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Wyclef Jean 

The Ecleftic -- 2 Sides II A Book
(Columbia)

For the Fugees' Wyclef Jean, life is a carnival -- a multicultural, multi-musical extravaganza with dancing, drinking, and an all-around good time. To that effect, The Carnival, Jean's appropriately titled 1997 solo debut, moved effortlessly from ska to dub to hip-hop to pop to R&B and back again. Wyclef's second album, The Ecleftic --2 Sides II A Book, is no less a call to join the celebration; cameos from Kenny Rogers, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, and Earth, Wind and Fire attest to the producer/MC's tastes and passions. Making room for shout-outs to both strippers and Amadou Diallo, the new-millennium martyr slain by NYC policemen last year, Jean is most stirring when he lifts ideas from other music cultures. A ska beat permeates "It Doesn't Matter", a classical undercurrent flows through "Perfect Gentleman", and the cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" works perfectly in the setting.

Grabbing from the genre's musical ancestors, Jean turns this sophomore effort into a more rounded listen than his already-dynamic debut. He knows his limitations, occasionally lays them out, and pretty much sticks to the business of crafting boundary-jumping hip-hop. His ideas, well-intentioned as they are, can be simple (rattling off his list of material possessions in "It Doesn't Matter," he comes off a bit hollow and spoiled). They can just as often be right on: "How can I survive with 41 shots by my side?" he laments in "Diallo." And it's that dichotomy that makes The Ecleftic a flawed view of contemporary times and a testament to America's lastingly open arms (Jean is a Haitian immigrant). Ultimately, this is a trip around the country, a hip-hop head's version of radio roulette: Here's some soul, here's Kenny Rogers on the country station, here's some island pop, here's gritty gangsta on the rap channel, and here's Pink Floyd. By the end, you know exactly what he means by "The Ecleftic."

More by Michael Gallucci

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