Sunday Book Review: An Immigrant’s Story of Love and Struggle with Wyclef Jean


Sunday Book Review is a recurring feature devoted to bridging the gap between music fans and music books. We aim to give you a taste of new and classic books that dive deep into the psyches of musicians. Tweet requests @nmcalone.

In 2009, Wyclef Jean was no longer impressed with hip-hop. “All I heard from the youth on the streets were soundtracks fit for strip clubs. Instead of raw humanity there were only synthesized voices, instead of real-life street tales, only insincere bragging.” He felt hip-hop had been born of protest in the '70s and that this spirit had completely gone out of it. Since then he hasn’t seen it get much better.

Wyclef himself has always been able to walk the line between pop and conscious music, with some of his biggest hits, like 2007’s “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)," lighting up the charts while at the same time being undeniably thoughtful. His work with the Fugees especially can be seen as an an archetype for how this kind of music, music with a “purpose,” can be achieved. Perhaps hoping to inspire other hip-hop artists to choose this path, Wyclef decided to collaborate on a memoir with Anthony Bozza, journalist and author of an Eminem biography we reviewed in a previous column. It Books published Wyclef’s memoir in September 2012 with the title Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story.

The book is both moving and incomplete. Wyclef spends almost half the book on his childhood, and his recollections succeed in transporting the reader to his village in Haiti and new life in New Jersey/York in a way few musicians-turned-authors have ever been able to. He does it by retaining the unique storytelling charisma and warmth of his songs throughout the book. But the book remains incomplete because of his ego, which is most apparent when he speaks of his time in the Fugees, and seems to bar him from a completely honest examination of certain events. That said, hearing Wyclef's own opinions on events like the Fugees breakup, even if they seem to be a bit airbrushed, makes for fascinating reading. We’ve read the book with an awareness of the image Wyclef is trying to craft for himself, and have brought you ten of the most intriguing moments. Read on.

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