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Album review: Wyclef Jean's 'From the Hut, to the Projects, to the Mansion'

November 9, 2009 |  5:30 pm
Wyclef240 During the second track of his latest album, Wyclef Jean relates the tale of an autograph-seeking fan mistaking him for Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am. It's an interesting illustration of how far below the radar the former Fugees frontman has fallen since he, Pras and Lauryn Hill topped the charts in the mid-to-late '90s.

The Haitian born-humanitarian stayed busy throughout the 2000s, producing and penning tunes for the likes of John Legend, Bono and Shakira (for whom he crafted 2007's "Hips Don't Lie.") But as Jean himself declares on "The Streets Pronounce Me Dead," hard-core hip-hop heads were chagrined about his career trajectory: "Last time, [they] felt me was when I rhymed with Big Pun," Jean declares.

Partnering with mix-tape master DJ Drama, Jean seems determined to change that. Here, he introduces his Toussaint St. Jean alter-ego, inspired by Haitian liberator Toussaint L'Ouverture. The fictional guise coupled with furor at his also-ran status has injected a hunger in Jean. Childhood anecdotes about receiving his first pair of shoes and the crushing poverty in Haiti, ("Warrior's Anthem") provide a gritty poignancy he'd lacked since going pop. "Toussaint Vs. Bishop," and "Letter from the Penn" triumph thanks to Jean's sincerity.

The collection is not without its missteps: The M.I.A.-aping "Slumdog Millionaire" enlists Cyndi Lauper for hook duty and bafflingly lets her construct her own hood mythology. But overall, "From the Hut, to the Projects" amounts to a successful resurrection.

-- Jeff Weiss

Wyclef Jean
"From the Hut, to the Projects, to the Mansion"
Carnival House/Megaforce/Sony Music
Three stars (Three stars out of four)