Equal parts visionary and showman, Wyclef Jean is hip-hop's most adventurous superstar, finding a near-perfect balance between the demands of the pop charts and the whims of his wandering muse. As challenging and unclassifiable as Jean's work frequently is, it's nearly always rooted in the pop savvy of a performer who sees himself as both an entertainer and an artist. That gift serves him well throughout The Ecleftic, which earns its title by shifting from genre to genre on an almost song-by-song basis, encompassing everything from reggae to Miami bass to heart-wrenching R&B to classical strings, sometimes within the course of a single song. Having conquered rap and pop, The Ecleftic finds Jean pushing himself to create the most outlandish and seemingly incompatible juxtapositions imaginable. In a move worthy of Beck, or at least Ween, Jean unites Kenny Rogers and Pharoahe Monch on the aptly titled "Kenny Rogers–Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate," while "Perfect Gentleman" melds symphonic pop and Miami bass in a way that works as both a song and an audacious stunt. The Ecleftic is littered with the obligatory stupid skits—Jean still seems to think Asian accents are intrinsically hilarious—and songs that are more interesting in theory than in practice, such as "Whitney Houston Dub Plate" and an album-closing quasi-cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." But even when Jean missteps, as on the heavy-handed "Diallo," he missteps in the most interesting way possible, pushing his music into weird and exciting directions that work more often than not. From the gorgeous Philly soul of "Runaway" to the jaunty horn-laden hip-pop of "It Doesn't Matter," The Ecleftic shows Jean at the top of his game, creating music that equals and often surpasses his groundbreaking work with The Fugees. The past few years have seen brilliant artists stretching the boundaries of what hip-hop can be and do, from Mos Def and Talib Kweli to Dead Prez to Lauryn Hill, but The Ecleftic confirms Jean's nearly unparalleled talent and boundless ambition.

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