Born William James Adams Jr. in East Los Angeles, March 1975 our man was raised in a mostly Hispanic housing project wherein he learnt a love for Latin and R&B with a tropical beat. Coming from a single parent household Will was encouraged by his mother to avoid gang culture and concentrate on his musical ambitions. As a high school teen he came into contact with Compton rapper Eazy-E and his first proper group Atban Klann won a contract with Ruthless Records in 1992.
Rapidly immersing himself in the rave scene that criss crossed and fertilized over the Atlantic Will 1X , as he was then known, recorded with Eazy-E and suitably inspired began to dismantle his original outfit and rebuild them into what became The Black Eyed Peas. The early Peas albums Behind The Front and Joints & Jams had an electronica edge with oodles of phat phunk and it was that style that he brought into the room for his own debut, the jazz tinged Lost Change. Ever the student of sound this disc enabled him to experiment with trip hop, horns, fuzzed up electric rock and odd fusions suggestive of a mash up between Radiohead and reggae.
The gauntlet was thrown down on instrumental passages that take the listener into atmospheric territory. The outstanding “I Am”, a signature piece of sorts, and the sophisticated rhymes of “Ev Rebahdee”, featuring Planet Asia, made this 2001 drop one of the hottest and hippest discs in its field. Try it as the 10th anniversary edition bonus instrumentals package.
Away from the BEPs he then got involved in making Must B 21, adding John Legend to the team and swinging into the type of music that will cast him as a Sly Stone for the current generation. For example: the transition from “Mash Out” (featuring MC Lyte and Fergie) into “Ride Ride”, “Sumthin’ Special” and “I’m Ready (Y’All Ain’t Ready for This)” hits the soulful heights and the whole enterprise is billed as a Soundtrack to get things started.
He finally gets his sales dues with the lead single from the third album Songs About Girls, the Top 40 scaling “I Got it From My Mama”, a cheerfully effervescent and sensual number depicting him as the ladies man, albeit tongue in cheek. The rest of the disc certainly lives up to the title’s promise and becomes a freewheeling conceptual epic with deeply autobiographical depths.
If his previous albums were all about production and technical virtuosity (plus great tunes) this time Will homes in on his subject with guests including Cheryl Cole, Snoop Dogg and the sampled Electric Light Orchestra whose “It’s Over” is handily integrated into “Over”. Other sampled extracts feature the Jackson 5, Ray Charles and Paul Simon. The latter’s song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” was one of the influences on the project.
Six years will pass before he unleashes #willpower and since this is his first foray into worldwide top tens (#3 and Gold in the UK, 1 on the US dance/Electronic chart, Platinum in New Zealand we figure that qualifies him for instant discovery. The stand out in terms of recognition has to be “Scream & Shout”, a truly madcap slice of electro house that features Britney Spears with the sizzle button turned to max.
“#thatPOWER” (ft. Justin Bieber) is a club heavy hip swiveler with a sweet melody that also busts up the charts. “Fall Down” (ft. Miley Cyrus) completes a clean sweep of teen idol mash ups. According to the writer and producer "With Miley, it was a bit of a merger. I heard this wonderfulness bleeding through the doors and a friend of mine, Dr. Luke said to come and listen. And I was like, who is that? He just said, 'keep listening' and then he said, 'guess who it is?' I was like, Björk. Nope. Is it Portishead coming back? It was Miley Cyrus. Then Miley walks in the room and I was like, this shit is fresh, we have to collaborate. Then she got on and added her vocals for 'Fall Down'."
The Deluxe edition is recommended for bonus cuts, “Reach for the Stars”, “Smile Mona Lisa” and a cover of Sonny Bono’s hugely inspirational “Bang Bang”, written for Cher in 1966. The whole disc is on the commercial cusp of cutting edge. The second Miley involvement on “Feelin’ Myself” was a timely hit and there is another rush to the top with “It’s My Birthday”, a collision of cultures and styles with A.R. Rahman adding a new blend of his Tamil hit “Urvasi Urvasi” (aka “Urvashi”). The esteemed soundtrack composer was adamant that he was "Excited to creatively partner with will.i.am to recreate an early popular track of mine in a new flavour.”
Our keynote speaker and innovator extraordinaire is currently holed up working on new sounds and sights, that’s when he’s not making TV, writing articles etc etc. Busy as always but not inclined to rush – that gives us all time to catch up and rediscover the weird and wonderful world of will.i.am…
Words: Max Bell
Black Eyed Peas ringleader will.i.am's last solo outing was 2007's Songs About Girls, a hearty collection of relaxed R&B pop that was mostly left in the shadows as his main act grew in popularity to the scope of Superbowl halftime shows and world records for most downloaded singles. #willpower sees will.i.am returning with a nonstop list of collaborators from Juicy J to Skylar Grey and over an hour of neatly polished pop-friendly tracks. Beginning the album with the lyrics "Good morning/Welcome to the thing called life" sets #willpower up for unabashed cheesiness, and the album follows suit with a plethora of mindless party jams, tossed-off rap routines, and the type of cheesy escapist fun you would expect from one of the minds that gave us "My Humps" and "Let's Get Retarded." While there's something to be said for letting go, having fun, and partying, even the constant in-the-club rhetoric seems tiredly disingenuous and phoned-in on #willpower, with will.i.am delivering lines like "I wish this night would last forever!" with all the energy of an overworked convenience store clerk on the graveyard shift eager to get home and go to sleep. His biggest hits were no more intelligent or substantial, but they got over with the type of big dumb hooks that cement themselves in the minds of every passerby. #willpower is plenty big, with banging four-on-the-floor beats pushing most songs through plastic production and the occasional dip into interesting glitchy electro or string samples, as on "Hello." Dumb is the order of the day, too, as embraced on "Gettin' Dumb," one of several half-cooked party anthems on the record, but nothing sticks with even half the force of gloriously simple Black Eyed Peas anthems like "I Gotta Feeling." Single "Scream & Shout," featuring Britney Spears reciting her verses in an inexplicably British accent, is as close as the album comes to catchy. Even bringing in big guns like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus for manufactured disposable pop moments like "#thatPOWER" and "Fall Down" doesn't save the songs from their plodding beats, piecemeal digital construction, and an overarching sense that a good portion of the album's interminable 15 tracks were written in the studio moments before they were recorded. This unfinished feeling wouldn't be a huge downfall if there were anything in between the relentless side-chained bass thumps and mindless lyrical clichés to latch onto. #willpower gets more confusing as it goes on, with stabs at worn-out Top 40 trends like the ham-fisted "Let's Go" and clumsy social commentary over an admittedly intriguing beat on "The World Is Crazy," and with irritating little-kid vocals on "Ghetto Ghetto." Lacking real excitement, verve, or even the stupid type of fun we're used to from him, will.i.am sounds remarkably like his heart isn't in it throughout the record, bored on the job even though it's his job to get the party started.
Words: Fred Thomas
Boasting the best album-length production of the year, will.i.am's Songs About Girls is a tour de force of next-generation contemporary R&B, all of it devoted to girls -- girls he wants, girls he wants back, girls who are gone, girls he's glad are gone, and, of course, girls trying hard to make a living for their family as strippers. Although the trailer single, "I Got It from My Mama," had threatened to become even more obnoxious and unescapable than Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" -- replacing Fergie's awkward come-ons with will.i.am's clumsy rapping -- it's the lone note of pandering on this record. (Perhaps another should be guest Snoop Dogg lofting the word "donque" into the popular consciousness.) Recorded everywhere from Rio to The Record Plant, Songs About Girls percolates with more innovation, enthusiasm, and excitement than contemporary work by Pharrell, Kanye West, Mark Ronson, or anyone else remotely in the same league. Fortunately, will keeps the anthemic rapping to a minimum, instead sing-speaking or pleading plaintively behind a parade of filters and emoting rather than motivating. Musically, there's all manner of technical wizardry on display, including vocoderized electronics, surprisingly acid-washed synth on "The Donque Song" (how long has it been since Snoop Dogg rapped over a 303, doctored or not), and "Get Your Money," the latter of which may be the classic tale of a stripper with a heart of gold, but, powered by a swing-house M.A.N.D.Y. sample, should provide the requisite credibility to rehabilitate the man who unleashed "humps" on the populace.
Words: John Bush