Oct 3, 2012
Wyclef Jean talks about his new book, life and music
Haitian-American hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean, opens up about his rags-to-riches story in his new memoir “Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story.”
In preparation for a performance and book signing Wednesday, Oct. 3 at Shrine of the Black Madonna, Jean dishes to B.L.A.C. about his new book and his plans for the future.
Why did you decide to tell your story now?
I wanted to make sure my first book came out after I turned 40. And after I ran for president of Haiti, it was important to lay out my memoir. That’s the only thing that’s a secret because only you and go knows about it, so eventually different people would come out with different books, and it was important that you hear it from my mouth in a very straight up way.
Why did you choose the title "Purpose?"
“I titled it purpose because leaving Haiti and coming to America, the idea was how you make it coming from a city of immigrants, and then come and making it in America; it’s a struggle.
Like I had said on BET, "from the hut, to the projects, to the mansion." So, if I made it, you don’t have an excuse. So, the idea was to find my purpose. So, in finding my true purpose, what’s your true purpose? Sometimes, we spend a whole lifetime trying to find it. So, the essence of my purpose is to help people find their way.
Why is your life story is relatable to your readers?
It’s relatable to my readers because it’s an immigrant story and what that means is that it’s a story of struggle. Like the Cinderella story—coming from eating dirt in the streets of my village to becoming a successful musician in the United States, so anybody who is going through some form of struggle, after reading my book they’re going to feel like they can overcome it.
What do you talk about in your book that others may not have known?
There’s a lot in my book that [people] may not have known. I talk about a story when I bring a goat on the stage while at a Fugees concert in the early Fugee days. I use a goat as a mascot so that the people would talk about the Fugees later. I don’t think people know that Fugee story.
How has your life or your upbringing influenced your music?
My music was always based on survival: I do this because there was nothing else to do. I started out in the church with my dad, of course, and the idea was that this music would make people feel good and escape to a place where they can feel their inner selves. That’s how it started out for me.
You’re known just as well for your activism as you are for your music. Who ignited that spark for activism in you?
I get it from my dad and my mom. Being that my dad was a minister, I always see that he does things to help people. My mother, too.
Amidst your musical success and philanthropic impacts, how do you remain humble?
I remain humble because every time I think about what my dad says, "The rich man and the poor man meet under the dirt eventually and the only thing that will remembered between the two is the legacy that they leave behind." And that’s what keeps me humble.
What are your goals? With everything you’ve accomplished so far, what are you hoping to accomplish in your lifetime?
My goals are to keep helping my country: Haiti. I want to work towards building a real university in the next 10 years in my country.
Musically, I want to start my own record company, All Hands on Deck with my brother SUDEK and help find the next Destiny’s Child, the next Erykah Badu and make a stamp in the music industry as well.
Why is it important to you to give back to your country?
Because you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’re from. Me being from [Haiti] it is important that I help the people.
Why would someone read your book?
When someone reads the book, the one thing they get out of it is they get inspired to basically go out there and do exactly what they feel opposed to what somebody’s telling them to do.
So if someone were to ask you, flat out, what your book is about, what would you say?
If they were to ask me what’s my book about flat out I would say it’s an immigrant story. It’s every immigrant’s story. And keep in mind the United States of America is really built on immigrants.
What is the message you’re trying to convey through this book?
The main message that I’m trying to direct through the whole book is the idea of triumph. You’re going to face challenges, but if you can overcome them and go past them, you’re going to be alright.