About Pras Michél
Two-time Grammy Award-winner and multiplatinum selling rapper, Prazkazrel Samuel Michél, known around the world to millions of fans simply as “Pras,” is an acclaimed musician, actor, documentary filmmaker, political activist and organizer, and action-oriented philanthropist.
The Early Years
Pras’ many creative achievements have been fueled by an interest in humanity, helping people, and making positive changes in the world. Born in Brooklyn and raised in a tightly knit and loving home, much of Pras’ perspective was instilled in him by his parents. Conservative, religious, hard-working Haitian immigrants, they raised him in a middle class New Jersey suburb with a clear sense of moral bearing and social concern.
Inspired by the power of music at an early age, Pras had an out-of-the-box idea: he brought together two like-minded pals, childhood friend Wyclef Jean, and high school buddy, singer Lauryn Hill, to work together as a team. The trio bonded, spending hours on end collaborating on making music, fusing their unique talents. Within a mere three years, Pras’ musical concept was on the fast track to establishing his legacy. Pras was still pursuing a double major in philosophy and psychology at both Rutgers College and Yale University, when the threesome began recording with Columbia Records. They called themselves the Fugees, then a racist term for Haitian Americans that they reclaimed while establishing themselves as international superstars.
The Fugees’ 1996 hip-hop album, The Score, with its electrifying mix of R&B, Caribbean sounds, politically charged lyrics and pop sensibilities achieved unprecedented crossover success, captivating the ears and hearts of millions around the world. They were that rare group, adored by critics, hardcore hip-hop fans, and the masses alike. The album when multiplatinum and the Fugees became massive icons—symbolizing the power of self-invention and transformation.
When they went their separate ways, Pras continued a successful solo career. His song, “Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are),” featuring Mya and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, was a smash international hit, with week after week on the top ten charts, and massive radio play across formats. The critically-acclaimed song landed Pras a performance at the World Music Awards, and it was picked up by Warren Beatty for his 1996 film, Bulworth.
The list of accolades is stunning evidence of a multi-faceted genius: Pras has won numerous awards—including two Grammys, a Billboard Award, multiple Brit World Music Awards, a Top of the Pops Award, and an MTV Video Music Award.
While “Ghetto Supastar” was still at its peak, Pras began to focus on film as the next medium to challenge his progressive, creative spirit. Pras’ acting debut was in the 1999 feature, Mystery Men, with Ben Stiller and William H. Macy. A series of other roles followed, including a star turn in New Line Cinema’s Turn It Up (2002), alongside Jason Statham. All the while, however, Pras was continuing to develop visionary ideas with a sharp eye on bettering humanity as a whole.
Filmmaking as Activism
While learning the ins and outs of Hollywood, Pras was inevitably seeking ways to fuse entertainment with politics and activism. In 2007, he released Skid Row, a critic’s darling of a documentary that he created, produced, and starred in. It is a harrowing account of his nine-day experience posing as homeless in downtown Los Angeles, panhandling for change, sleeping on sidewalks, and struggling for food alongside the country’s largest homeless population.
Pras has mastered using the art of documentaries as vessels for political activism, change, and enlightenment, using the benefits of his celebrity to get other influential names on board, and to bring attention to injustices that largely go unnoticed. In 2009, he traveled to Somalia to film Paper Dreams, the yet-to-be-released documentary about Somali pirates. Pras’ film exposed that the Somali coast’s piracy is an unfortunate reaction to unjust acts waged against the country’s fishermen, resulting in lost income and destruction to local communities.
Haiti Earthquake & ‘Sweet Micky for President’
In 2010, after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Pras made a trip to see firsthand how badly the country had suffered and what recovery efforts were progressing in the aftermath. What Pras saw was utter chaos, with almost nothing accomplished or underway. It struck such a chord in him that Pras was compelled to take action on his own.
He immediately contacted a friend, the popular Haitian musician, Sweet Micky, aka Michél Martelli, known as an eccentric and sometimes outrageous performer—but no joke. Sweet Micky’s music is infused with very opinionated politics and direct opposition to the Haitian government. It was on that trip that Pras approached Martelli and suggested he run for President of Haiti.
With Pras’ endorsement, Martelli agreed. The film, Sweet Micky for President, chronicles the two of them along the campaign trail, both with very little knowledge of the political system or how to run a Presidential campaign. Critically acclaimed and a huge hit on the festival circuit, winning numerous awards, the film is the most developed and assertive example of Pras using filmmaking to express his politics and philanthropy, while affecting concrete change in the world. Michel Martelli won the election and is the current President of Haiti.
Since documenting Martelli’s Presidential campaign in the documentary film, Sweet Micky for President, Pras’ efforts to improve the lives of the less fortunate haven’t been limited to Haiti. Pras travels frequently around the world, specifically to countries where war, crime, disease, and lack of governance remain destabilizing issues. Recently, he visited Azerbaijan, North Korea, Yemen, and Iraq.
“It’s about exploring, seeing if there’s an opportunity for me to help the underprivileged,” says Pras, who carves out time to meet with top-ranking officials during each trip. “I’m fortunate to have made connections who arrange meetings for me with people of power,” he shares. “I observe and hear what they have to say and share the American experience, without any political bindings.”
On other trips, Pras has met with presidents, mayors, and ambassadors of Somalia, Senegal, Turkey, Spain, and Sweden.
“I call it being an unofficial diplomatic global citizen,” Pras explains.
Pras has also worked with the Clinton Global Initiative, Artists for Peace and Justice, and his support for President Obama’s campaigns have shown his consistent drive to inspire conversation about the positive changes needed for societies to grow and flourish. During the 2012 presidential election cycle, Pras was one of President Obama’s top 25 private donors, and firmly supports the effort made by the President and the First Lady.
From his start as a member of the Fugees, infusing hip-hop with social consciousness, to his efforts as a filmmaker documenting grass roots elections in Haiti, Pras has made it his mission to produce art that fights against injustice and sheds light on the important issues of our time. The success Pras created when he founded the Fugees opened the door for him to pursue impactful political activism. And while he doesn’t seek the spotlight, nobody should underestimate the passion and vision of the man who makes it his ongoing mission to live a purpose-driven life that uplifts, entertains, and transforms the world around him.
“The Fugees afforded me many opportunities, professionally and personally,” explains Pras. “I’ve traveled the world, met the most interesting people and, most importantly, I am able to put my celebrity to good use by contributing to charities and working on philanthropic projects. Of all my endeavors, my philanthropic work is what I take most seriously. It’s what I hold dear to my heart and believe is my larger purpose on this planet.”