Musician, producer and recent author Wyclef Jean visited Barnes & Noble Johns Hopkins yesterday to promote his new book, Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story. During the event, Jean discussed his book, answered questions and performed for his audience.
Jean, who immigrated to the U.S. at the age of nine from Haiti, had his beginnings in the trio group “The Fugees” with fellow musicians Lauryn Hill and Prakezrel Michel. His most successful album, The Score, won two Grammys and sold millions of copies.
Jean began the event by discussing his humble beginnings. Jean’s father was a minister, and his two brothers were always interested in debate.
“They were looking for me to debate and I decided I would become a rapper,” Jean said.
In addition, Jean chronicled his experience with the Haitian earthquake. Arriving at the scene only 24 hours after the earthquake struck, Jean described the horrors of watching a man die, and the personal pain he feels when one of his own soldiers died unnecessarily in the post-earthquake tensions.
He described to the audience the amazement he felt upon leaving Haiti for America, and the times that followed in one of the toughest projects in New Jersey.
“Reality strikes us in the projects and it comes very, very quick,” Jean said.
“It’s pretty amazing that he sells out huge shows in huge arenas and he came to a place like Hopkins to talk to us in such an intimate setting,” Kylie Ternes, a junior at Hopkins, said.
Jean forged a connection with students by describing his tough transition into normal American culture, detailing not only his tendency towards wearing brighter colors that alienated him from fellow students, but also how he was eventually accepted through his music.
Many Hopkins students can relate to this idea of finding their place in society through their diverse talents and interests.
“The only thing that got me accepted was hip hop...it wasn’t about where you were from, it was what you were going to do,” Jean said.
Jean also spoke briefly about his relationship with Lauryn Hill, in addition to his work back in Haiti.
As a brief contender for president, which was not carried through because he did not meet the residential requirements, Jean is clearly interested in doing everything possible for his country. In fact, he has put over 10,000 kids in schools in Haiti, and acts as a diplomat and ambassador, traveling around the world to promote the country’s well-being.
Following his talk, Wyclef answered a number of questions from the audience members. Most notable was the advice he gave to an aspiring artist.
“You have to have a diverse brain,” Jean said. He went on to explain that this means an artist must be able to work with other artists of all different types of music in order to be successful. He also emphasized the importance of social media in today’s world, encouraging another audience member to “tweet at him” after the performance that evening.
Many were surprised when, instead of continuing on to sing or rap after answering these questions, Jean invited members of the audience to come to the front of the room and rap.
Eli Wallach, a freshman majoring in International Studies and Public Health, became nervous upon messing up his rap, but finished gracefully after Jean approached him with some reassuring words.
“He was counting bars for me and then he backed up and he said he’d give me the whole floor and that was pretty cool,” Leon Andrews, a residential advisor and Center for Talented Youth employee, said.
About ten people rapped an average of 16 bars in front of Wyclef and the rest of the audience, which included students, staff members and people from the Baltimore area.
“He really told us about his story and what it was like for him to go from the bottom to the top, and that doesn’t happen everyday,” freshman Sean Brown said, summing up the performance.