Ask Wyclef Jean just when the Fugees will begin recording their long-awaited follow-up to 1996’s The Score, and he mumbles blithe assurances that the album’s eventual completion and delivery is a foregone conclusion. With a no-big-deal shrug, he expresses confidence that the Fugees’ core audience won’t go away; Lauryn Hill’s head-spinning 10 Grammy nominations and Wyclef’s single nod in the Best Rap Solo Performance category (for ”Gone Till November”) should keep the group in the public consciousness for a while yet. Besides, right now he’s got his mind on other things — like shaking up the staid community of highbrow composers.
”I want those old guys to listen to what I’m doing and say, ‘Yo, this kid is insane — but in a hip way,”’ says Jean, 28, referring to a different sort of score, namely, the music he’s writing for director Ted Demme’s (The Ref, Beautiful Girls) upcoming Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence vehicle, Life, due in April. The film traces two prison inmates serving life sentences, and its story runs from 1932 to the present; Jean has been charged with writing a score that reflects the musical flavors of each era. (R. Kelly is helping assemble the more mainstream, R&B-driven soundtrack album of songs ”inspired” by the film.)
”Our mission with the score,” says Demme, ”was to match the music with the decade. I asked ‘Clef to take me back to those time periods and make me feel that music, but subtly, so we don’t lose the kids of today. The joke has always been, there will be no rapping in this movie.”
Jean, who was first approached about the project by the film’s music supervisor, Demme’s wife, Amanda, says he’d been asked to score other movies — ”bubblegum stuff” — but was drawn to the unique challenge presented by Life. ”This is the next level for me,” he enthuses, seated on a stool in New York’s Hit Factory, where he’s putting the finishing touches on a track that contains a hefty helping of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ ”Wake Up Everybody.” That musical interpolation notwithstanding, he says the bulk of the score will consist of original instrumentals, with a bare minimum of samples. ”Everything has strings, big strings,” he says. ”I was working with an orchestra the other day, and I was tripping out because here I am, walking into the room in my thug outfit, and they’re in tuxedos and stuff.”
Working with Demme has strengthened Jean’s resolve to make a movie of his own — but it won’t be the Fugees’ long-brewing remake of The Harder They Come (currently on indefinite hold). ”I can’t tell you too much about it,” says Jean. ”But it’ll be a movie called Passport, about two immigrant kids from Haiti; one’s a musician, the other’s a gangster. I don’t know who’s gonna direct it yet, but I’m producing it, acting in it, and doing the whole score. There’s gonna be a lot of music in it, and a lot of surprises.” Such as? ”Well,” says Jean, with a bashful grin, ”I’m gonna try and get Pavarotti to do some s— with me.”
And while we’re on the subject of unlikely pairings, the Fugeea also plans to team with reclusive Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor for a remake of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”; at this point, it’s unclear if the track will end up on the next NIN album, a future Jean project, or elsewhere. Hmmm: Jean, Pavarotti, and Reznor. Sounds like the supergroup of the decade to us.