Will.I.Am of BEP: The Big Payback

The Black Eyed Peas are large. Love them or hate ’em, BEP is on top. This crew went from being underground b-boyin’ MC’s to moving multi-platinum units and achieving multi-cultural success on several continents. In between all the hits these guys have been doing music for cartoons like Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory, as well as major endorsement deals. Ironically, as underground champion, MF Doom is being praised for his successes, the Black Eyed Peas have been ostracized for theirs.

Will.I.Am feels your scorn. He knows about it, and he speaks on it with AllHipHop.com. Between chilling with the Music Department at M.I.T. in Boston, Will keeps it funky – like his hero, James Brown.

AllHipHop.com: Black Eyed Peas have a made party rocking a consistent theme in their music. A lot of MC’s have forgotten that angle. What made you focus on it?

Will: Because the era of Hip Hop that we are influenced by, from 1987 to 1994- that’s what that era was about. From Shinehead, to Redhead Kingpin, to N.W.A., to Mix Master Spade, Big Daddy Kane, – that’s the era that we come from. To me, that’s when Hip-Hop was pure.

AllHipHop.com: Did you expect Monkey Business to get the high acclaim that it has received?

Will: Monkey Business, yeah. But Elephunk, no. The first two records I was just being creative – like, “Whatever.” I was just happy to have a record deal. I was just felt blessed and was happy to tour. Honestly, we thought Elephunk was going to be our last record. So, we went into the studio like -Whatever we ever wanted to do on a record, let’s do it now. Let’s say everything we ever wanted to say. Because the world is f**ked up right now.” So, we made a record called, “Where is the Love” around the time America was at its lowest point. America was at a tender, most sensitive time and we talked about the CIA and the KKK on the same record. It got played all over the place. We had a message-hit on Top 50 radio. We did not even plan to do that. If someone said, “Hey lets make a jam to get played all over the radio” I would never have said that. But it happened. It just totally opened my mind up to Monkey Business. [This album] was made on my laptop on airplanes. At the time, we were traveling the world on Elephunk. “Where is the Love”, “Let’s Get Retarded” and “Hey Mama” was huge all over the planet. We were doing shows in Vietnam, Lithuania, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Philippines – all over the planet. I was thinkin’ like “When are we gonna make a record? ‘Cause if we keep touring, we’ll never make a record.” So I was doing it on the airplane, trying to feed the whole market at the same time. I wanna make an album that’s gonna have songs that are relevant to every single country we are hitting at once.

AllHipHop.com:: You have a unique way of bridging the old and the new school vibes. Like with the “Pump It Louder” chants and the “I wonder if I take you home baby,” the Egyptian Lover basslines and stuff.

Will: The “Pump It Louder” came actually from one of Hammer?s old groups [Oaktown?s] 3-5-7. Remember that song “Juicy Got ?em Crazy”?

AllHipHop.com: I live in the Bay, man. So I heard that all day. Folks was playin’ that all the time in the Bay.

Will: Hammer was killin’ it back in the day. N***as can hate all they want. It was different. You were not supposed to compare him to Rakim. It was a totally different thing. It’s like tyring to compare a Hummer to a Lamborghini. You can take a Lamborghini into the mountains and expect it to perform. This is a vehicle designed by Black people- Hip-Hop. N***as was trying to compare that to a Hummer. It ain’t a Hummer dog, it’s a Lamborghini- applaud it. Look how fast it goes! That’s was wong with Hip-Hop right now. People don’t understand its legacy and all the cars that it has. They keep trying to compare it to the same vehicle. It’s like “No n***a, Hip-Hop ain’t just a muthaf**kin’ Ford Taurus. We got Jaguars, Cadillacs- it ain’t just one f**king car!”

AllHipHop.com: Tell me your greatest international Hip-Hop experience, and how all the traveling affects how you see Hip-Hop?

Will: The biggest one is when we landed in the Philippines. When we get down, every news crew possible is there documenting the landing. We get off the airplane. and the news crews come and rush us. We get the hotel and turn on the TV. There is a four-hour special on Apple’s life, and it ends with the crew’s documenting of our landing. They were shooting till the moment we landed, and then went in and edited that footage in. The next day, we did a show in front of 30,000 people, and they have the army in front holding the people back with the President in the middle! Every time Apple goes back to the Philippines, there’s a news crew. He’s bigger than any government official in the Philippines. That’s nutty.

AllHipHop.com: It’s real crazy to me how accelerated your careers moved. What has been the easiest and the hardest adjustments to make for you?

Will: That hardest thing to adjust to, is the disrespect. We accomplishing a bunch of things. But, because nobody gave birth to us – Like,

“Yo, we came from this camp, or that camp.” Jay-Z, Puffy, Suge Knight did not put us on. We did not come from nobody. So, because a mega-figure did not put us on, it seems like nobody can really relate. That’s been the hardest part for me as a Black person. BET and The Source only cover one style of Hip-Hop. The hardest part is Black people not being able to relate to another Black person who has done a lot globally. The easiest thing is all that bodyguard s**t! I don’t need that stuff.

AllHipHop.com: One of the things I liked about this album was that you had James Brown on there. I wish more rap artists would do more songs with him since his music plays a large part of Hip-Hop’s foundation. It’s like you and Afrika Bambaataa are the only ones!

Will: Actually, a lot of rappers wanna work with James Brown. The thing is, he does not wanna work with them. We were in London at [an] awards [show]. I walked up to James Brown. I said, “Thank you for all that you did for Hip-Hop. You may not know it or realize it, but Hip-Hop would not be what it is, without it.” So, I asked him the most daring question “You think we could do a song with you?” He said, “Send me a reference for what you want me to do, and I’ll do it.” So I go to the studio. James comes the next day with his whole crew. He pulls me aside and he says, “Ya know, Mr. Will, I don’t got to work with nobody. But something tells me to work with the Black Eyed Peas. But I like how y’all do what y’all do. Y’all got the band. In Hip-Hop music you don’t see enough of that.” So, we started talking. I started talking to him about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Elijah Muhammad. He knew all of them personally. I mean there are not that many people that have seen as many things as he has seen back in the day that’s still alive. I asked him what’s the difference between Black America today and Black America back in the day. He said, “Black America today is fighting a fight that we [the older generation] fought. Y’all ain’t got nothin’ to fight about, and it shows in y’all music.” That blew my mind.

He said “I appreciate the fact that you took the time to write songs like, “Where is the Love”. That’s brave. But I don’t work with nobody because I don’t got to.” We had to do a benefit in Los Angeles, I called him a week before to come perform and he showed up. His manager was like, “He does not do this for anybody.

AllHipHop.com: I also notice you got a track with Sting. I’m a serious Sting fan and I love “Englishman in New York.” Talk to me about how that song came together.

Will: I did two remixes for one of Sting’s records. Apple was tellin’ me, “Yo, I want to sample “Englishman in New York”. I was like, “Really?” I asked [Sting], and he was like, “I’d love to.” So, he flies out to Berlin and we record the song in Hitler’s old studio for recording propaganda records. It’s all the original equipment from when it was originally put in. So we recorded a song called “Union”. It’s weird because we’re talking about the opposite of what Hitler was talking about- in the same studio.

AllHipHop.com: What was it like to record in that room?

Will: It was mad eerie. You don’t understand how big this facility is. They gotta room as big as a basketball court- that’s just filled with organ pipes and one organ. It’s bigger than any basket ball gym. It’s just got organ pipes and microphones in it. This facility is huge. A couple months ago and Fergie was singin’ on the mic and I said, “What kind of mic is that?” The guy’s like “This mic was made specifically for Hitler.”

AllHipHop.com: Wow. One thing is that y’all did a posse cut with Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, and some other raw dudes. I think your critics aren’t hearing these songs. Tell me how that track was made.

Will: Whoooo!! We just shot the video for that. We did that track on the internet. Talib was in Cincinnati, Cee-Lo was in Atlanta, John Legend was in D.C., I was in Los Angeles and Q-tip was in New York. It was all done with computers.

AllHipHop.com: How did you feel when the song was done?

Will: It reminded me of something from Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders.

AllHipHop.com: If you could clarify one major misconception about the Black Eyed Peas right now- what would it be?

Will: That the BEP is not Hip-Hop. BET don?t wanna own it. VIBE don?t wanna own it. Some try to make it seem like we are not Hip-Hop. But we are. ‘Cause I’ll battle any n***a in a freestyle. I’ll take a lotta n***as out too!

Adisa Banjoko is the author to the upcoming book “Lyrical Swords Vol. 2: Westside Rebellion”. For more info visit www.lyricalswords.com !

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