*A persistent thorn in the side of the modern music fan is music quality and production. Folks have gotten tired of buying albums only to have one or two songs that are even worth listening to.
Verily I say unto you, most assuredly doth crap rule thine airwaves. It’s almost like the modern formula for creating good music is not to cook up a beautifully-crafted song, but a twisted amalgamation of over used techniques, and lyrics that are free of imagination. However, the modern music lover can rest easily. People have noticed your plight and are trying to do something about it. People like Jerry Duplessis aka Jerry Wonda.
Some might call Wonda the unofficial fourth member of the Jersey-born Fugees, which also features Pras, Lauryn Hill and Wonda’s cousin Wyclef Jean. Since producing various hits from “The Score,” Wonda has gone on to produce countless hits for a who’s who list of pop music royalty. Sure I could run down the total track list, and mention all the hit-making performers one by one … but I’m not going to do that. This story is not meant to be a testament to what he has done in the past, but a rundown of what this multiple Grammy Award winning producer has planned for the future. Recently, I was invited down to Wonda’s Platinum Studios in Times Square, NYC to discuss his new venture titled, appropriately enough, Wonda Music.
Wonda has been in the industry since 1997, so my first question was what took him so long to start his own music production company. Lesser talented individuals have started production companies in far less time. What took him so long and also what does he hope to achieve with this new venture? Here he explains.
“As to why it took me so long? I wouldn’t say it took me so long,” said Wonda. “I would say it was a journey. Shout out to Wyclef, shout out to Pras, shout out to Lauryn, shout out to my Dad and my brother. Me and Clef had done so much after ‘The Score.’ From working on “The Carnival” to working with so many artists. But it was just time. To me, Platinum Sound Studios is like the new Motown where everyone comes in that enjoys making good music and create content. I’ve created a great team which is Wonda Music. I’ve signed a couple of producers and writers are coming in. I’ve done Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Akon, Estelle, Movado, Keisha Cole, Jazmine Sullivan and … yo, it’s just out there. But, to me, I’ve done all that as far as making songs for people, for labels. And now I feel like it’s time to go ahead and help a few new artists, but globally though.”
As is the case with any ground-breaking group or music production team, a fertile creative soil is imperative. For Jerry Wonda and the Fugees that soil was down in the Booga Basement.
“I always give a shout out to the Booga Basement, which is where it all started,” said Wonda. “With out them maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today. I added a lot to “The Score” by the Fugees.”
From the Booga Basement in East Orange, New Jersey to his Platinum Sound Studios in Times Square, New York, Jerry Wonda has embued every track that he has ever laid with his own signature sound. But, unlike other producers, Wonda’s sound is very hard to pinpoint and categorize. The only thing that’s for certain is he is a bonafide hitmaker.
“The first time that you work with an artist they might say ‘Oh, well I’ve done that vibe before’,” said Wonda when asked how he goes about ‘selling’ his sound. “But I tell them, you may have taken this highway before but it’s going to be in a different lane. We’re going to take different exits, go local, and arrive to the same place. I always get questioned in the begining, but at the end of the song the artists just (praise) me. I have such a great team. At the end of the day, I would say 99 percent of the time, I always get what I want. What I want is to always give the artist what they’re looking for. That’s the key.”
So, what can we expect to here from Wonda Music?
“I’m so glad to be working on the new Akon,” said Wonda. “It’s a new single and that’s not on radio, and the video was just shot (a few weeks ago). I’m very excited about that. I’m very exciting about Estelle. I’m also very exciting about Keri Hilson. I’m really excited about the new act that I’ve signed. I can’t wait! This is the very begining. I’ve signed a couple acts and I can’t wait for people to hear them. I have an artist called YFame. Oh my God! This kid is really good. I’ve been working with everyone, and helping everyone else out. Right now I have a few friends that I’m helping out. Ashanti, I did the Ashanti record. She’s a good friend of mine. I’m about to help Olivia as well, in a manner that is very important too.”
Recently it was announced that Olivia of “Love and Hip-Hop” fame had been signed to Wonda Music. I interviewed Olivia at an event sponsored by Juicy Magazine earlier this year and she alluded to super-dooper top secret signing that she couldn’t talk about until the ink-dried and the deal was sealed. This was that deal. Unbeknownst to some, Olivia has been in the entertainment industry since 2000. She has crossed business paths with the likes of Clive Davis, 50 Cent and others, yet her career has suffered several false starts. I asked Wonda what was it about Olivia that made him believe he could revive her career.
“I love her energy. I wouldn’t even call her a pop star,” said Wonda. “I believe that when you have the talent, the talent stays with you. When it doesn’t work it’s really the people that you have around you. Who can you actually listen to that you know won’t hurt you? To me, she never got a fair chance to show and I feel that I can bring that out of her. That’s my belief and when I believe in something I’m going to go for it. I believe that if I put 100 percent, then she will put 100 percent, and my team will collaborate and we’re going to do what we gotta do. I believe that I can bring her back. The girl is really talented. I love her. I’ve worked with a lot of talented people, and she’s one of them. ”
Jerry Wonda and Wyclef Jean were almost inseparable at one time. It appeared as if whatever Wyclef was working on, he, Wonda, was working on. What’s the likelihood of Wonda working with his cousin Wyclef Jean in the near future? Wonda tells me he hopes it’s sooner than later, but adds that Clef has more pressing matters at hand.
“Right now I’m focusing on this Wonda Music, and Clef has the entire country of Haiti on his shoulders right now. I help out too, but right now I have the business, the team of Wonda Music. I’m really focused on that. But, me and Clef, as soon as he’s ready we’re going to go back in. We talk about that all the time. Me and Clef? We create a lot of music! We’ve done a lot! That’s my partner in crime right there. I can’t wait to go back in with him when he starts working on his new album.”
As has been previously alluded to, you can’t Wonda without mentioning Clef, and one cannot mention Clef without thinking about Lauryn and Pras. I asked Wonda whether he felt there was a possibility the group would ever perform together again, despite all signs pointing to the contrary.
“I’ll be honest with you. On this one everybody has their own feelings about the Fugees ever coming back. I don’t believe in saying ‘No, it’s not going to happen.’ I believe that only God can say that. I believe that if it’s supposed to happen then no one can stop it. Not me, not them, not nobody. I believe when the time is right to get something done, it will be done.”
“A lot of artists, when they first come out, people say ‘Ohmigod! New artist!’ GTFOH! Like Akon, you know Akon is on ‘The Score’ remix,” he continued. “How many years ago was that? Akon had been trying for years. Alicia Keys was dropped from label to label to label before (she) made it. Lauryn Hill as booed at the Apollo. To this very day I have people come to me and say ‘I want my record to sound like Lauryn Hill.’ I’ve even gone back and pulled drum sounds I’ve used on ‘The Score’ and brought them back and used them today, because people are classic (lovers). Artists go through a lot. The Fugees were something very special that happened. I believe that one day it will happen. It might take a minute because everybody is doing there own thing. Wyclef’s doing his own thing, Lauryn is doing her own thing, Pras is doing his own thing, and I’m doing my own thing with the music. But I believe there will be a time when it’s gonna be ‘Man, f*ck it! Let’s go.’ I miss those days.”
Yele Haiti is a non-profit organization founded by Wonda and Wyclef Jean to provide educational, environmental, financial and community assistance to the people of Haiti. This organization was stretched to its very limits during the earthquake of 2010, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands and made millions homeless in the nation of Haiti. In addition to sponsoring a clean up crew, Yele Haiti has recently entered into an agreement with Timberland and Trees for the Future. The goal is to grow over 1 million trees a year in Haiti.
“Before that happened, me and Wyclef were already on the ground trying to bring notice to Haiti and the things that were happening to kids in Haiti,” said Wonda. ” When that happened, within 8 hours we were already in the DR (Dominican Republic) trying to find our way to Haiti. The airport was shutdown, we went through a lot there. When you go to my website, you actually see a (video) special that I did where we picked up men, women and children to help pick up bodies and take them to the cemetery. That’s when I really appreciated life. After I saw that … my God! This (life) is all you’ve got. I had been doing a lot on the ground just to help. Out there carrying bodies. I want to make sure that, if that happens again, this time the houses are safer and people are ready for certain things. There was one kid we were trying to help named Jimmy Yo. We were helping bring Hip-Hop to Haiti. We brought him to Platinum Studios and we were doing his music. He died and we didn’t even have the construction equipment to remove his body from the car (in which he died).”
Can you imagine the horrifying, almost other-wordly landscape that was Haiti immediately after the earthquake? The people of Haiti’s survival instincts were on full display. But people have come to “help” Haiti in the past and the Carribean nation was no better because of that “help.” Despite the past, things in Haiti appear to heading in a positive direction. Wonda says he does what he can, when he can, because of his involvement with his production company.
“A lot of people are seen in Haiti these days,” said Wonda. “You have Bill Clinton, Angelina Jolie, you have Wyclef and many other people that are on the ground in Haiti trying to help out. I’m not spending a lot of time dealing with Yele-Haiti right now. I’ve done so much. I would do a bunch of stuff, then I would step back a little. Then I would do a bunch more stuff, then I would step back again. Right now I’m stepping back because once they elected a president I thought ‘OK president! It’s your job now! Do your thing!’ I still get the phone calls and I still help out as best I can on the ground.”
There have been many critics that have had something to say regarding Yele Haiti’s response to the disaster. I asked him what he thought about the naysayers and those that frowned upon he and Clef’s philanthropic efforts.
“A lot of people don’t care about anything but results. But, let me tell you, I’ve done a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time away from my family, I’ve spent a lot of time away from my job. I brought Angelina Jolie to Haiti, she had never been there before. Suddenly, everyone is talking about Haiti. They’re talking about building cellular phone companies, garbage programs to clean up Haiti, which if you remember, was so dirty and so bad in the begining. We put the entire Hip-Hop movement in Haiti on our shoulders, helping them through music. When I see bad press, I just smile. When you do something, and do it with your heart, I don’t care what anybody says. I’m getting my blessings right now.”
The nation of Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic and is comprised wholly of the descendents of African slaves. The former colony of France gained its independence in 1791 and became the world’s first black ruled republic. Despite being a very short distance from the United States, the island of Haiti has received very little assistance from the U.S. over the years relative to other nations, and considering Haiti’s potential from an agriculture, manufacturing and strategic importance perspective. I asked Wonda whether he felt enough was being done to help Haiti.
“I believe that the United States needs to become good friends with a lot of other countries, not just Haiti,” Wonda told EURweb.com. “I’m not a politician and I don’t like talking about politics, but I think the U.S. really needs to put a lot more of the right energy into that relationship. Haiti’s so close. If the United States really wanted to help Haiti, the country would be on another level right now. Politics some times destroys things and I think politics destroyed Haiti. It’s not just the U.S. but the Haitian politician too. C’mon, help your people! I’m not going to just say America or China, but the politicians in Haiti need to put in a little more energy. You’re in charge! Find the right investors, find the right entrepreneurs, and help the people. Open the avenues for job creation. Let a company come in, give the company a pass on something so the company can come in and create 10,000 jobs. That’s how you create jobs. There’s no reason that Haiti doesn’t have anything and Haiti has to buy everything outside of the country. I know investors that said ‘I want to go to Haiti and invest $500 million dollars on a concept’, but the government is not helping. They’re always thinking about the breaks that company is going to get. Do you know how many jobs you can create with &500 million dollars? You better tell that company ‘For 2 years you’re not paying taxes’. If you let 20 companies do that then everyone would have jobs. Schools, roads and sanitation would be taken care of. But I don’t know nothing about politics man. I’m just a musician. The roads are very bad. From the time you land at the airport where do you go? I hear that someone just won a construction contract. I think things are going to improve. The world is watching now. They don’t have a Prime Minister now. They did have a Prime Minister but, to my understanding, he didn’t like the way things were going to he quit. You have to have the right team, and people willing to work together. If that doesn’t happen then that’s too bad. More people people are going to grow up poor and uneducated, which would be sad.”
But there is hope on the western part of the island of Hispaniola. More hope than many can remember. Haitian pride is on the rise and a nation is on the move once again.
“I remember when you couldn’t say you were Haitian,” he continued. “You would get robbed, real talk. They would say Haitians had AIDS and what have you. Big shout out to my cousin Wyclef Jean. When the Fugees won the Grammy he said he wasn’t going to go on stage to accept it unless he was wrapped in the Haitian flag. My man Hassan had to go find a Haitian flag in L.A. It was crazy! Wyclef has been fighting for Haiti a lot. He is a great man with a great heart. After the Grammys, the Fugees came out with the flag? That was it yo! Like, every Haitian came out like ‘I’m Haitian! I’m Haitian! I’m Haitian!’ It’s like the New York Knicks. No fans in New York were rooting for the Knicks. Then, as soon as the Knicks started winning, there’s a lot of Supermans and Batmans in New York. All of a sudden they’re Knicks fans now. What?”
You can expect to hear music produced by Wonda, and performed by Estelle, Akon and many others, on your radio airwaves sometime soon.