Wyclef Jean Spends Day With Middle School Journalists
Wyclef Jean doesn’t like butterflies. Well, in his case, the kind of butterflies that emerge when he stares at a Rorschach ink blot test. The rapper, far from troubled, admits he’s sat on a psychiatrist’s couch a few times over the course of his career. With the trials and tribulations he’s experienced since stepping into the spotlight — parting ways with the Fugees, pulling children from the rubble after Haiti’s devastating earthquake in January, and learning he was ineligible to run for the Haitian presidency — it’s not surprising Wyclef’s vented to a licensed doc.
However, the only treatment Clef feels comfortable with is the prescription he’s written for himself: a song a day keeps the doctor away. “A song for me is therapy,” he tells The BoomBox. “I write a song a day. All respect to every psychiatrist … I figured that if I have to look at a picture of a butterfly, then I can just stay home and play the guitar. I’ll get a better result. So a song a day for a musician is just therapy. It’s sort of like looking at the world and I express how I’m feeling.”
Today, the musician is expressing himself to a group of people more likely to play with his daughter than carry on a conversation with him. Wyclef, accompanied by a “good friend” — his guitar — is seated in a classroom full of middle school students at the Urban Assembly Academy for Arts and Letters in Brooklyn, N.Y., as part of an apprenticeship with Citizen Schools and AOL editors. Rather than rely on a professional, the children — a mix of sixth and seventh graders also known as team Press Pass — serve as interviewers, getting the former Fugees frontman to talk about his childhood, his new EP, ‘If I Were President: My Haitian Experience,’ and of course, Haiti.
“Did y’all write these questions?” the ‘Ready or Not’ hitmaker ponders after students Sydney, Taylor, Justine, Legacy, Bryonna and Isabella toss inquiries his way and snap photos. “These are better than some of the questions adults ask.”
As he sits in front of a chalkboard, Wyclef shares many facets of his life: creating songs as a kid while riding a donkey, being inspired by Jimi Hendrix‘ musical abilities, getting dissed by a girl at his high school prom and feeling the earthquake’s aftershocks when he arrived in Haiti earlier this year.
One of the more fitting and humbling stories of the afternoon comes as a result of Legacy’s question: “How do you think you influence the kids?” Clef’s answer proves that despite his fame, the singer/producer was once a teen with a dream, similar to the Arts and Letters students.
“I influence [kids] in the sense that if you see me do it, you know you can do it,” Wyclef reveals. “I use to work at Burger King. So think about that … there’s probably a kid right now working at Burger King and he’ll probably be on the side writing his little rhyme while he’s fixing you this burger. In his mind, he’s like, ‘Man I’m gonna be working at Burger King [forever].’ But nah, ’cause Wyclef use to work at Burger King and look where he’s at. I always use these little scenarios, these events so you understand how close we human beings are. We’re really on the same level. If you not only dream it but really believe it’s a reality, you can accomplish it.”
Surprisingly composed in the presence of a superstar, the students wait until the Q&A session is over to score autographs and snap photos on their cell phones before the man of the hour heads to BET’s ’106 & Park.’ When they begin to mob him, Clef turns to his trusty, stringed sidekick to give an impromptu performance, which seemingly puts the students in a trance when he spits a freestyle featuring each classmates’ name. Just like Haiti and the music that brought him to the forefront, Wyclef loves the kids. Click here for the full Q&A.
Story written by Georgette Cline
Reporting by Citizen Schools “Press Pass” Apprentices: Helen Bauer, Carl Brown, Bryonna Charles, Taylor Clark, Courtney Douglas, Ahmad Grinnage, Alanna Grinnage, Alyssa Grinnage, Campbell Harding, Lauryn Jean-Pierre, Tatiana Jones, Shakyra Lipscomb, Sydney Lyte, Ashley Mitchell, Essence Nipper, Isabella Oliva, Legacy Perrin, Justine Watkins, Eric Wefald
Citizen Schools “Press Pass” Teaching Fellow: Amy Parker
Citizen Schools “Press Pass” Citizen Teachers from AOL: Gaylord Fields, Tracey Ford, Melissa Olund