06 September 2020

"Apocalypse" by Wyclef Jean (1997)

A few week ago Lauryn Hill's name popped up while I was doing research on Cardi B.  More specifically, besides Cardi she is the only other female to have won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album.  But L Boogie did so as part of a group, that of course being the Fugees.  So when I came across that fact I was thinking to myself 'wow, it would be kinda cool to do research on a Fugees' song'.  After all, they are like my favorite rap group ever.  But I couldn't think of any particular one of their tracks that I felt like researching.  So then I started ruffling through their entire catalog and decided to write an article on Apocalypse (1997), which has long been one of my favorites, albeit a Wyclef solo track.

The cover to Wyclef Jean's first solo album The Carnival (1997),
which despite not being gangsta is one of the classic hip-hop albums
of the 1990s.

This is the first actual song featured on Clef's debut-solo album, Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival (1997).  The project itself was a notable hit, going double-platinum in the United States and platinum in Canada.  And it looks like the biggest single from it was the moody Gone Till November.  Indeed Apocalypse was never released as a single.  But it is, in my opinion, the most-memorable track on The Carnival, even perhaps moreso than another sleeper contained therein, the posse cut Street Jeopardy.

French singer Danielle Licari, whose voice Wyclef
throughout Apocalypse.


Taking nothing away from Clef's impressive lyrical display, the most-outstanding part of Apocalypse is actually its instrumental which, of course, was produced by Clef himself.  That is because said instrumental relies heavily on a sample of what I would call an opera song but is classified under the contemporary-classical genre on Wikipedia.  And said track is entitled Concerto Pour Une Voix (tr. "Concerto for One Voice", 1969) by an old-school French vocalist named Danielle Licari.  And her sample is used throughout, with Wyclef actually rapping over her voice.


Despite how many records he has sold, Wyclef's skills as a rapper have never been truly appreciated.  Fundamentally he raps about the same things other rappers do - violence, women and life on the streets.  But he isn't gangsta which is the main reason why, even back in the 1990s, you wouldn't necessarily find someone bumping Clef in the 'hood.

But that being said, Apocalypse is an outstanding lyrical outing for those who can appreciate it.  No, Clef may not be Slick Rick when it comes to storytelling.  But he is still able to relay a comprehensive and entertaining tale in this song.  Indeed The Carnival is somewhat of a concept album which, according to Genius, Apocalypse is intended to set the tone for.

The intro and chorus center on Wyclef setting an ominous mood, including warning the listener of "100 horsemen at your door".  That phrase fits into the narrative presented in the second verse in particular, whereas the rapper is being harassed by undercover police.  In the end he reveals that he was imagining the whole scenario, as it in being 'all in his mind'.  But yet and still, he concludes the passage by acknowledging that police brutality is in fact real.

The first verse is more along the lines of your standard Fugees' braggadocio rap.  In other words Clef is addressing his rivals and touting his proficiency as an opponent.  But instead of coming off like a murderous hoodlum, he uses more-creative metaphors and in the process drops a few Biblical references.  In fact he concludes the verse by prophesying some type of war, i.e. the Apocalypse.

And although, once again, he manages to tell an engaging story in the second verse, that's not necessarily the reason I am impressed with his rap.  Rather it is the uniform flow, seemingly without the utilization of punching (i.e. voice-track splicing), he is able to put together despite the fact that the lyrics, at certain points, are quite-complicated, on top of the verse being rather lengthy.  Also the Danielle Licari sample, which is pretty-outstanding itself, plays throughout.  In other words Clef is rapping on top of other vocals, which is another difficult thing to do.  So if nothing else, you have to give the man an A for effort.


The multi-talent Wyclef wrote and produced Apocalypse.  And his cousin Jerry Duplessis (aka Jerry Wonda) also contributed in the latter regard, though he is not credited as one of the main producers.

This song came out on 24 June 1997.  That is the same day that the album it is featured on was also released.  As aforementioned, this was actually Wyclef's first project as a soloist (although it features the Fugees throughout).  And this particular era was also around the peak of his career as not only did the Fugees drop a highly-successful album prior (1996's The Score), but shortly thereafter came what is arguably Clef's most-celebrated solo project, The Ecleftic (2000).

The label that put out Apocalypse was Columbia Records.


Back in the days some of my homeys who preferred hardcore rap wasn't feeling the Fugees at all.  Indeed even to this day when you talk about 1990s rap music, gangsta acts like Biggie, Tupac and NWA are the ones being celebrated.  Such is the state of American society.  However I appreciated what the Fugees did for hip-hop.  Even though they did deal with adult topics, as illustrated by Apocalypse, they didn't present themselves as killers, sex fiends, drug dealers or advocate violence.  But honestly speaking, the reason this track has remained one of my favorites even after all these years is due to its unique, opera-laced instrumental.