Wyclef Jean

Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101

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Stepping aside from the major-label playing field for a moment, the ever-unpredictable Wyclef Jean indulges in his Caribbean heritage on Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101, an essentially noncommercial album released on the down-low by Sak Pasé Records in late 2004. The full-length effort is a whirlwind musical journey through Caribbean music styles, as written and produced by Wyclef and right-hand man Jerry "Wonder" Duplessis. Sure, Wyclef has always shown an affinity for Caribbean music, but he's always fused it with his other affinities, namely hip-hop and pop/rock. Not so here: this a full-fledged Caribbean album that careens from style to style -- within the course of a single song, more often than not! -- showcasing glints of everything from reggaeton to cumbia without ever succumbing on the confines of a single style. It's really an amazing listen, especially if you're at all attracted to Caribbean music. Rarely if ever does the music feel by-the-numbers, and Wyclef maneuvers through his musical tapestry with astonishing ease, even switching from English language to Creole whenever he so feels the need. In fact, you could argue that this is the most natural-sounding Wyclef album to date since nothing is forced (i.e., no forceful fusions of, say, hip-hop and pop à la Wyclef's notorious pop-rap interpolations). Then again, anyone who favors the hip-hop side of Wyclef -- or, more broadly speaking, his commercial side -- is going to find little to grasp onto here. "President" stands out as the album's obvious crossover attempt, and while it's a really great song that is among Wyclef's best and most heartfelt, it's unrepresentative of the remainder of the album, very little of which could ever find its way onto any commercial radio format in America. That's how freewheeling this album is -- it's so freewheeling that Wyclef's major-label affiliate, J Records, let this one pass by. The audience for an album like this is quite small, no doubt: of Wyclef's fan base, only those who enjoy him at his most creative or most Caribbean should consider this release. There are definitely no "Gone Till November"s here. That said, Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101 is nonetheless an amazing album and one that deserves acclaim. It's all the more testament to Wyclef's wayward genius.

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