Wyclef Jean: Presents The Carnival (Featuring Refugee Allstars)

Wyclef Jean: Presents The Carnival (Featuring Refugee Allstars)

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Wyclef Jean

Album: Presents The Carnival (Featuring Refugee Allstars)
Label: Ruffhouse/Columbia
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Wyclef Jean

Album: Presents The Carnival (Featuring Refugee Allstars)
Label: Ruffhouse/Columbia

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As one-third of The Fugees, the Haitian-born, Brooklyn-raised Wyclef Jean threw together rap, reggae and soul on 1996's The Score, bridging the gap between Port-au-Prince and Flatbush Avenue and making the year-end Top 10 list of every critic on the planet. Despite the critical adulation, the album was a lot better in concept than in reality: For all its diverse influences, it just didn't sound that good. The same cannot be said about The Carnival, a stunning solo album that's light years beyond The Score. This time, Jean ventures far beyond the places he knows, showing off influences ranging from Maria Callas to Grandmaster Flash, The Animals to Joao Gilberto. Few rap albums have ever sounded this thrillingly omnivorous in their appetite for new sounds: A haunting operatic chorus flows into a Funkmaster Flex scratch, which flows into an acoustic guitar, which flows into a reworked Bee Gees groove. "Guantanamera" is a Puerto Rican number that morphs into a hardcore freestyle rap and back again several times. On "Mona Lisa," Aaron Neville does his falsetto love-ballad thing while Jean urges everyone in their jeeps to turn their radios up. On "Gunpowder," Jean channels the spirit of Bob Marley as the reggae king's old backup group, The I-Threes, sings behind him like it was Trenchtown, 1975. And no matter how far Jean wanders off the traditional hip-hop path, the music somehow always manages to maintain that ever-elusive quality known as "street cred." In his universalist embrace of music of all forms, Wyclef Jean makes a more powerful call for peace and unity than a thousand East Coast-West Coast "Stop the violence, y'all" intros put together. Rap album of the year.

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