Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story

The rapper and hip-hop producer Jean recounts vivid, laugh-out-loud stories of his boyhood growing up poor in rural Haiti, then immigrating to the mean streets of Brooklyn’s public-housing projects. Popular music was his escape from crime and discrimination, often at the hands of black Americans. Jean’s hybrid musical style mixes Caribbean rhythms, gospel sermons, jazz, rock, and hip-hop but avoids glorifying “gangsta” violence. In his memoir, ’Clef (as he calls himself) comes off as energetic, entrepreneurial, brash, cocky, and self-promoting, repeatedly admitting moral missteps, as though his confessions absolve him of his sins. In many ways, the book is a get-even shot at his former lover and musical collaborator Lauryn Hill, who related her thoughts about their relationship on her acclaimed 1998 album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Jean fleetingly ran for president of Haiti but now supports his fellow musician Michel Martelly, the current president. Perhaps artistic license accounts for the contradictory statements that appear on page after page of Jean’s book, such as his concession that there was some mismanagement of the now-shuttered charity fund he established to benefit Haiti, an admission followed by his confusing assertion that “the media didn’t find anything wrong with our tax situation” even though “we were behind on our payments for a few years.”

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