New Jersey Monthly: Your latest single, “Hendrix,” alludes to playing guitar in the basement as a kid. Was that in East Orange?
Wyclef Jean: Yeah, we called it the Booga Basement. It was at 232 South Clinton Street….That’s where the Fugees got started, where we did The Score [the group’s 1996 breakthrough].
NJM: “Hendrix” is about choices and fate. Many of your early acquaintances ended up in the drug trade and came to nasty ends. How did you find a way to make better choices?
WJ: I think my parents played a big role. If I acted up, my parents brought me to my grandma in Brooklyn, and she’d give me that good West Indian beating. My parents were very strong and they were like, “We brought you here and there’s no way we’re going to get deported.” I was among guns and among drugs. I was in that trap. But I had two strong parents.
NJM: Now you’re married with a child of your own.
NJM: Why Saddle River?
WJ: I was working in the city every day, and I needed somewhere very close by that was quiet. I can get over the George Washington Bridge in 25 minutes. And the area I’m in is a very cool area. Russell Simmons was living there, Rev. Run is still living there. Jason Kidd. All cool.
NJM: You ran for president of your native Haiti in 2010. Are you still involved in politics there?
WJ: For me, it started out with the Fugees. Fugees is short for “refugee.” We were doing stuff like Rock the Vote and the Free Tibet concert back in the ’90s. I’ve been consistent about being socially conscious. It’s in my DNA.
NJM: Are you a big celebrity in Haiti?
WJ: My reputation there is the same reputation the Beatles have in England and Bob Marley has in Jamaica. I move on the ground, I move among the people…and the beautiful thing is that when kids touch [me], they get inspired.
NJM: What are your thoughts about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton?
WJ: Here’s what I think about Trump. Hillary says you can bait him with a Tweet, but listen: He can bait y’all with a Tweet. And that’s got to stop. We’ve got to push past that and look at all these important issues, like health care and the economy, in a non-emotional way.
NJM: How do you feel about Trump’s position on immigrants?
WJ: My parents came here under the Ford administration. Under Trump’s policies, a Wyclef would not be here. The U.S. was built on the back of immigrants. You want to get rid of all of us?
NJM: So you’re a Hillary supporter?
WJ: If you come to a Wyclef concert, you’ll hear me support Hillary. And I went to the DNC and supported her there.
NJM: What are you feeling for New Jersey?
WJ: Pride, man. My family has left a legacy in Newark. My daddy built the first bilingual church there. It’s still there. My memories are good.