Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean opens his autobiography in his New York music studio, working on a rap for the alter ego he created to tell the gritty stories about life on Haiti’s toughest streets. The music stops abruptly when he notices the headline crawling across the screen of a muted TV — a catastrophic earthquake had struck his Caribbean homeland.
In “Purpose,” co-written with music journalist Anthony Bozza, the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that leveled Haiti’s capital is one of two phenomena with the power to focus the ex-Fugees frontman’s scattered energy.
The other is Lauryn Hill.
The Haiti-born, Brooklyn-raised Jean tells a familiar immigrant story about living in poverty and trying to fit into American culture. Rap was the language that gained him respect with the black Americans who mocked his Caribbean accent and parents’ strict ways.
Episodes of rebellion, petty crime and diverse musical commitments build to Jean’s introduction to Hill through Pras Michel and the birth of the Fugees. Their entanglements take up the bulk of the book, but neither the Fugees nor Jean and Hill’s tumultuous relationship survived the success of their 1996 masterpiece, “The Score.”
Jean skims over much of his post-Fugees recording career and work in Haiti, including an unsuccessful run for president there in 2010 and the financial scandals that plagued his Yele Haiti Foundation. The Grammy-winning multimillionaire’s story is strongest when he’s focused on his passions: music and serving as an inspiration for Haitians aspiring to follow his path from a hut to a mansion.
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