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First Play: Wyclef Jean, Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee

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Del Cowie

Explicit language warning

Wyclef Jean has returned for his first album in eight years, entitled Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee. It's the 20th anniversary of Haitian-born Jean's inaugural Carnival album and, much like the original solo album from the former member of the Fugees, this record covers a kaleidoscope of musical styles.

For anyone who has followed Jean's career closely this probably isn't a surprise. He's known for collaborating on massive global singles like "Hips Don't Lie" with Shakira and "Maria, Maria" with Carlos Santana, displaying a penchant for blurring genres, linguistics and cultures in his music.

The Carnival, released back in 1997, yielded hit songs such as "Gone 'Til November," "Guantanamera" and "We Tryin' to Stay Alive," spanning string-infused R&B balladry, a classic Cuban song and disco-derived throwbacks — not to mention the appearance of legendary artists like Celia Cruz and the Neville Brothers.

"My Carnival albums have always been about celebrating music culture from all parts of the world and Carnival III is no different,” Wyclef said in a statement. “It's outside the box. There’s genre-bending. There’s new talent on there. Carnival III is more than just an album. It’s a celebration of what I love about music: discovery, diversity and artistry for art’s sake."

On Carnival III, Jean retains a diasporic approach. "Fela Kuti," as the song suggests, is more than a namecheck of the musical legend, genuinely tapping into the frenetically layered instrumentation that undergirds the Afrobeat genre that Kuti invented. "Trapicabana" traverses in the Latin rhythms, and album standout "What Happened to Love?" is an unabashed homage to disco and funk.

Elsewhere, Jean tries to ensure the album's present-day relevance by tapping trap-style beats on "Shotta Boys," even aiming for the future on "Borrowed Time" where he samples sounds from the Juno spacecraft that is currently orbiting Jupiter.

Overall, the album shows that the eclectic template Jean initially explored is arguably even more viable and relevant today than it was 20 years ago.