The creative force behind The Fugees, Wyclef Jean’s two solo albums to date, Carnival (1997) and The Ecleftic (2000), were rich aural tapestries reflecting the man’s Haitian/Brooklyn upbringing. Hardcore hip-hop beats mingled with samples of esoteric French pop in dense sonic collages and Masquerade offers more of the same, mixing the Four Seasons‘ December 63, Tom Jones‘ What’s New Pussycat and Bob Dylan‘s Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door with looping reggae grooves, funky R&B jives and raps that are every bit as egotistical as the Gangsta rappers Wyclef seems to have so little time for these days.
Perhaps Wyclef still feels he’s got something to prove. He’s keen to remind us, on Oh What A Night, that The Fugees sold more than 20 million albums and scooped a handful of Grammys, but he seems all too aware that this remarkable success was all a long time ago.
In many ways the album is well titled, for Wyclef seems to be suffering from something of an identity crisis. On Peace God and You Say Keep It Gangsta Wyclef sneers at the macho posturing of Gangsta rap, and seeks to promote a positive “message from the streets”. Elsewhere, though, he can be as self-aggrandising as the best of them, and 80 Bars and Oh What A Night soon become pretty tiresome. Will the real Wyclef Jean please stand up?
For all that, there’s still much to enjoy here and Wyclef is at his best when he steers away from grand statements. PJ’s is a reflection on his time in the New York street projects and Daddy is a touching reminiscence of his father, who died recently. Then there’s the Eastern overtones of Party Like I Party, the Bob Marley-influenced War No More, and excellent single Two Wrongs, a duet with Claudette Ortiz, of City High.
As John Motson might say, it’s very much an album of two halves, the one mellow and insightful, the other brash and bordering on megalomania. But, if you’re prepared to overlook the boasting and pompous sermonising this is, musically, streets ahead of just about anything else in the genre.