“This is the beautiful thing, constantly being able to reinvent yourself,” says Wyclef Jean, the Fugees cofounder and multiplatinum rapper and producer who recently released his ‘Inspired By’ mixtape. “I remember when I was coming out, I was always singing, rhyming, playing instruments. I don’t think they had a label for me. I was always like the weird rapper. It’s funny how now, the kids now, they think I’m Young Thug’s uncle.”
In our latest episode of Mass Appeal’s producer series “Off The Record,” Clef recalls the making of Carlos Santana’s smash hit “Maria Maria,” which spent 10 weeks on the top of the Billboard charts in Spring of 2000 and recently got a second life thanks to DJ Khaled. “How could you top Maria Maria?” says Clef. “My daughter don’t know no ‘Maria Maria.’ It wasn’t till she was in school and some of the young’ns were like, “You know, that’s your dad’s record that’s being sampled.”
It was legendary record exec Clive Davis, aka “the big mon,” who first approached Clef to make the Santana joint. Wyclef recruited two young singers from New Jersey, Product G&B, to sing lead on a song inspired by the movie ‘West Side Story.’ The record did what it did—Clef had a pretty hot hand at the time—and then 17 years later the phone rang.
“My brother DJ Khaled called me and said you know I have an idea—I’ve been sitting’ on this idea for years. And I need Santana to sign off on it.” Clef noted that “Santana don’t sign off on nothing” but he made the connection to the guitar god and, as Wyclef puts it, “We all good.”
Reflecting on the success of “Wild Thoughts,” Wyclef sees the sampling game coming full circle. “At the end of the day Khaled did the same thing I did with The Fugees. The way that we was flippin’ records, like I’ma do ‘Killing Me Softly.’ It just feels great to see a groove that I sat there and came up with on the keyboard—now the new generation is doing. It’s incredible. Thank you to DJ Khaled, Rihanna, everybody for keeping Uncle Wyclef relevant.”
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