Wyclef Jean’s message to Canadian tech leaders — Discover underrepresented talent today

As the day for main stage talks at Elevate Conference in Toronto wrapped up, I was impressed by the great talks I’d heard (which I’ve summarized in my latest article for Betakit). However, one of the talks that stood out as quite different from the rest, was from acclaimed artist and music producer Wyclef Jean. Elevate attendees heard Jean preach diversity, reveal that his birthday is the same date as Canada’s cannabis legalization (Oct. 17), and even rap in English, Spanish and French.

Jean’s talk was unique, probably due to his confidently casual delivery and comedic interludes. He started out by joking with the crowd saying that he’d probably have to prove to us how geeky he was in order to earn our confidence. Hailing from Haiti and growing up as an immigrant in New Jersey, he told us the story of how he and his former bandmates in The Fugees recorded their second album “The Score” in his uncle’s basement. They had to use sine waves on a computer to recreate the sound of a Rhodes keyboard because he said they couldn’t afford the actual instrument.

Jean revealed his entrepreneurial dimensions as he’s now developing a new hip hop guitar which has strings on the front and a drum machine on the back. He admitted, “I don’t have money like Jay-Z and P.Diddy yet so I am taking a risk to create a new instrument that is revolutionizing the game.”

Today Jean is empowering underserved communities and youth through his mixtape project, “Wyclef Goes Back to School.” He said he’s touring schools to discover new talent and Jean said that he wants to see other culture curators adapting analogue talent discovery paths, rather than just relying on algorithms from YouTube or music streaming services. Her reminded us that when he discovered Beyoncé it was in-person and in those days there was no online source to check for popularity or download numbers. It was just about pure talent recognition.

“The media playing field isn’t level, but I want to make mine level. We have incredible talent,” he said. For his new project he’s bringing together diverse young contributors on the mixtape, and he’s discovering their own stories.

Jean’s message to Elevate’s attendees and Canadian tech leaders was clear:

“I want to see more tech companies help discover underrepresented talent.”

— I hope Canadian tech leaders do. Jean’s story about his determination in the face of tough odds and his passion to discover talent from underrepresented groups is thought-provoking for us all. I know I’ll be thinking more about what I can do in my career to support diversity in tech. Thanks Wyclef for the talk — I’ll be paying more attention to this and staying tuned for what’s to come.