Wyclef Jean is the personification of the American dream. The artist-producer, joining the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra for a Rockin’ Orchestra Series concert at the Schuster Center in Dayton on Saturday, Feb. 8, was 9 when he moved to the United States from Haiti.
The talented and tenacious youngster took full advantage of the opportunities in his new land. He was still a teenager when he got to work with big-name rap artists Kurtis Blow and Erik B. and Rakim.
Jean was in his mid-20s when “The Score” (1996), the second album from his group the Fugees, became a worldwide smash. It is now regarded as a hip-hop classic. Jean, now 50, released his solo debut, “The Carnival,” in 1997. He released a string of albums over the next 12 years before temporarily stepping away from music.
The three-time Grammy Award winner tried to mount a run for president of Haiti in 2010 but was derailed by citizenship issues. He returned to music a few years ago with “Carnival III” (2017) and the follow-up, “Wyclef Goes Back to School Volume 1” (2019).
Jean’s father was a minister, and the young man honed his skills playing in church bands. That experience, coupled with the influence of Caribbean music, has always featured into his mix of hip-hop and R&B, whether solo or with the Fugees. That diversity and musicality make him the perfect artist for “A Night of Symphonic Hip-Hop.”
“He definitely has a melodic sensibility,” said DPO Artistic Director Neal Gittleman. “A lot of hip-hop is more melodic now than it was when the artform was just starting out. He, especially, has always had a real flair for and an interest in the melodic side of things as well as the content and rhyming.”
While some subscribers to the Rockin’ Orchestra Series may not think of themselves as hip-hop fans, Gittleman hopes they’ll keep an open mind.
“I hope they’ll come check it out and learn a little bit about other kinds of music than what they’re most familiar with,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are Wyclef fans and hip-hop fans who will be interested in seeing what happens when you put Wyclef with an orchestra. It’s going to be a little bit of stretch for everyone, but it’s going to be very exciting.
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“It’s a real sort of a different twist,” Gittleman said. “A lot of our audience, and probably a lot of our musicians, are not very hip-hop savvy — but Wyclef is an amazing performer. He has an amazing story so it will be great for us to play with him. It’s always nice to stretch our ears. I’m really looking forward to it. It should be a memorable evening.”