On Wyclef, politics and Sweet Micky for President documentary
Film director Benjamin Patterson doesn’t hold back his observation, even when the man in question happens to be occupying the same space.
“I thought Pras was very interesting, because I couldn’t tell if he was brilliant or just crazy.”
He’s neither right nor wrong in his statement; the bombastic laugh that escapes the long-time artist sitting across from Patterson bellows like a mark of approval. Pras is clearly a man that isn’t afraid of his own reflection, however complex it may be.
For Prakazrel Samuel Michel, commonly known as Pras, it’s been 20 years since the release of the epic sophomore project The Score, from the genre-blending trio, The Fugees, of which he was one-third, alongside Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean. As the group was famed for branding the world with its intellectually infused sound, embodying the effigies of the African diaspora, Pras’ public identity sought its foundation through music.
He’s no longer representing himself as that of a musician, instead a participant of non-fiction.
Years later, he sits in a hotel room with his colleagues conducting an interview, but not about an upcoming album or single, rather a political story. He’s no longer representing himself as that of a musician, instead a participant of non-fiction.
“I haven’t really made a transition. Politics to me is really just an extension of what I like in just trying to help,” says Pras, when asked if he’s developed a taste for the field. “But I don’t want to be in politics; I hate politics. It’s the dumbest thing ever.”
Pras should, of course, know. Several years’ prior, the former music star and actor returned to his homeland Haiti following the earthquake of 2010, to assemble a presidential campaign. Not for himself, nor for a practiced politician, but for one of Haiti’s most controversial and best known musicians: Michel Martelly, a.k.a. Sweet Micky. The story in itself is ridiculous on paper with the most unlikely of outcomes.
Through the vision of Pras and director Benjamin Patterson, the whole affair was filmed from beginning to end, in their documentary titled, Sweet Micky for President, which recently made its television debut on Showtime. Haiti’s turbulent history takes the forefront in illustrating the complicated ways in which a diaper-wearing artist could become a respected politician in the face of a country plagued with corruption and unexpected rivals.
When it’s all said and done, Pras’ decision to support such an outlandish character, whether win or lose, harbours back to a single remark – is he brilliant or crazy? To keen eyes and ears, it’s perhaps a little bit of both.
Haiti hasn’t done a good job of demonstrating to the world the other side of it. That’s why people like me are trying to change that mindset, change that perception.
PRAS ON HAITI’S NEGATIVE REPUTATION:
Haiti is like any other country, right. I know places in America that are worse than Haiti. It’s just that, you guys don’t see it. All you see is New York, Hollywood, Miami, because America has the money to push out the propaganda. Are the people poor? Yeah, but the country isn’t poor. Haiti hasn’t done a good job of demonstrating to the world the other side of it. That’s why people like me are trying to change that mindset, change that perception. People will tell you, these people are the drool of the Caribbean. I’ve been to every island in the Caribbean, there are definitely some beautiful islands. When you look at totality geographically of Haiti, no island like it. I’m not saying that to be biased, because I can sit here on the flip side and tell you Haiti is one of the least infrastructured countries in the whole Caribbean. It’s horrible, and when you get into the city with the main population, Port-au-Prince, I hate that place when I go there. When you’re outside of that, the water – you’ve seen some of the shots – it’s incredible. So I been to Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Maarten, but trust me man, there’s nothing like Haiti. It’s also the third biggest island in the Caribbean.
ON WHAT DRIVES HIM TO WANT TO HELP OTHERS, THROUGH HIS DOCUMENTARY WORK ON SKID ROW AND BEYOND:
Seeing other people that are probably less fortunate. I guess those are things that keep me grounded. I always look at myself like, ‘life is only a matter of seconds that can affect your life.’ If you were only a second earlier than when you were supposed to be, that can change your whole life. If you were a second late, that can change your life too. In a blink of an eye. We’ve seen that happen. Think about it. The guy who was going to jump on the Malaysian airline missed his flight and the plane disappears. Could you imagine if he was just a second early, it would of been his life, see how deep that is? So when I go to places like Somalia, Haiti or just in America, I don’t have to go far, I don’t have to venture outside of my country. I can go to Mississippi. Dude, it’s crazy out there, it’s like a third world country right in America’s backyard.
“I thought Pras was very interesting, because I couldn’t tell if he was brilliant or just crazy.”
ON HOW BEING HUMBLED TIES IN WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING A MUSICIAN/CELEBRITY:
I look at musicians – hot, popping, crazy, making money and you look at them now and they’re working at K-Mart. They like Birdman, they chasing that dream that once was, but knowing they’ll never get it. Do you know what that feels like as an artist? The greatest high. There’s no drug in the world [like] where if you do something and people accept it and champion you for that. There’s no high in the world when I’m standing on the stage and it’s 100,000 people and I just make a gesture and they sing the rest of my lyrics. I don’t care what drug on this planet, there is no drug greater than that high. Now imagine if you fall from grace. George Clooney said the craziest thing. They had this thing on CNN [an Anderson Cooper special on Time’s most influential people]. They had celebrities interviewing other celebrities so Bono interviewed George Clooney, and he’s saying [something like], ‘George, you’re the biggest super star, how does it feel being great?’ and George says, ‘lemme stop you right there.’ He says, ‘I’m just doing a job and I love it.’ He said when he was growing up he had an aunt that was a singer, a very popular huge singer in the ’50s and ’60s and he remembered how great she was and then when the ’70s came her phone started ringing less and less. It’s not that she became a lesser singer, it’s because she got older and the new thing came in. The Diana Ross and all of those. So he says she didn’t know how to deal with it, psychologically it really twisted her mind. Luckily for him he spent his 20s and 30s getting doors slammed in his face. He didn’t start popping off until he was in his mid-30s with ER, and then going into his film career. It kept him grounded. Had his career started in the 20s, he probably would have been someone else.
It’s the same way that I look at it. When I go to Haiti, I think of myself now. When I look at my life and how it all unraveled and what it became, it’s like a fairy tale. The chances and the likelihood of this Haitian kid growing up in north New Jersey saying, one day I’m going to travel the world. I call that era the archaic era. No YouTube, no Google, you know you had to literally walk and go up to VH1. That was the era I came from; information, if something happened in China it took us three weeks to get it. Today, you can go up on YouTube and become a sensation. Today, when you say you’re about to put out an album, it’s the equivalent to saying, ‘Yeah I’m going to go to the bathroom real quick, I’ll be right back,’ (laughs). I mean who gives a f*ck, who cares? It’s just times have changed man. I think about all these things when I say, man, I’m so blessed. Yeah I complain about things, people bumping me from A in an airplane to 3C. But it’s like, what the f*ck am I complaining about? I shouldn’t complain about anything.
ON WHAT ATTRACTED HIM TO SWEET MICKY AS A POLITICAL CANDIDATE:
I knew the people were enamoured by him, but it was just my intuitive vibe that was just like go for him. I didn’t break it down like, he does this, or that, it was just something that hit me. When he decided he wanted to do it, and he knew that this campaign was about figuring out the strategy in terms of how to do it, that’s when I put on my campaign manager hat. I just thought. I just really had this vision, this is the guy that’s going to work.
ON THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN GETTING PEOPLE TO TAKE THEIR PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN SERIOUSLY:
As dumb and naive as I was about running an election, I was smart enough to know when I’m telling people about him, not to say Sweet Micky. So I called my boy Ben [Patterson] telling him that I think I know what we should do. We wanted to do a documentary, which we first thought was going to be about the earthquake, but we realized that it was a stupid idea because the whole planet was seeing it for free on television. Who the f*ck would want to pay to see a documentary about something you’re seeing all over the planet. So I told him that I had this guy named Michel Martelly. He comes back and calls me saying that he’s having issues, because this is bringing up pictures with a guy with diapers on him. I told him, ‘yeah, it is him.’ So everyone who I’d say Michel Martelly to, they’d Google and say, ‘is this the guy?’ So that was a challenge right there. Think about it. The most outrageous person for us in America would be Howard Stern. That person who’s big, but this person? Hell f*cking no. Imagine the craziest guy in Canada, with a bunch of videos showing his antics, and he comes back and says, I’m gonna run for Prime Minister. No one is going to take that serious. But the motherf*cker wins. Picture that.
ON THE UGLINESS THAT OCCURRED AS A RESULT OF FORMER FUGEES MEMBER, WYCLEF JEAN, RUNNING AGAINST SWEET MICKY:
It got ugly, but even behind the scenes got uglier, because we kind of know the same people. Politics is the ugliest thing. I had a guy, a friend of mine who I grew up with, but he’s a Mafioso gangster guy that came into the industry. A Haitian dude that was very revered, everybody feared him. He ran with Tupac for a hot minute and Tupac rapped about him. When Wyclef ran, I didn’t know he was running. So this same guy jumped on the Wyclef bandwagon, because I remember everybody was like, ‘Oh shit, Wyclef? What? Yo, we about to be chilling!’ because there’s nobody that’s going to beat him. So all these ex-gangsters, musicians feel like, ‘we’re about to run amuck upon this motherf*cker.’ If Wyclef is president, people were like, (tch) ‘I’mma be ambassador,’ so they were trying to bring hip-hop to the f*cking White House. Literally, I kid you not. When they found out I was supporting Michel Martelly (Sweet Micky) I get a call. I kid you not. So I never told Ben this, but I live in Soho New York. Up the street from me is a little restaurant. So it’s myself, Michel Martelly and his wife. The restaurant we were at, the waiter says, ‘excuse me, Michel, there’s a phone call for you,’ so he’s wondering who the f*ck is calling him at the restaurant. So I go pick up the phone and he’s like, ‘you see I know where you’re at right? We looking at you b, this bullshit you on, going against Clef, this ain’t America man, we’re going to let you know right now, you’re f*cking with our money.’ I’m like oh shit. This is crazy. (laughs) … Everyone was just jumping on that Clef bandwagon.
“Politics to me is really just an extension of what I like in just trying to help. But I don’t want to be in politics, I hate politics. It’s the dumbest thing ever, makes no sense.”
ON HIS TRANSITION FROM MUSIC TO POLITICS:
I haven’t really made a transition. Politics to me is really just an extension of what I like in just trying to help. But I don’t want to be in politics, I hate politics. It’s the dumbest thing ever, makes no sense, it’s stupid. Politicians to me are the biggest groupies because they chase people’s votes and they’re not being honest with the people. They’re groupies, just political groupies. You’re not being forthcoming; you’re not telling people that they got hard times ahead of them. They so want to be perceived as these moral, god-like figures that is so contradictory. If you telling me that drugs are not good for me, but yet you’re allowing the black market to sell drugs and thrive off of it. I don’t understand that. How does that make sense? If you telling me this is not good for me, but you’re letting this corporation inject these things that are not good for my body in the food, things that I put in my body. It’s because they have lobbyists come in, lobbying for their product and companies. It’s all contradictory. That’s like saying, if I bring a lion in here it’s going to eat all of us up, but yet you have the motherf*cker in the room. You must know something I don’t know. It’s bullshit.
ON HIS NOT TRUSTING GOVERNMENTS IN GENERAL:
There’s a national security issue right now, not in America, this is right here in Canada. They can press one button and none of us will be able to use any of our devices. If the government believes there’s a threat to national security, they can call what they call the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) of Canada, that’s who controls communication. They can press one button and jam all of our communication. If they wanted to, they could cut all electricity, they could f*cking cripple us if they want to at the touch of a button. You didn’t know this shit?
ON THE TAKEAWAY FROM SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT:
I think that the story is a story about, anything and everything being possible — when people get together and believe in something and work towards it to make that happen. It’s about hope, it’s about faith. At the end of the day the reason why we get up in the morning is because we believe that whatever we’re doing, something better is going to come out of that. You get up every morning, you think right around the corner, there’s something great waiting for you. Now what you do to get around that corner, that’s on you. Even the guy that’s in jail, he gets up hoping that one day, a jail break will happen or something will fall from the sky and the doors will open and he’s set free. He’s living on that; he’s living on something. That’s what hope is about. If humans don’t have hope, then what are we living for. When you look at this movie, when you look at the circumstances, if I sat down and said, we’re going to create an extreme situation and say that we were going to get a guy who is the anti of what the status quo is. When you go see Sweet Micky for President, you’re like, ‘yo this shit is real. This happened,’ but it’s no different from World War II for example. If we were living in that time we would have thought that the world was coming to an end because Hitler ran havoc on this planet.
Photos © Isa Ransome & Urbanology Magazine