Separate But Equal: About Wyclef, Lauryn, And Loving Two People At The Same Time

From a historical perspective, The Fugees of the mid-90′s and “The Score” were one of the biggest — if not the biggest — phenomenons in hip-hop history. Yet, despite their ubiquity — they sold 16 million f*cking albums, for God’s sake — as a person who remembers 1995 and 1996, I remember Biggie, Tupac, Nas, Wu, and even Bone Thugs N Harmony being a bit more culturally relevant at the time. “The Score” was the album everyone bought and listened to, but there were no season-long homeroom debates about who was better, Pras or Wyclef, and no stories about how people stood in line for hours waiting for their album to drop. “The Score” as an album and the Fugees as a group managed to be ubiquitous and underrated at the same time. Even today, it’s almost as if we forgot that the album “Killing Me Softy” came from was just as popular as that song.

I realize this may be confirmation bias, I can’t help but wonder if the Fugees’ unique place in hip-hop history is largely due to Wyclef and Lauryn’s unique relationship. This thought was further exacerbated when reading a few quotes from Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story — Wyclef’s just released memoir. While most hip-hop heads were already aware of their dysfunctionally functional love affair, the details revealed in a few of these passages still resonate.

From “Wyclef Jean: I loved Lauryn Hill and my wife”

During that time, Lauryn and I ate, slept, woke up, ate, slept, and did music; that was our world. And when we began to tour together, every night was like a fairytale world and we were living in our dream. We’d each have our rooms but we’d always end up in the same one. It felt like that relationship was real, and it was. It was love; it was lust. It was more intense than some teenage romance, because we knew ourselves. It was the type of pure love that burns bright but burns out fast.

I’ve never really gave much serious thought to the idea that Wyclef and Lauryn effectively breaking each other’s hearts is what broke up the Fugees. I don’t even believe Clef’s recent statement about Lauryn lying about the paternity of her child being the cause, either. Instead, I think the uniqueness of their situation produced an album that they’d never be able to replicate. They couldn’t have released a follow-up to “The Score” because the relationship it grew from was doomed. Even then, back in 1996, as we listened to “Ready or Not” and “Zealots” and watched the “Killing Me Softy” video hundreds of times, there always seemed to be a latent sense of “they won’t be able to do this again,” of onemegahitwonderness. Perhaps Wyclef and Lauryn’s relationship was so much of a star-crossed force of nature that it directly impacted how we viewed their music.

Those aware of Wyclef and Lauryn’s love affair are also likely aware that the affair was actually an affair. While he was falling in love with Lauryn, he met, courted, and eventually married Marie Claudinette, a woman who’s still his wife today. From what most of us seem to think of and understand about love, this — a man being in love with and maintaining relationships with two women — doesn’t seem possible (and does seem “selfish” at best and “f*cking triflin” at worst), but Wyclef shared what was going through his head.

It’s hard to explain, but I was in love with both of them. I was torn between the impossible love affair, the whirlwind artist romance, and the solid, good woman who demanded respect. The solid woman had her passion, too. So my life became crazy, because I was in the middle and each of them was passionate about me in different ways. One side was all bound up with music and discovery and my own self-expression. The other side was all about intellect and wisdom and helping me to mature. I did not know what to do; I just knew I had to do something. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. It wasn’t clean and simple.

Now, casting aside the moral objections to Clef’s admittedly messy behavior, I do think he makes a compelling case for the idea that is it actually possible to be in love with two people at the same time. While I know some would argue that true romantic love is inherently tunnel-visioned — in fact, they’d probably continue, it’s not true love unless you’re willing to completely and totally give yourself to one person — the way Wyclef describes it does make sense. According to him, he was in love with Claudinette and Lauryn for two completely different reasons, and I think it’s possible for that type of love to be separate but equal. It’s not possible for everyone to love this way — some of us just aren’t built for that — but it is possible for it to exist.

The obvious counterargument here would be that since he actually married Claudinette, his love for her must of been greater. Perhaps he was just in lust with Lauryn.

I (obviously) don’t know exactly what was in Wyclef’s head or heart, but I don’t necessarily believe that choosing to marry Claudinette automatically means that he must have loved her more. Maybe the love for Claudinette just made more sense to him. Maybe it felt safer, more permanent, more controllable, and he took an impractical situation and made a practical decision.

Either way, if his memoir is truly sincere, while being in love with two equally awesome women seems like it would be a great problem to have, I can’t imagine a more stress-inducing situation. Considering this, maybe we’re looking at everything the wrong way. Perhaps there was no follow up to “The Score” because he was just too f*cking exhausted.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

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