Grammy winner Wyclef Jean has traveled the world and performed with legendary artists, but for him nothing beats a good tune on the subway.
Whether it’s a saxophone solo or a showtime dance, the 48-year-old former Fugees member said New York’s underground artists inspire him.
“There is something about discovery,” Jean, who grew up in Brooklyn and Newark, told amNewYork.
Just hours before the Grammys, Jean showed his support for those underground musicians Sunday at a special concert in Grand Central Terminal. Five artists, who use the app Live.me to broadcast their work, auditioned for a contest called Street Beat where viewers around the world voted for favorites based on performances in city subway stations.
The winners, who took home cash prizes, performed some of their original works as well as cover songs for Grand Central visitors at Vanderbilt Hall on Sunday and said they were grateful to have their work honored.
“I get the chance to feel liberated,” Jessica Betts, one of the winners, said of singing in subway stations. “It’s an amazing platform and it gives me a chance to keep practicing my music.”
Jean praised the artists and said social media serves as an ideal tool as they build their careers.
“Sometimes I’d be like, ‘I wish when I was coming up with the Fugees that some of my battle raps were recorded [and] documented,’” he said. “A lot of these musicians won’t be lost or be forgotten.”
Jean is no stranger to using mass transit as his personal stage. When he was a teenager and working as an intern for a music company in New Jersey, he and a colleague had to help with a music video shoot in Staten Island, but they decided to bide their time on the rails.
“I took my upright bass, put it on the train and my man took his drum set and put it on the train,” he said.
The singer added that the New York atmosphere also strengthens musicians since city audiences expect a real performance that isn’t phoned in, even on their commutes.
“In New York, you don’t fake it,” he said. “I call it the city of life.”
Jean added that New York holds a special place for him as a Haitian immigrant, because he was able to promote his native country through his performances, like at the 1997 Grammys when he was wrapped in the Haitian flag during a Fugees cover of “No Woman, No Cry.”
“It was the symbol of the American dream, that we can come here and we could prosper,” he said.
Jean wouldn’t comment on President Donald Trump’s recent vulgar comments about immigrants from the island as well as African nations, but reiterated that the immigrant story will always be a crucial aspect of American culture.
“This is important that we don’t forget this,” he said. “When our parents come here, it’s the idea of survival and how they can create a better life for us.”