Thug Like Me” will be “up in your house, house, house, house… cooking breakfast in the morning!” Again, an infectious hook over a bouncy track makes this one fun as you are schooled on the fact that you should “never be afraid to tell her that you love her” and “sometime you should listen to her.”
The album adopts a more sombre tone with ‘Daddy’. Wyclef starts off with “I’m sure you heard about my dad” and dedicates this song to anyone who’s lost somebody. He bares his memories and feelings on about his father and the loss he has felt. The vibe is continued on the acoustic guitar laced remake of ‘Knockin’ on Heavens Door’. Wyclef adds a little reggae flavor, Bob Marley-style in his delivery and lyrics with his cry for change. A 40 sec interlude reiterates the message then on to ‘No More War’, a reggae tune. Wyclef is calling for peace again with another Marley-esque joint. Play that funky music Haitian boy.
“Masquerade” rounds off with a collab hip-hop track that is “something for the mix shows.” Its a lovely beat to rhyme over, with a faint Musical Youth ‘Pass The Dutchie’ sample. Look for this to pop up on the mix tapes, as it’s intended.
So has Wyclef Jean been perpetrating a “Masquerade”? I don’t think so. This album is good music from start to finish. With the current state of hip-hop, it’s an accomplishment to make a rap album that’s not simply a death threat over a beat. A good time can be had by all without having to skip a third of the play list like so many albums out today. Take off the mask and join the ball.