June 26, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

LAURYN HILL
WYCLEF JEAN

The A Team

Ages Jean, 28; Hill, 23 Why them? Few musical acts can match their range, their drive, or their belief that their success was preordained. Ricocheting off the phenomenal rise of the Fugees, they (along with the third Fugee, Pras, now appearing on the Bulworth soundtrack) have managed to carve independent identities as solo artists. Even legends want to work with them: Jean’s The Carnival, a genre-busting solo debut that journeys musically from Cuba to New Jersey, spawned a hit video featuring an up-and-coming musician named Bob Dylan. Hill, who releases her own highly anticipated solo debut in August, wrote and produced a song for a well-regarded singer named Aretha Franklin (“A Rose Is Still a Rose”). Work habits “I’m on a creative spree right now,” says Jean. “People say something, and it’s an inspiration; I walk down the street, and I’m inspired. There really is no formula, except that I stay in touch with reality. Once I lose touch with real life, I won’t be able to do what I do.” Hill also relies heavily on inspiration: “Things come out the best when I just get out of the way,” she adds. “I have no rituals. I write in the shower—once brought a tape deck in there. I don’t rewrite, though. I’m not a rewriter.” Next? Hill: The release of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, featuring Carlos Santana, which she also wrote and produced. Jean: “Scoring Life, the Eddie Murphy-Martin Lawrence project. It starts in 1934 and goes to today.” And then? “Another Fugees record,” says Hill. “‘Clef calls it ‘The Reunion Album.'” Hill also gave birth to her first child, Zion, with Rohan Marley (Bob’s son). Remember that name in 20 years.

CORNELIUS
Sonic Samurai

Age 27 Why him? With music that’s a strange brew of Brian Wilson, Massive Attack, and Dinosaur Jr, he’s been called the Beck of Japan. Work habits “I get up around 3 p.m. and watch this cooking program while I’m taking a bath. Then I record for a while, stop for a yogurt break, and record until 4 a.m.” Next? Contributions to the Orgasmo and Space Ghost soundtracks.

AIR
The French Connection

Ages Jean Benoit Dunckel (left) and Nicolas Godin, both 28 Why them? On Moon Safari, they make kitschy Parisian pop that’s as groovy as Godard. Work habits “We have a house in the forest,” says Godin. “We rehearse in the day and compose by the night—the moon and the stars, you know?” Creative block buster “If we have a bad idea, we work with it. Good ideas are boring.” Next? A U.S. tour this fall.

CHRIS KNIGHT
Alt-Country Comer

Age 37 Why him? While his self-titled debut reminds genre partisans of Steve Earle, Knight leaves self-destruction to his song’s hard-boiled protagonists. Work habits Writes lyrics by dreaming up stories for people he sees in everyday life rather than “writing a song around a hook. The best stuff I write [has] to do with people.” Next? A single, ‘It Ain’t Easy Being Me,’ being released this fall.

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