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SoulCycle Q&A: Wyclef Jean

WYCLEF JEAN is one of the most accomplished artists around: He formed the Fugees, created some of hip-hop’s most influential music, won three Grammy Awards and has made it his mission to give back to people in his native Haiti. This week he adds one more bullet-point to resume: He’s teaming up with instructor CHARLEE ATKINS for a LIVE DJ RIDE at SOULCYCLE TRIBECA. Before kicking off the cardio party, he chatted with us about his upcoming album, Clefication, where he finds inspiration, what he really thinks of Donald Trump and whether there will ever be a Fugees reunion…

It's been nearly eight years since your last album, so we are all anxiously awaiting the release of Clefication. What can we expect?
You can expect a continuation of where we left off. We left off at “Sweetest Girl” and “Hips Don’t Lie." We started off with Blunted on Reality, which was the original Fugees — this was before The Score — then we dropped The Score which was followed by The Carnival then a bunch of series of albums after that. In a nutshell, The Carnival continues.

One single from the album was released in late 2014: "Divine Sorrow" with Avicii. What inspired you to be involved with the Share the Sounds of an An AIDS-free generation campaign?
I got involved through Bono, who’s a good mentor and a longtime friend from U2. I look up to him and I support the RED initiative and myself and Tim [Bergling aka Avicii] were already in Stockholm and we were already working. "Divine Sorrow" just sounded like a perfect start from where we were coming from… just in a sense of giving the world a sense of hope.

What inspired you to write this song?
"Divine Sorrow" is a blessing. When you look back on life, when you think you’ve got it bad, somebody has it worse, right? So instead of you complaining, you should just wake up everyday and be thankful and do what you have to do.

Philanthropy is a huge part of your life. What motivates you to give back?
My daddy used to say, “No good deed goes unpunished.” So, I just want everybody to know, whenever you decide that you are going to do public service and you’re doing it for real, don’t expect any gratification. Be clear and fully understand that you’re doing it because you’re serving the public and it’s very important. I get that from my father — he was a minister — and my mother. Just watching everything that they were doing when we were growing up.

You got involved with music at a young age, performing in a gospel choir in church as a kid and even produced a record at 17. Why did you want to play and pursue music? How did it make you feel?
Music for me started in a village in Haiti. I didn’t get to America until I was 10 years old, so, I always tell people my Disneyland was when I heard the lightning and thunder. I would run outside and have a ball. The first sounds of music for me was nature; it was the trees, it was the birds. Coming to the States at the age of 10, going to Marlboro projects, it didn’t look like there was another way out for me. For me music was survival; it was a gift given from God to get my mom out of the situation that she was in at the time.

Which other musicians inspired you as a kid — and now as an adult?
Thelonious Monk, I think, is incredible. Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Santana, Hendrix. I don’t know if I said Marvin Gaye, but I’ll say him four times. Billie Holiday, people like that.

You’ve collaborated with so many different artists — and even been on the ABC show Nashville! How does music bring people together and create community?
Music and sports bring people together. Those are the universal love factors. No matter what we disagree about we can always come together when it’s a sports game or our favorite musicians are playing.

Any artist, alive or not, you would most like to collaborate with?
I would say Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix.

You appeared on The Apprentice — and have been involved in politics, too. What are your thoughts on Donald Trump and his candidacy?
I think that we’re living in the United States of America and the idea is that whether you come from a background like Bernie Sanders's, a background like Donald Trump's, a background like Hillary Clinton's, a background like Wyclef Jean's, all of this allows you and gives you the sense of anything that you want to be, you can be. I think that someone like Donald Trump running, it forces an awareness to all of us that we all have to pay attention. Until a Donald Trump got into the race, there were people that really weren’t following. Until Bernie Sanders got into the race, there were people who weren’t following. I had a great time on The Apprentice; I had a great time with the people… I’m just glad Donald Trump didn’t fire me!

How has social media changed the way we find, share and listen to music?
Social media is a real revolution. A lot of people talk about a revolution in the sense of change, so social media… it eliminates the weapons and you automatically have a communication with each other. Whether you agree or disagree, it’s an avenue that brings people together — most of us for the better, even though some people use it for the worse.

Our instructors are currently obsessed with "Kiss The Sky." They say it makes them feel happy — and want to dance. Why do you think music can make us feel so much, even within a few seconds?
Music is emotion. So we as writers, the ones that last, the best music that you love, it defines a generation, a time and a space. You love it because it takes you the sense of emotion. Whether you want to be happy, whether you want to be in love, whether you want to laugh or cry, there’s that kind of energy. “Kiss the Sky” just makes you just want to take off and never stop.

The connection between music and movement is strong — and amazing music has become so integral to great fitness experiences like SoulCycle. How important is finding the right songs and beat to exercise?
I think it’s really important. As somebody who naturally pushes his physical body as far as I can, I’m always looking for the next thing. There’s always that one song that can push you through, you’re always going to feel like “Man, last five minutes, I can’t do it” and something is going to push you through to do it.

SoulCycle is the place you often hear the newest music and the next big thing. In your opinion, which bands or artists to watch in 2016 and beyond?
I’m really just obsessed with The Knocks. Having a chance to work with them, I have been listening to a lot of their underground stuff. I think that’s a real cool band to look out for.

Will there ever be a Fugees reunion?
Never say never ya heard!
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