MGF Reviews Wyclef Jean – Carnival, Volume II: Memoirs of an Immigrant

Wyclef Jean – Carnival, Volume II: Memoirs of an Immigrant
Columbia (12/4/07)
Hip-hop / Rap

Wyclef Jean is undeniably talented. With a solo career spanning more than 10 years (to say nothing of his work with seminal hip-hop act, the Fugees) and six albums under his belt, Jean has had one of the longest and most eclectic careers in recent music history.

Still, one couldn’t be faulted for thinking that Jean’s career has been built upon the premise of “right place, right time.”

The Fugees blew up during a time when many listeners were suffering from “bi-coastal beef fatigue.” In the aftermath of what was then rap’s darkest hours, I dare say anyone could’ve parlayed the group’s collective success into accolades for the individual pieces.

No disrespect intended, but Jean’s work has been pretty uneven at times and he’s received more than a few second chances after clanking the occasional brick of an album.

Curiously, Jean has dropped a sequel of sorts to his most successful release. On Carnival, Volume II, Jean re-invents himself by going back to the formula that’s always worked best for him—lush productions, solid guests, with just enough sonic risk to keep it all interesting.

Say what you will about the emergence of Lil’ Wayne as “best rapper alive,” but his work on the first single, “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill),” is pretty damn decent. The track’s melancholy vibe is further strengthened by Akon, of all people. T.I. isn’t as strong on the cynical “Slow Down,” but his verse, coincidentally I’m sure, pays more than a passing reference to some of his current legal troubles.

Proving he can still score A-list guest stars, Jean reaches out to Norah Jones on the superb “Any Other Day” and Paul Simon on “Fast Car.” Jean wisely doesn’t try to keep up with either artist, but avoids sounding like a guest on his own album.

“Heaven’s in New York” is the album’s finest cut as Jean paints a landscape of the city that’s simultaneously tragic and hopeful.

Admittedly, not everything works: overlong efforts like “Riot” and “Touch Your Button” (especially, the latter) try to fold too many musical styles into a single song. Meanwhile, Jean’s duet with Shakira on “King & Queen” is festive, but flat.

Still, these are the types of reaches that 99% of the music industry would never attempt, so credit Jean for not choosing to coast on his laurels.

Overall, this album is one of the most pleasant surprises in recent memory. Jean stays within himself and checks his prodigious ego at the door so that others can do the heavy lifting, when needed. Jean has never been much of a lyricist, himself, but he holds his own, à la Kanye West, in that he brings so much more to the listener than words, alone.