Wyclef Jean throws a fabulous party! Through all the years, all the shows, the different genres, the various artists and venues that couldn’t be any more different, I have never witnessed a performer have as much fun as the former Fugees member did at Metro. By the end of the night, there was barely a dry brow in the place and nearly everyone was all smiles on their way out the door. I like Wyclef, and have since his days with one of the most iconic hip-hop crews of the ’90s. The Score was one of the most impactful albums of its time, not just in the hip-hop world either, and that lent Wyclef all the credibility he would ever need going forward, in my opinion. Same goes for Lauryn Hill. Even though a lot of what Wyclef released wasn’t totally hip-hop, when that was all I cared about, I still played his music with interest and reverence. My tastes eventually broadened, and artists like Wyclef were a large part of that.
I believe Wyclef’s ability to reach large audiences, commercial audiences, while still maintaining respect within hardcore circles is why everyone in the audience was so involved with his performance, from those there to dance to his MTV hits and those who knew every lyric from deeper cuts from The Score. The guy isn’t just a rapper, he’s a musician, an entertainer, and a damn good one too. He displayed his abilities and deep love for music while onstage. His passion was obvious, and nothing was forced. It seemed, and likely was, that he wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
The fun atmosphere wasn’t due to Wyclef alone either. The opening band, Culture Crew, did a fantastic job of concocting and spreading positive vibes with their energetic set. The group’s entire mission is to impact the world with love through music. Onstage, they exhibited exactly that with soul-filled reggae-pop tracks that simply make people feel good. Wyclef came out late, but there was no restlessness from the crowd. Most were content to be present and entertained, thanks to the openers.
Wyclef began his set with “How Many Mics,” fiddling with the song’s structure and throwing some freestyle verses in for good measure, in both English and Spanish to boot. And, like the source album, the song was piggybacked by “Ready or Not,” to very spirited hails and shouts. Wyclef let everyone know that he was going to take us on a trip to the ’90s, which was fine with me and everyone else in the house, it seemed.
Prior to going back into the depths that are The Score, Wyclef gave us all a story about his friend, Dave Chappelle, as an intro to “If I Was President,” a track featured on Chappelle’s Show. After that, he told another story, one about the beginnings of his love for music and when the seeds of his dreams were planted. He said it happened when he saw Bob Marley sing “No Woman, No Cry.” Then he played the beautiful version his Fugees made famous over 20 years ago. The decades-old impression the song left on people appeared terribly fresh as nearly everyone in attendance mouthed the lyrics, staying respectfully quiet in order to breath it all in. It was lights out, honestly. It was brief, and the only moment that could be considered woeful all night, but appreciated.
Then he went crazy, in a good way. He played the song he produced for Santana, “Maria Maria,” while killing it on guitar, playing Carlos’ parts with precision and excitement. Like I said, a musician. This was just about the time he ventured into his first solo album, The Carnival. Beginning with “Gone Till November,” he got the crowd to jump, sway and nod at his command, seemingly without any effort whatsoever. When the axles were totally greased, he delivered another favorite from his debut with “We Trying to Stay Alive.”
He moved forward onto another chart topper, “Guantanamera,” while picking up and plucking the bass like he was born for it. Wyclef just kept impressing the audience as time passed and he dabbled with more and more instruments as the songs kept coming. He tiptoed over the ivories, or acrylics I guess, on “Killing Me Softly,” where he did his part, but left Hill’s to a recording. Wyclef may be extremely talented, but singing Lauryn’s vocals has to be a no-no. He also spent time manhandling the drum kit and dove into the 1s and 2s on the last track he played from the good old days, “Zealots.”
Wyclef performed some brand new songs that not everyone was familiar with, but had a lot of fun with them. He took some time to go through a verse and a chorus, teaching the fresh tracks to the crowd. He then hit pause and started over again. On the second time around, everyone sang along, dancing, laughing and jumping around like they were songs from their youth, reminding them of times they seldom consider. Who knows, maybe years from now people will hear “What’s Good” and remember the blast they had the first time they heard it at Metro.
It’s hard to fully comprehend just how influential Wyclef has been throughout his career. His fingerprints are all over the place, physically, creatively and socially. His message, and the messages of his collaborators, tied to his brilliant production, has reached far and wide. I was reminded of so many different things hearing these songs live. It was nonstop too, everyone up, everyone moving from the moment he emerged until long after last call. There were actually boos when he said he was out of time. But, like all of the best party throwers in history, he played a couple more anyway. –Billy Swartzfager
Click images for captions | Photos by LmSorenson.net