Artist: Wyclef Jean
Album: The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II A Book
Rating: 4 / 10
It’s quite astonishing what a few years in hip hop can do to one man’s ego. KRS One has now elevated himself to become the ruler of absolutely everything, LL Cool J went from being a sheep to a GOAT, and Eminem went from a scrawny, timid Christian to a scrawny MTV-friendly omnipotent sociological Darth Vader. But you can’t help but be shocked when you witness what the black hole of egotistics has done to the previously harmless and sometimes quite good Wyclef Jean.
The Marley impersonator and humble emcee we once knew is dead. Now what stands before us is a new man – it’s the Incredible Wyclef. He’s now a high-budget sonic Houdini – no musical predicament is too stupid, too ill-advised, too indecorous, or too utterly pointless to get himself into. He can mash together absurd collaborations with his own dismal beats and dodgy rapping, and still come out as the genre-straddling, everything-to-everyone flexible friend that he is. If you tell him an idea is foolish, he’ll only go and become more obtuse, and do something that’s even more “out there”. Unfortunately, while his abilities to set up seemingly disastrous musical situations are honed to perfection, his abilities to escape from them unscathed are somewhat lacking.
Shriek as Clef has the bright idea of creating himself a devilish, Frankensteinesque mutant creature, composed of 50% Kenny Rogers and 50% Pharoahe Monch. Be shocked – but not at all surprised – when after he tells it to do a The Gambler/Simon Says hybrid track (‘Kenny Rogers – Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate’), the great brute promptly goes berserk and eats him up, his musical credibility and all.
Scream as Clef decides that the comic genius that is The Rock from WWF would be a worthy addition to a track. Be spellbound as this six-foot-by-six-foot pillar of steroids is given complete liberty to dispense its witty and somewhat ironic catchphrase “It Doesn’t Matter!” over a beat which sounds like glossy clothes-shop ambient background muzak, on acid. Then turn solemn as you discover that hip hop is not like making a kid’s cartoon and you can’ t base everything round a deadpan catchphrase.
Wail as the full terror of the blatantly radio friendly, crummy, ostentatious ‘Perfect Gentleman’ becomes apparent. Then turn away in disgust as Wyclef crossbreeds the Pet Shop Boys and a microwave to create the beat, before you retch in pain at the tacky, charmless, hey-I-sound-awful-but-don’ t-I-sound-great chorus. Be appalled at Wyclef’s vocal tones, which on this track are pitched in the no-man’s land directly between his Marley impressions and his rapping, and hence resemble a series of horrible, elongated croaks. Look neutral as anonymous guest rapper Hope pops up to spit a verse in the role of the Clef-lovin’ stripper – presumably to give a dash of conceptual merit to an otherwise trashy and half-assed song – and then when the track ends you will completely forget her appearance, maybe as you would forget a lap dancer after she vacated your lap.
Gag and choke as Wyclef shuffles back into hardcore rap mode for ‘Thug Angels’, where he produces a juddering travesty of a beat resembling Manny Fresh without the soul or the complexity (yeah, I know) to accompany his most miserably weak raps yet – “If I get locked up I ain’t getting out ’til Tuesday / cause this is Saturday, and it’s a holiday / now I got to spend a week hangin in the South in jail but you told me that crime pay”. Cover your ears as the most irritating hook of all time is unveiled ; “I used to play while at the YMCA, in L.A, sold my first A-K, I saw her man get murdered on Sunday, Bloody Sunday, They need to chill with the gunplay” sounds relatively harmless, but the old saying rings true – it’s not what he says, it’s how he says it.
Moan in disappointment as Clef attempts to pull an epic soulful Mary J Blige duet from a distinctly Bob-Marley-shaped hat on ‘911’, but in the end can only conjure up a weak piece of cheesy melodramatic sludge, unimaginatively scraped off the bottom of a James Brown sample.
Look doubtful as Earth, Wind & Fire are hauled in for ‘Runaway’, and their magnificent effect is somewhat nullified by Wyclef going a bit DJ Clue and saying “Ain’t no samples this is original baby” and “recognize the legends up in here” over the top of their somewhat nostalgic, but still razor sharp funk. Raise your eyebrow sceptically at the appearance alongside them of instantly forgettable Refugee Camp crooner The Product G&B.
And then, as if all that weren’t enough, prepare to burst into brain-numbing hysterics as you watch Clef set up his album finale. Chuckle as it is announced that Wyclef is going to do “some Pink Floyd.” Burst into spontaneous laughter as you hear him reduce the powerful esoteric soul of the Floyd classic ‘Wish You Were Here’ into a cheesy Boy Scout campfire singalong. Feel your sides split as you hear him launch into a unprompted rap verse over the top of it – “Don’t mistake this for just any cover tune, I’m gonna take y’all to the Dark Side Of The Moon”. Keel over and die as the line “Pink Floyd, a band from the British blocks” plummets to the ground and effectively concludes this album’s cavalcade of curiosities. At least as you keel over you’ll be chuckling at the description of Cambridge, that most noble and dignified of English towns, as the “British blocks.”
Clef knows not to hit us with all this excitement in the one go, so he helpfully punctuates it with shitty conventional hip hop tracks that are about as exciting as a lettuce, and so enabling the listener who has chosen to experience this ruthless musical rampage to have a snooze. Catch forty winks on tracks like ‘Da Cypha’, ‘Low Income’, ‘Where Fugees At’, ‘Hollyhood To Hollywood’, and suchlike. You’re not missing anything. There is evidence of Fugee-on-Fugee animosity littered around these tracks, but let’s face it, do you care? Lauryn Hill might as well have vanished off the face of the earth, Clef produces this sort of drivel, and… uh… was there anyone else?
Despite being very occasionally interrupted by intermissions of good music – the politically charged Youssou N’Dour collaboration ‘Diallo’, the pleasant no-nonsense weed-endorsing tune ‘Something About Mary’ – this is a true comedy of errors. Bad organisation, bad production, bad concepts, bad ideas… but it ‘s some listen. The listening experience tries to be fascinatingly eclectic (obviously), but if you can get past its irritating bromidic steez, it ends up pitching itself somewhere between light schadenfreude and slapstick comedy. Da-dum-TISH. Keep it up Clef old chap, this is the dope shit.