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Wyclef scores visit to U-Hall, ready or not

You must have heard about it by now.

"Hey, did you see the posters, man? Wyclef Jean is coming!"

"Who's that?"

"He was one of the Fugees."

"Oh yeah, that 'Killing Me Softly' group! I loved them in high school!"

Recognizing Wyclef only as one-third of the 11-times platinum hip-hop group would be a terrible mistake, however. He is also a Grammy award-winning producer, a multi-platinum record-selling solo artist and one of the most revolutionary artists in music today.

"The Ecleftic," his latest release, features elements of ska, reggae, rap, rhythm and blues, rock and even country. Chock full of guest stars ranging from WWF champion The Rock to country legend Kenny Rogers, "Ecleftic" is already one of the best and most innovative albums of the year.

But Wyclef will not be hitting University grounds alone: Long-time rap favorites De La Soul and the up-and-coming group Black Eyed Peas will be kicking things off at Thursday's University Programs Council-sponsored event.

De La Soul first hit the rap scene in 1988 with the critically-acclaimed single "Plug Tunin'" and continued to impress with 1989's "Three Feet High and Rising" and 1991's "De La Soul Is Dead." Three more albums have followed, and the trio is currently touring in support of the new LP "Art Official Intelligence."

Black Eyed Peas, however, is a bit newer to the scene. The group began its musical journey only a few years ago and just released its second album, "Bridging the Gaps." The Los Angeles-based triumvirate should feel right at home with Wyclef and De La Soul. All three acts make a living by breaking genre barriers and forging new ground in hip-hop.

While De La Soul has been around longer, Wyclef is definitely the most well-known and commercially successful of the three acts on the Invasion Tour. Wyclef's journey to superstardom began slowly in the early '90s when the guitarist hooked up with Lauryn Hill and Prakazrel "Pras" Michel to form the Fugees. While the group's 1993 release, "Blunted On Reality," garnered the band little attention, 1996's "The Score" became one of the best-selling hip-hop albums of all time, covering Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" and Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly," one of the most covered songs of all time.

The Fugees' success has been both a blessing and a curse for its members since the group disbanded in 1997 at the height of its popularity. Wyclef quickly released "Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival," which featured the hits "Gone Til November" and a cover of the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive." The former garnered Wyclef a Grammy nomination, and his producing work with acts like Cypress Hill, Whitney Houston, Pras and Sublime has won him great esteem in the music industry.

Despite all his individual success stories, Wyclef has still been unable to get out of his former group's shadow. The first two tracks of "Ecleftic" - a sketch called "Columbia Records" and a rap track called "Where Fugees At?" - address the one question he cannot escape: "When are the Fugees going to get back together?"

After quickly dispensing with this tired issue, "Ecleftic" launches right into a duet with Kenny Rogers, who reprises parts of "The Gambler" with a new hip-hop twist. The Rock comes on board shortly thereafter for the hit single "It Doesn't Matter," and Mary J. Blige steps in for "911." "Pullin' Me In" expresses Wyclef's frustration with the current state of rap music and "Runaway" features the contribution of Earth, Wind & Fire.

"Runaway" is indeed a haunting track, and is almost as powerful as the Marley-inspired "Diallo." Amadou Diallo, of course, was the young West African immigrant who was shot 17 times in Feb. 1999 by four New York City Police officers. The album culminates with a song about Wyclef's penchant for marijuana and a brilliant cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

Chances are that Wyclef will not play "Ecleftic" in its entirety at U-Hall this Thursday, but if he did, it would certainly be an amazing show. Having brilliant artists like De La Soul and Black Eyed Peas certainly does not hurt either. Just don't yell requests for Fugees songs, please.