When most people think about Haitians and Hip-Hop, they immediately think of one name: Wyclef Jean.
But while Jean is the first known Hip Hop celebrity to publicly embrace his Haitian heritage, he isn’t the first artist of Haitian descent to ascend to the rap stage.
“I made it possible as a hip-hop artist for Wyclef to be able to go up there as a hip-hop artist and say he’s Haitian,” said legendary rapper Kangol Kid of the old school rap group U.T.F.O (Untouchable Force Organization). “I had the battle of trying to prove to the world that hip-hop – rapping – was a form of entertainment. They didn’t even take us seriously as rappers, so forget about where I came from.”
Yes, old school rap fans, the Kangol Kid of the legendary mid-’80s rap group U.T.F.O. (Untouchable Force Organization) is Haitian.
Born Shaun Shiller Fequiere in Brooklyn to Haitian parents, Kangol says he intentionally hid his Haitian heritage while trying to achieve success as a break dancer and rapper with the mid-’80s group. The group, whose hit, “Roxanne Roxanne/I Wanna Be Your Man,” spawned dozens of response records and one of the fiercest rap rivalries, the Roxanne Wars with MCs Roxanne Shanté (“Roxanne’s Revenge”) of the Juice Crew and the Real Roxanne.
“I wanted to be one of the cool kids. Unfortunately, [in the] mid-’80s being Haitian wasn’t cool. It just wasn’t and I experienced many things that reminded me of how not cool it was,” he said.
One of the incidents happened while in the second grade, he said. His mom at the time was eight months pregnant and was involved in a fight with a woman only because she was Haitian.
“The woman was like ‘Get your Haitian …out of here, go back to your country,’ ” Kangol said. “That scared me. I said ‘Look if being Haitian brings that type of energy to me than I am not bragging about this.’ “
Then came 1997, and Jean’s historic walk across the Grammy stage as a member of the Fugees, wrapped in the Haitian flag. By then, Kangol’s own success was stamped and cemented where no one could take anything back from him, he said.
On Friday, Kangol will get a chance to remind hip-hop fans of the trail he and his group helped blaze when the BET Hip-Hop Awards show takes place at the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater. Former U.T.F.O. member, Educated Rapper, who died of cancer this summer is expected to be honored along with 2 Live Crew’s ‘Fresh Kid Ice’ who died in July. The awards show, hosted by DJ Khaled, will air at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Last month, the Haitian Roundtable, a New York-based organization that celebrates Haitian-American achievement, honored Kangol as “simply the first Haitian in hip hop.” Over the summer, his famous hat, the Kangol, was inducted in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and in 2012 he became the first hip-hop artist to be honored by American Cancer Society for his fundraising efforts and breast cancer awareness through his Mama Luke Foundation.
Looking at his career and where it’s taken him, he is forever grateful, he said, to hip-hop.
“I will always be hip-hop because I am hip-hop. Hip-hop has done everything for me and I’ve done everything I could possibly do for hip-hop,” he said. “I am hip-hop’s first product-endorsed artist; before RUN DMC and Adidas, before MC Hammer and KFC, I had my deal with Kangol hat ware.”
While he takes credit for Jean’s walk, he also says it was just a matter of time before other artists, most notably DJ Khaled, who featured a Haitian theme and flags in the video for his recent summer hit, “Wild Thoughts,” featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, also tapped into the Haitian theme.
“There was a time that every Haitian, every Trinidadian, every American was trying to be Jamaican. And so it’s inevitable that now here we are today and everybody is trying to say, ‘Yo, I have a little Haitian in me’ and everyone wants to claim a little bit of Haiti in them,” he said “It was just a matter of time before that happened.”