Wyclef Jean has been described as hip hop's renaissance man with his somewhat unique style of hip hop that integrates Latin and World music influences. He's created huge hit songs like "Gone 'Til November", was a member of the Fugees, and produced Shakira's world-wide hit "Hips Don't Lie".
The full title of Wyclef's new album is Toussaint St. Jean: From The Hut, To The Projects, To The Mansion. It's being billed as a concept album where Wyclef takes on the role of Toussaint St. Jean a character loosely based on a Haitian revolutionary hero. The new role called for Wyclef to deliver a hard-hitting style that didn't mince words. In other words, the album is meant to be grittier than his recent releases. Wyclef's multi-cultural background and musical influences matched with the attractiveness of a concept album had me thinking I was in store for something interesting and unique.
Unfortunately, the new album fell short of transporting me to a new place or telling a new story. Much of From The Hut, To The Projects, To The Mansion is your standard mainstream hip hop. Granted, Wyclef does embody the harder, street edge he was seeking when he created the thirteen track EP. The production, headed up by DJ Drama is decent, but there's nothing new here.
Save the ironic Cyndi Lauper collaboration, the reggae-infused "We Made It", and the finale that finds Wyclef singing and strumming his guitar, Wyclef's colorful background is hard to find. "Slumdog Millionaire" is a pop rap song featuring Cyndi Lauper. It's a decent track, but doesn't seem at home on a largely gangsta rap album. People who buy the album for "Slumdog Millionaire" will be disappointed. Lucky for these folks, we're in the age of 99 cent tracks that can be purchased from Amazon.
The interludes attempt to provide a theme or through-line, but they're not enough to really create an overall concept when the tracks don't stick to a central theme. "Toussaint vs. Bishop" is a bit more of what I expected from a concept album. The track tells the story of a robbery gone wrong. If Wyclef would've continued more of this chronological story telling I feel that the concept may have come together more.
Aside from the above tracks, the rest of From The Hut, To The Projects, To The Mansion is derivative and boring, especially when I expected something different. They're packed with the typical stories of the dangers of the 'hood. There's a fun dance track about killings and gun violence on "You Don't Wanna Go Outside". Unfortunately, on "Robotic Love" Wyclef was compelled to give us yet another annoying autotune club track even after referencing Jay-Z's "Death of Autotune". "Suicide Love" and "Gangsta Girl" give us some obligatory bonnie and clyde rap where love is defined by flushing the drugs before the Feds find them.
Maybe Wyclef is another veteran artist trying to stay current and attract the next generation like Weezer recently did with Raditude. From The Hut, To The Projects, To The Mansion is not a bad album, I guess I just expected a little more. If you like mainstream hip hop, there's enough on the album to enjoy. If you're hoping for something different, like I was, you may be disappointed.