Wyclef Jean’s reputation as an elite talent is firmly grounded in Hip Hop’s history. However, even with a classic like The Score (with Fugees) and a gem like Carnival under his belt, this veteran knows you’re only as good as your next hit. As he spits on the opener of his latest EP, J’ouvert, “all they wanna know is will I get another ring.” Does this album silence doubters à la LeBron James’ comeback last June, or is it proof that Jean is a has-been?
While J’ouvert will by no means have Wyclef hoisting up any trophies, it’s a solid EP marked by attractive island production and Jean’s heartfelt reflections. It’s been nearly four years since he released a body of work; with 2013’s April Showers mixtape being his last studio romp. The dancehall-themed music of Drake and Rihanna — and Justin Bieber, for that matter — make this the perfect time for Wyclef to stage a comeback. So many veterans strain to keep up with the times, but Jean’s melodic crooning over upbeat, colorful production on “I Swear” is effortlessly radio-ready even without Young Thug’s overly entertaining verse. Likewise, Wyclef gets the most out of an infectious beat on “Holding on the Edge” simply by chanting the title repeatedly and allowing listeners to absorb themselves in the music.
J’ouvert’s strength lies in captivating hooks and ear-grabbing production. Beyond that, the lyrics tend to fall flat. “Rear View” is another club-worthy tune, but the lyrics are marred by lame references such as “many positions like Kama Sutra/Like a virgin you could be my Madonna.” Wyclef’s heart is in the right place on “Life Matters” where he speaks on the value of life in the face of America’s turbulent political and social landscape. However, simply saying “(insert person here) life matters” over underwhelming, downbeat production fails to do justice to the song’s subject matter. By contrast, “If I Was President 2016” finds Jean contemplating the troubles of Trump’s America over relaxed acoustic guitar licks while offering refreshing optimism.
The former Fugee frontman truly shines not when he’s looking outward for inspiration, but when he’s reflecting on what drives him. “Lady Haiti” is a beautiful ode to his homeland, while the standout “Hendrix” finds Jean reminiscing on his days before stardom. “When my cousin got his first tat/I was playing Jimi Hendrix in the basement/All I wanted to be was a rock star/All he wanted to be was an Escobar.” The lyricism is simple, but Wyclef delivers them with a wistful tone that connects with the listener. Therein lies the success of J’ouvert; though the EP is not without its flaws, it’s an entertaining body of work buoyed by the passion of a rejuvenated artist.