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First Person

Back to school

Between hit records and world tours, Wyclef Jean, 37, Grammy Award-winning producer/rapper and Haitian activist, has added Berklee College of Music student to his repertoire.

By Christina Pazzanese
January 3, 2010

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You’re already successful. Why go back to school? I remember being 17 years old and not doing too well in school, and they were like “Yo, what you want to do?” and I was like “I’m almost finished. I want to go to Berklee.” Then I got with the Fugees, so Berklee was always in the back of my head. The reason I’m back is I’ve been doing a lot of scoring films. I wanted to study theory.

What has it been like so far? They interviewed me to see how serious I was. And my commitment is driving three hours up here [from New York] to make sure that I get the proper courses. The instructors, they worked with me in the sense of knowing how crazy my schedule is. But there’s really no shortcut to getting a degree. I’m struggling a little bit with my online classes. I have to find a way next semester to be on campus a little more. Despite my crazy schedule, it might take me a little longer, but I’ll really feel satisfied when I’m done.

What’s your impression of Boston? I’m no stranger to Boston. My brother actually went to Eastern Nazarene College and I used to come see him. And then he went on to Boston University. One of the places I do want to go -- because I’m all about helping kids change their lives -- I want to get out to Mattapan and have a talk with kids in the different parts of Boston where it’s kind of rough.

Tell me about Wyclef Jean, which comes out this spring. This is my first album where I’m thinking, “Let me produce a Wyclef Jean album and make sure all top seven songs are Wyclef.”

You’re a Goodwill Ambassador to Haiti, and the program you created, Yele Haiti, focuses on youth initiatives. What do you hope to accomplish? The biggest misconception is that it’s the most violent place in the world and a dirty slum. It’s only natural that I go back to the country where I came from and say, “Look, this is what America’s given me. Now here’s what I’m giving you.”

(Photograph by Stephanie Pistel)
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