Wyclef Jean has the privilege and misfortune of being part of one of the most popular Rap groups of all time. Thirteen years after The Fugees released their record-selling album The Score, people still clamor for a reunion album yet aren’t as thirsty for a solo project from the driving force behind the group. Meanwhile, a new generation of music listeners know Wyclef as that producer from Haiti, that guy their older brother listens to, or even worse, that musician who looks (jokes ‘Clef) like willi.i.am. Throughout his DJ Drama-assisted retail mixtape, Toussaint St. Jean: From the Hut, To the Projects, To the Mansion, the Preacher’s Son strives to convince the world that his pedigree is as strong as his resume.
Toussaint St. Jean opens with nods to Wyclef’s strange position in the public eye. “The Streets Pronounced Me Dead” features a morbid theme and scathing lines for people who say that the Fugee is irrelevant or that “Akon took his spot.” Likewise, an ethereal melody on “Warrior’s Anthem” helps him speak about being mistaken for will.i.am, a minor insult overshadowed by Wyclef’s genuine amazement that he prospered. Under his alias Toussaint St. Jean, he raps, “When I got to the projects, I felt I was rich because my dad bought me sneakers / ‘Cause where I’m from, life had no worth / What y’all know about birthday cakes made out of dirt?”
As the title suggests, From the Hut, To the Projects, To the Mansion is centered on the theme of rising from the gutter to glory. Each song represents some point of the journey: “Warriors Anthem” references Wyclef’s desolate beginnings in the hut; the ’80s vibe of “Slumdog Millionaire” represents harsh project living; and “More Bottles,” violence-themed but club-friendly thanks to a signature Timbaland beat, is part of the celebrative mansion lifestyle. The mansion side is less fulfilling, especially on the Auto Tune-fueled “Robotic Love.” The Dance track is hobbled by overdone technology-as-love/sex metaphors and electronic music that stands out only because it is uncomfortably out of place with the rest of the mixtape songs, which are generally well-done.
Never a stranger to the influences of Jamaican music, Wyclef ties all three stages of the ghetto-kid-done-good theme with “We Made It.” Marrying dub Reggae’s warped sounds with the eerie keyboard melodies favored by southern producers, he celebrates finding success despite the odds – and the people around him – saying that death and despair were in store.
Wyclef’s music has always been personal and story-based, and From The Hut… is no different from that tradition. Highly-biographical and eclectic, this mixtape will rest comfortably in his catalogue. We may never get another Fugees record, but Toussaint St. Jean is a reminder that music fans already have a respectable legacy to appreciate.