(Photo: Refugee La Republique/All Handz On Deck)
"Quincy Jones once told me, the music industry is not a 50-yard-dash,” remembers hip hop marathoner Wyclef Jean on “Mid Life Crisis,” the lead single from his new mixtape, April Showers. With over 20 years in the game under his belt, the chart-topping producer and founding member of the Fugees has already proved his creative endurance. Coming off of a break from music that included a run for president of Haiti and controversy over his charity Yele’s financial practices, Jean attempts to bridge the gap between the industry he helped build and the new music game that’s emerging before his eyes.
Despite song titles like “Mid Life Crisis,” Wyclef’s head seems clear, both artistically and politically. His creative freedom allows him to return to the days of his classic solo album the The Carnival as he mixes folk, reggae, hip hop and electronic influences effortlessly while dropping knowledge on the state of the world and popular culture. And he sounds just as comfortable spitting alongside hip hop heavyweights T.I. and Mobb Deep as when he’s strumming his guitar and crooning about pain and sorrow.
It's no suprise, of course. Wyclef’s talent has always allowed him to create a new world on each new track and the freedom of the mixtape format allows him to explore each world in depth. Wyclef puts Waka Flocka Flame over electric guitars and EDM synths on “Trap N Roll,” creating the feeling that he’s invented a genre when the 808’s drop. The soulful twist he throws on Future's hit “New Buggati” is equally refreshing as he reminds listeners of his storied career in music. “Man what a journey, the music industry,” he reflects, dropping names of past collaborators like Jay-Z, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston while using Future’s trademark vocal effects.
But while it’s exciting to hear him push the limits of his creativity, Wyclef does stumble over the edge at times throughout the 30-plus-song project. He ventures too far out of his comfort zone on collaborations with Kirko Bangz (“The Go Go” is a sensual track that mixes Auto-Tune and techno sounds in a way that’s sure to kill any mood) and with Young Chop (“HopeAndPray” fails to do justice to another banging beat from Chief Keef’s go-to beatsmith).
Still, he makes up for any missteps with his experimental approach on the shockingly dope tracks with Brooklyn upstart Troy Ave and battle rap legends Loaded Lux and Murda Mook.
He eases into his zone with tracks like “Glow of a Rose,” a soul-lifting ballad that mixes his pain and despair with the hope of a better tomorrow, and “Hip Hop,” which features a throwback vibe and the perspective of an elder on the outskirts of a culture. “I see Molly is the new cocaine,” he spits over the mellow strings of “Hip Hop,” sounding informed but out of touch with the current state of youth culture.
While the title April Showers might suggest an artist on the downer-end of his career, this mixtape proves that Clef’s May flowers are still set to bloom as his ability as a producer and talent scout will continue to bring him success and influence in almost all of the music industry’s popular genres. The closing tracks of his tape are proof. He uses them to introduce new artists Angelica Salem, Trini, Imposs, Skiff and Jarina De Marco, all of whom appear capable of future stardom with Wyclef backing them creatively.
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