Wyclef Jean Autobiography: Lauryn Hill, the Fugees & More
In 1996, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras Michel, together known as the Fugees, released The Score, a record born out of as much passion and strife between its creators as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. It earned the Fugees recognition as the new generation’s A Tribe Called Quest, the second coming of conscious hip-hop—and it launched Jean and Hill into superstardom. In his new autobiography, Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story, Jean recounts the journey that got him there, from laugh-out-loud stories of his childhood in Haiti, Brooklyn and New Jersey, to a detailed history of one of hip-hop’s most notorious love triangles—that between himself, the woman who became his wife, and Lauryn Hill. The Daily Beast picks the 12 juiciest bits from the book:
Wyclef Jean set out to murder two men in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
In the aftermath of the earthquake that flattened and destroyed the area around Port-au-Prince in 2010, Jean—who was born and raised in Haiti and whose first language is Creole—rushed to help in any way he could. But when a friend named FaFa was carjacked and killed while transporting bodies to a graveyard, Jean “went completely insane.” “I forgot who I was, all that I had done, everything,” Jean writes. “I didn’t care about any of it; I only cared about killing FaFa’s killers…I had all kind of guns and weapons at my disposal and my only mission became putting FaFa’s killers underground.” Luckily for the murderers, Jean never found a trace of the killers or his friend’s body.
Wyclef Jean was one holy terror of a child.
While attending a Catholic grade school, Jean was suspended for saying in class that, at one time, the devil was one of God’s angels (which, as he points out, is true according to the Bible). “That wasn’t right, so I decided—and my brother Samuel Jean agreed to help me—that I should blow up the school.” Their weekend attempt to destroy the buildings of their school failed however, due to a faulty grasp of how bombs (or science in general) works. Later, Jean, who was tired of having his freedom hampered by his strict grandmother, also convinced his siblings to pour Ajax in his grandmother’s milk because, as he had previously seen on TV, “it is the quickest way to kill someone.” Oh, and he once stole $1,000 from his father’s church funds.
The first time Jean laid eyes on Lauryn Hill:
Lauryn Hill and Jean met when the two were still teenagers (Jean a senior in high school and Hill a freshman). Pras Michel called Jean down to their “studio” (the basement of a house in South Orange, N.J.) to help record a demo tape for two girls he brought in. “The two girls were named Marcy and Lauryn, and the minute I saw Lauryn Hill, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Jean writes. “She was in the vocal booth, and when she came through the door to say hello I experienced that feeling when everything stops for a second. It’s a moment I’ll never forget…‘Damn, she’s beautiful,’ I said to Pras when I got him alone.”
He fell in love with Hill while working on the Fugees’ first record, Blunted on Reality:
After Jean, Hill, Pras and Marcy began making music together as the Fugees, Jean was a goner: “I fell in love not only with her, but also with the art, and everything we were doing, because it was all tied up together. She was so young, so beautiful, and so talented, I felt like she was a being straight from the source, straight from God and all that it is to be creative and beautiful on Earth.” (133)
And yes, that means there was originally a fourth Fugee: Marcy!
Jean tries to imagine what the “formula” would have been like had Marcy stayed with the group. She had a Mariah Carey-like vocal range, according to Jean, and she would have been “lethal” on The Score. “She was the most vocally talented of all of us, no doubt…That version of the Fugees would have been a four-person powerhouse.”
Although he was already dating his future wife, Claudinette, at the time of the Fugees’ breakthrough, he couldn’t help but love and “lust” for Hill. He “was in love with both of them.”
Being in a band together meant spending tons upon tons of time together and eventually Jean could hold himself back no more. “Lauryn’s beautiful, and because of her looks and her talent and everything we shared with each other—from songs to books to lyrics—love was bound to grow,” he writes. “I was with both of these incredible women at the same time, which isn’t something to be proud of but it was definitely unavoidable. I couldn’t say no to either of them. I meant it when I say I loved them both, because I did. I knew this situation couldn’t last, but I didn’t care; I was going to try to work it for as long as I could. And I think most men in my position would have done the same.”
But Hill wasn’t easy to be with (the two were either “deeply in love or fighting; there was no middle ground”), so Jean ultimately chose to marry Claudinette—and he invited Hill to the wedding:
“I went with the woman who was down-to-earth, who had always and still tells me to believe in myself, and who believes in me and what I want to achieve—even after all I’ve done and all I’ve put her through to this day,” Jean writes in praise of his wife. “She knows all the wrong I’ve done and she’s forgiven me and we are still together, because nothing can come between the love we have for each other.” Hill attended Jean and Claudinette’s wedding ceremony and reception—“and that was definitely heavy,” Jean admitted. Despite that Hill was watching the man she loved marry another woman, Jean writes that “she respected the day so there was no confrontation because I’d told her that I’d made up my mind and that was it. Of course later, when we were on the road again, I fell back into indulging myself with her.”
Hill lets her fists do the talking:
Getting married did not make having an affair on the road any easier for Jean. He writes that Hill was prone to sudden, explosive fights and fits of jealousy—especially on airplanes. “Lauryn would keep it all inside and act like she was cool and we would be together the way we used to be and then, bam, she’d explode without warning…Lauryn and I always seemed to get into the most heated conversations about our relationship while we were traveling, usually on airplanes, and it never ended well. We had huge fights, and a few times when it went down she started swinging at me right there in the seats.”
And to all those who think it’s Jean’s fault that Hill has “not been herself as an artist in the years since The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Jean has this to say:
“I’ve been told by many angry people who are also her fans that if I hadn’t messed with her she would not have gone so insane,” Jean writes. “My response to that is: you can talk as much as you want to talk, because talking is easy, because you’re not the one who was in my shoes. You’re not the one who had to be around that beautiful woman 24/7 sharing genius space with her.” Jean maintains that the emotional wrecking ball of the affair was the “price we had to pay” for making something as momentous as The Score—and he wouldn’t take that back. “I can’t speak for her but I hope she feels the same.” (168-169)
Hill was visibly pregnant during the Fugees’ concert in Haiti in 1997 and Jean believed the child was his. It wasn’t.
Though his marriage tormented Hill and drove her to fits of jealousy, Jean was no better when he learned that Lauryn had become “interested in other dudes”—namely Rohan Marley, one of Bob Marley’s sons. So when he discovered that Hill was pregnant, he angrily confronted her in her dressing room, smashing wine glasses and bleeding and yelling—until she led him to believe nothing serious had happened between her and Marley and that the child was Jean’s. “In my mind, it was complicated and dangerous, but it was beautiful, too: if Lauryn and I had a child together, it was, to me, a product of our music and everything we’d worked to achieve,” Jean writes. Once the child was born, however, Jean learned that Rohan was the father after all—and this was the last blow that killed the Fugees. “This killed our trust in my mind, and it caused us to start drifting apart. But the reason the Fugees broke up—or faded away—wasn’t just that. Things changed when Lauryn had her child; that event broke the spell between us.”
The reason the Fugees could never reunite? Lauryn Hill.
For Dave Chappelle’s film Block Party in 2006, the Fugees briefly reunited and tried to make new music—but “the chemistry just wasn’t there.” And Jean knows why: Hill is an “amazing talent,” he says, who needs a “strong influence” to direct her—but she was having none of that. “She and I knew what was fresh and what wasn’t, just like we always did. But when I talk about direction, what I mean is that she didn’t want to take any direction from me—like nothing, not even a suggestion.”
After one last affair (this time with his manager at the time), Jean is a reformed man and has devoted himself to aiding Haiti.
He swears it’s the last time. Jean became involved with a woman who was his manager at the time, dealing a “tremendous blow” to his wife (who found out about his affair with Hill after Jean blurted in front of her, “I’m in love with Lauryn”). The manager had sent a naked photo to Jean’s Blackberry, which Claudinette then intercepted and, in anger, sent to a few friends—and it eventually ended up on the Internet and Page Six. But Jean writes that his relationship with his wife has only become stronger since weathering that storm and now he devotes his energies to the Yéle Haiti Foundation, which he co-founded. He even ran for president of Haiti in 2011, against his uncle, Raymond Joseph, and his friend of 20 years, Michel Martelly. Jean lost.