Wyclef Jean is a very busy man.
After first making a name for himself as a member of the influential hip-hop trio The Fugees, he has recorded six solo albums in 10 years and has helped produce countless tracks for other hip-hop and R&B artists along the way.
But after all Wyclef has accomplished, he’s still best known today for his monstrously popular 2006 collaboration with Shakira, “Hips Don’t Lie.”
With his latest solo album, “The Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant,” Wyclef Jean looks to match the type of success he had with Shakira on his own – well, sort of.
After all, it isn’t really fair to call “Carnival II” a solo album, because Wyclef is anything but afraid to recruit aid from his posse of very famous and talented friends.
The guest list is as long as it is diverse: you might expect to find Chamillionaire, T.I. and, yes, Shakira, but contributions from Serj Tankian, Norah Jones and Paul Simon come completely out of left field.
Even more surprising is how well Mr. Jean manages to keep up with all of these collaborators: on tracks brimming with high-wattage celebrity, Wyclef’s star still shines the brightest.
So it makes sense that when he finally gets a song to himself with the largely acoustic “Heaven’s in New York,” it’s not only the album’s most intimate moment, but also its strongest.
Through it all, Wyclef sets himself apart from his peers in the hip-hop world with his focus on musicianship.
A multi-instrumentalist, Jean is one of the few rappers who you will find frequently busting into emotive, if not technically impressive, guitar solos.
Though turntables, synths and sliced beats are certainly a prominent part of the album’s sound, by placing a stronger emphasis on guitar, Wyclef Jean cultivates a raw, human energy that is often lacking among his more synthetically-minded contemporaries.
A Haitian immigrant, Jean also brings a unique perspective to his songwriting. In fact, throughout the varied “Carnival Vol. II: Memoirs of an Immigrant” the only constant is Wyclef’s insistence on addressing the issue of immigration.
Admirable as his passion for politics may be, Wyclef doesn’t seem to know when to stop.
He tacks the serious issue onto tracks that would otherwise be light-hearted club jams; it’s enough to make you cherish the days when a good hip-hop chorus could be comprised of just the word, “yeah.”
Wyclef’s problem is that he wants it all – to squeeze strippers, politics, guitars, reggae, rap and rock all into one little song – and it’s hard to fault him for his ambition.
But sometimes his virtuosic eclecticism makes “The Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant” into a confused, almost schizophrenic jumble.
He’s at his best when he slows down and focuses his vast talent onto one idea or sound, as on “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)” and the appropriately titled, “Slow Down.”
The album is marred by a few unfortunate missteps, but they’re overshadowed by frequent successes.
Thank goodness for the “skip” button.
Entertainment writer Nick Scheidies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.