Once again, you’ve kind of raked in the collaborators here.
This album means so much to me—it’s like Bob Marley’s Exodus or Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. I was so excited about everybody that came and worked on the album. For me, it’s like a cast: I’m Gershwin, and this is my Porgy and Bess.
You’ve got Norah Jones, T.I., Paul Simon…
T.I. co-executived on the album, and it was good to have the new blood of the new generation. And to have Paul Simon on the same record was the whole idea—putting everyone together. Paul Simon is genius; I was in awe being in the studio with him.
You’ve collaborated with so many artists over the years. Has anyone left a particularly lasting impression?
Shakira was incredible. She was like, “The song’s not a hit until it makes my hips move!” As a young guitarist, I was in awe of Carlos Santana. Mary J. Blige just goes in and knocks out the song in two takes.
The new album’s name is The Carnival II (Memoirs of an Immigrant). Tell me about your childhood in Haiti.
I was born in a small place called Lessere, outside of the city of Croix-des-Bouquets. All I can remember is hard rain falling, no clothes on, jumping around in the rain, singing. In the church, they played Nazarene music, which was like gospel music, but from the island. On the street, there were always the forbidden drums, and they’d warn you to be careful of the drums or the bogeyman would come and get you. I didn’t have any instruments at the time, so I would play sticks on rocks and just create songs and go crazy.
How did your life change when you moved to Brooklyn?
It was like day and night. The small village I was raised in didn’t have electricity—no light, no nothing. My parents came and got me when I was 9, and I can still remember what it was like to see those headlights. Landing at JFK for the first time, can you imagine? I looked out the window and couldn’t see nothing but lights. They were so glaring that I said to my brother, “Man, we’ve arrived in the city of diamonds. This place is so rich, it’s nothing but diamonds on the floor!”
Your father was a pastor. Did you have a very religious upbringing?
Definitely. My parents never knew I listened to hip-hop. When I first came to America, I was always sneaking out, going over to my friend’s house next door to listen to the music. Later on, I gave a crack fiend $3 for a CD player and it had one of those little radio transistors in it, so I would hide in the bathroom listening to 98.7 Kiss-FM. I loved Run-DMC because they really used to put me in a place and a time. I also listened to LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and of course KRS-One and Rakim.
How did your time with the Fugees influence the way you make music?
Khalis Bayyan from Kool & the Gang produced the first album, and I learned so much watching him in the studio. In the back of my mind I was thinking, I know I can do this, but I’m hearing it differently in my head.
What about books?
One of biggest books in my life is the Book of Exodus. You read that one?
No? It’s in the Bible! Well, that book shows that no matter what you’re going through, you can overcome it. A lot of times people sit around complaining, but the Book of Exodus shows us that if you want something to happen, you gotta go do it yourself. The Celestine Prophecy is similar.
Do you have a favorite movie?
My favorite movie is Black Orpheus. Do me a favor, okay? Please go see that. It’s very cinematic and raw. I think what makes a great movie is when you can feel the culture and the sun and the people and the vibe inside the lens. Another movie I love is Once Upon a Time in America. I fell in love with that movie because of the score. You can imagine—I’m a kid supposed to be watching the movie, and instead I’m listening to the score.
And guilty pleasures?
I’m a great porn collector. The best porn ever is Sweetest Taboo. You ever seen it? That’s a good one. I probably have over 5,000 pornos.
Really?! Where do you keep them all?
In my basement. I collected them through the years. I don’t lie about anything; I think if someone has a porn collection, they have a porn collection. I know people who say they don’t have a porn collection, but when they get up in hotels they run them bills wild! They might want to call me and I could rent them a few.
The Carnival II (Memoirs of an Immigrant) comes out December 4.