Wyclef Jean did so break up the Fugees.
He won’t quite cop to it in conversation, or in his new memoir, “Purpose,” but with Anthony Bozza, he writes of an explosive affair with Lauryn Hill so combustible that it’s no surprise it burnt down the house.
“It was like we were two outlaws in love.
“We had fights on planes. … We had huge fights, and a few times when it went down, she started swinging at me right there in the seats. People would scatter. We never got arrested, but we came close a few times in Europe.”
Oh, and he actually married his wife, Claudinette, while all this was going on.
“I was in the middle and each of them was passionate about me in different ways.”
“Something was going to happen,” he says.
In 1996, the Fugees – Jean, Hill and Pras Michel — released “The Score,” a CD of politically aware hip-hop that went worldwide and multiplatinum, winning a Grammy for Best Rap Album and another for the breakout hit “Killing Me Softly.”
By 1997, the group was part of the past. Fans were crushed, confused and then angry. They blamed Jean. As did Michel.
Jean’s defense is that he was younger then – “A man evolves,” he says – and Hill was irresistible.
“I definitely felt I couldn’t help myself,” he says. “I’m just being as honest as King David in the Bible.”
While Jean will not say the words, “I broke up the Fugees,” he now admits that it was the relationship — during which Hill would demand “How come you’re not with me?” — that tore them apart. What he won’t do is take responsibility for what happened to Hill in the aftermath.
In 1999, she broke records with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” as the first woman to win five Grammys in one night. She also had five children with the son of Bob Marley, Rohan. Hill briefly reunited with the Fugees in 2004/05 and has made sporadic appearances since, but mostly she seems to have adopted the stance of a hostile recluse.
“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,” he complains in the book.
In conversation, he says this:
“If a man is in a relationship with a female and the man leaves the female, and she goes in a relationship with another man and has five children with that guy … and things start going crazy, can you say, ‘Ah, if that first guy never messed up, then everything would have been, you know’ …”
As roundabout as his defense is, Jean is adamant that Hill moved on from him to great success. In fact, he believes “Miseducation” was all about him. And her.
“Her whole album was about her trying to make sense of our relationship, and when I listen to ‘Miseducation,’ it’s like reading a story of our personal history.
“When it came out, all the girls hated me,” he laughs.
Jean says this is only first of seven books he intends to write. One will be a highly personal interpretation of Genesis through the Revelations and/or the Egyptian Book of the Dead, in a vein “similar to Nostradamus.”
The next will cover his experience running for president of Haiti and heading a relief charity, both of which caused controversy. The planned title is, “How They J. Edgar Hoovered Me.”
“It will be a humorous account,” says Jean. Indeed, he is both personable and, at times, hilarious. His account in “Purpose” of adopting a Mexican goat as a band mascot is fallout funny.
But back to serious stuff. His charity, Yele Haiti, received a considerable influx of funds following the 2010 earthquake when Jean, a Haitian immigrant, was a very public face of disaster relief. The foundation was accused of financial malfeasance and is now under new management. Jean is no longer on the board.
“I take full responsibility in saying that the charity made mistakes,” says Jean. “But they all came after me. The idea of Wyclef Jean pocketing money is ludicrous.”
Jean filed papers to run for president of Haiti in 2010, but his bid was rejected by the electoral council.
“They created a bogus law that says you had to be a resident of the country for five years,” says Jean. “My question to you is how can someone who is an ambassador at large, as I was for Haiti, be physically inside the country for five years.”
Constitutional experts will have to field that one.
Meanwhile, Jean says that contrary to rumors bruited about on Twitter, he never intended to play the Republican National Convention. His management had committed him to perform at a benefit for veterans and when close ties to the RNC were revealed, Jean pulled out.
“I’m a stronger supporter of Barack Obama.”
Right now, he says he’s going to focus on developing young artists.
“I want to continue on the trail to being a music executive,” he says. “The greatest gift I possess is the ability to spin notes to the world.”
Jean feels that’s the talent that stole him away from his first calling.
“I probably would have been a famous minister,” laughs the son of a pastor. “Can’t you tell?”
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