Wyclef Jean’s Mona Lisa as an example of Reconstructivist Art
Mona Lisa was a little noted deep-album cut from hip-hop impresario Wyclef Jean’s multiplatinum album The Carnival (1997). A radical reinvention of the remixed version of Nappy Heads (1994, a single from the first album released by Wyclef’s celebrated former group, The Fugees), Mona Lisa was a surprisingly sentimental ballad sung by guest vocalists the Neville Brothers over a reggae-influenced beat.
Nod to Artifice: Throughout the song, Wyclef comments (hip-hop style) over the lyrics, with self-referential comments such as “I never wrote a love song before.”
Classic Structure: Despite its inclusion on a hip-hop album, this standard-form love-ballad is lush with classic melody, harmony, instrumentation and lyrics.
Transcontextual and Iconic Elements: As mentioned above, the raw materials for this song all come from a previous song also featuring Wyclef. The sampled horns of the earlier song form the basis for the later song’s instrumental accompaniment, and the catchy hook of the earlier song (“Hey Mona Lisa, can I get a date on Friday?”) is the presumptive inspiration for the song’s lyric. The song’s eponymous heroine is likely also inspired by Nat King Cole’s iconic hit Mona Lisa (1950) which in turn is a reference to Leonardo DaVinci’s painting known as the Mona Lisa (1503), perhaps the most famous painting in Western Art. Even the singers themselves are transcontextualized, given that they are icons of a classic New Orleans sound that is a world away from the typical sonic environment of a hip-hop album.
Moments of Genuine Emotion or Significance: In marked contrast to the shallow emotions that typified the popular music of the times, the song genuinely evokes the complex and bittersweet emotions of a troubled relationship.
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