Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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***

WYCLEF JEAN
Masquerade
Columbia

As a rapper, Wyclef Jean specializes in affability. There's nothing notably liquid or percussive in his confident groove, nothing notably smooth or abrasive in his conversational timbre. Though he was the organizing intelligence behind the Fugees, Lauryn Hill outstrips him in charisma and vocal talent as clearly as he outstrips Pras. Nor is his cachet improved by the failure of the Fugees' pop outreach and gender politics to impress hip-hop hards. Hence his critical support has always come from outsiders. As one such, it is my duty to report that Wyclef's third solo album, while entertaining enough, is short on the sane, humane pleasures so plentiful on the first two. Even those who believe there's nothing wrong with star-time cameos, high-profile samples and world-music beats won't spin this disc a year from now and delight in one minor stroke after another.

The cameos are way down, actually--last time Kenny Rogers and Whitney Houston, this time M.O.P., whose bark and bite on the standout title track have the unintended side effect of illustrating Wyclef's limitations as an MC. The Brownsville beat-down specialists also underline a thug theme that has never been more prominent. Although, as always, Wyclef warns against the life of crime, he's too concerned with proving he has a right to sermonize, most successfully in the where-I'm-from credo "PJ's"--which is more impressive as autobiography than "What a Night," where he comes to "rule the industry" while helpmates paraphrase the old Four Seasons song. In the past, Wyclef adeptly balanced pop and exotica; here, the Chinese scales and Israeli violin are arresting, the Four Seasons and Tom Jones annoying. And because Wyclef is a bit soft even if hards say so, his attempts to address big issues flop--on a "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" rewrite about the hood and the World Trade Center, an anti-war song that asks, "When will the violence cease?" and, saddest of all, a threnody for his dead dad. Hate to say it, dog, but Mia X did it better.

Rolling Stone, July 4, 2002