Editor’s Note: We conducted this interview with rapper and activist Wyclef Jean shortly after he announced his bid for the Haitian presidency. Haitians officials have now declared him ineligible to run for the nation’s highest office. We present this interview as a record of the rapper-turned-politician’s thoughts as he prepared to make a gigantic leap from the world of entertainment to the world of politics.
For years, Wyclef Jean has sung about the problems of the poor, most notably Haitian immigrants. With his music, he’s attempted to fashion himself as hip-hop’s answer to Bob Marley. Now, with his eyes on the presidency of his native Haiti, he hopes to fashion himself as that country’s answer to Barack Obama.
In, what was at times, a testy exchange Jean discussed his transformation from musician to statesman and his plans for the country.
We all know Wyclef the musician; I guess you should re-introduce yourself. Who is Wyclef the politician?
A born-again hooligan only to be king again.
Well, there are no kings in Haiti. What makes you qualified to run a country?
The time has arrived. The prophecy will manifest.
That certainly sounds very grandiose. With no political experience, why have you decided to run for president this November?
You must understand, I can’t work a nine to five. So I’ll be gone till November.
I kind of expected you to have a more noble answer. That being said, you’ve been such a jovial figure for most of your career, do you think it’ll be hard for people to take you seriously as a candidate?
I used to be underrated. Now I take iron. It makes my shit constipated. I’m more concentrated.
This is serious business, Wyclef. For instance, what’s your platform?
If I could rule the world, everyone would have a gun and the ghetto, of course, would giddyap and get on its horse (giddyap).
That’s interesting. You did include security as among your four policy pillars. Â What are some other changes you would implement as president?
If I were president, all blacks would have reparations. No segregation. Feed the nation so there is no famine. Muslims, Jews and Christians would all hold hands. Every week on the beach, party by the sand.
You’ll have to forgive me, but that all sounds very pie-in-the-sky. What’s your plan for rebuilding the country’s crumbled infrastructure?
It’s all about survival, man. Anything can happen.
So rebuilding is not a priority? Many people still have no shelter since the quake.
I feel the rain coming. Let me play my guitar for them right now.
You realize many are saying it’s ill-conceived for a pop star who has never held public office before to lead a nation as desperate as Haiti. I doubt that your answers have persuaded them otherwise. How do you convince people you are not delusional?
I woke up this morning. I was feeling kind of high. It was me, Jesus Christ and Haile Selassie I.
Selassie said, “Greetings in the name of the most high, Jah Rastafari.” Christ, took a sip of the Amaretto. Passed it down the table said, “Today I’m gonna be betrayed by one of you 12 disciples.”
Um, I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at…Let’s talk about an area where you will certainly face criticism. There have been allegations levied against the charity you founded, Yele Haiti: failure to pay taxes, misuse of funds, etc.
The chase is on, I feel like the bad guy.
No one’s trying to make you out to be a villain, but there are some hard questions you have to answer. Your organization collected a lot of money after January’s earthquake. How much exactly?
Many money, me say many, many many.
You don’t know the exact amount?
Haitians getting money like the streets in Dubai, man. But an OG told me to keep a low profile; Â it’s a recession. That’s why in the garage I kept the invisible Phantom. But if you’re making Â money, let it rain.
Honestly Wyclef, do you feel like you’ve gotten in over your head?
My inner conscience says, “Throw you handkerchief and surrender.” But to who, The Star-Spangled Banner?
Funny you should say that. Critics, most notably, Sean Penn, have implied that you are Â running as a puppet of foreign corporate interests.
Hell no, siree! Wrong emcee. Why should I be a spy, when you’re spying me?
I’m not spying on you, but you are facing a lot of skepticism and some fierce opposition. Your cousin, ex-Fugee member Pras Michel, has stated that he is supporting one of your Â opponents. How do you respond to that?
Hypocrite, critic, but deep inside you wish you had the pop hit. It hurts, don’t it? The refugees Â come to your turf and take over the earth.
The fans want the Fugees back together; the only thing they don’t want is the third member.
Seems like I struck a nerve. Let’s switch gears. Extra marital-affairs have derailed more seasoned politicians. It’s been rumored that you love the ladies…
I’m looking at myself thinking out loud, “I’m in love with two women.”
That’s a tough situation for anyone to be in, but potentially fatal for someone in public office.
Never really knew she can dance like this. She make a man want to speak Spanish.
Are you talking about your mistress?
Just “’cause she dance go-go, it don’t make her a ho, no. Maxine, put your red shoes on. We’re Â going to the disco. We going to e-e-e-lope. To M-M-M-Mexicoooooo. Called up my mama said, Â ”I’m in love with a stripper, yo.”
I must say, Wyclef, you don’t seem very focused. A president can’t just elope, especially when he’s already married. Have you even thought of such things as how to bring revenue to the new Haiti? People have suggested legalizing marijuana as a way to stimulate the country’s devastated economy.
Weed for sale. Weed for sale. Ever since the recession, we got weed for sale. The economy is Â gonna grow ’cause we got weed for sale.
That’s a surprisingly progressive attitude on a very controversial issue.
It’s the natural la that the refugees bring.
Crime, as you know, is off the charts in Haiti…
Wyclef’s in a state of sleep, thinking about the robbery that I did last week.
Wait, you robbed someone last week?
Some say peace, but on the streets a .45′s my piece!
Uh-huh…And you’ve had very high profile associations with convicted felons.
Yes, Fugee affiliate John Forte was convicted of attempting to traffic cocaine and later had Â his sentence commuted by the second President Bush. There have been others as well. I Â sense a sort of pride at these affiliations.
If you’re mafioso, then I’m bringing on Haitian Sicilians.
Noted. So, how’s your grasp of the language?
I got the slang to make the chitty bang bang a-rid-dang-de-dang. The nappy head bang.
That doesn’t sound like French or Creole.
Wyclef, preacher’s son ichiban.
Now you’re just mixing English with Japanese.
Another hero want-to-be. Now he sleeps with his friends in the mortuary.
Are you threatening me? I thought we were building a rapport here.
Mr. Author, I feel no vibe.
You’re a pop star, why should I be afraid of you?
Even though you’re buff, don’t play tough ’cause I’ll reverse the earth and turn your flesh back Â to dust.
Yeah, you and what army?
A hardcore crowd waiting to see if I break like your first time in jail when you got fucked by an Â inmate.
Who told you about that?