Black Eyed Peas: Interview with Will.I.Am

Black Eyed PeasIn the world of popular culture, whether it be music, art, movies, fashion, pretty much anything you can think of where something is being created for the pleasure of the general public, there is nothing scarier than following-up your first smash success. They call it the sophomore curse, following up your first smash hit with something nowhere near as good.

Many bands, artists, designers, filmmakers, etc. fall under this sophomore curse. However, The Black Eyed Peas, never a group to fall into line and follow the leaders, have bypassed said curse, and have made Monkey Business, the follow-up to their previous record, the massive Elephunk, which creatively, might have been surpassed. Monkey Business is a dynamic, layered, well-written, cohesive, and funky-as-all-hell record the features not only the pure unadulterated talent of The Black Eyed Peas, but also the collaborative efforts of artists such as producer extraordinaire Timbaland, laid back singer/songwriter Jack Johnson, and the God of Soul Himself, Mr. James Brown.

Amid the hustling, bustling, busy schedule of being the creative force behind one of the biggest hip hop groups in the world,, writer, producer, rapper for the group took a few minutes out of his day to rap with me about James Brown, ProTools, and playing on the moon.

You have featured on your album James Brown, Jack Johnson, and Justin Timberlake, which is a very eclectic array of guests. How did you hook up with these guys, and what do they bring to the songs they are on?

James Brown we met in London at the Mojo Awards. I approached and thanked him for what he’s done for music. I then asked if he would like to work with us, and two days later he showed up at our studio in London. Our collaboration with James Brown was an accomplishment for hip-hop, seeing that what hip-hop sampled was based on James Brown, and yet no other groups have ever collaborated with him…we are blessed. The song we did with Jack Johnson was recorded in Nov. 2001. It sat around for a while, I had the opportunity to work on ‘Gone Going’ with Jack before his version was complete. The version we recorded with Jack is a hybrid. ‘Gone Going’ is not about our recent success, seeing that it was written way before Elephunk was complete.

How cool was it to work with James Brown?

Working with Mr. Brown was unlike anything words can explain. I have original grunt vocal samples of Mr. Brown. I sat and couldn’t help but interview him, asking him about everything from Malcolm X to Martin Luther, to what Black America felt like then compared to now, to music theory, to church, to men’s suits…he educated me and gave me his blessing, saying how I reminded him of a son.

Did you feel any pressure to try and follow the success of Elephunk?

No. We wanted to have fun while recording in the studio. Elephunk was recorded with that same spirit. We were just writing songs we could play live and dance to. The same with Monkey Business. But this time we had new experiences. Artists should never chase success, just chase down their ideas, and have fun.

Did you consciously try to make Monkey Business sound any different from Elephunk?

No. That’s always going to happen. The more you stay around instruments, equipment, and musicians, your execution and skills will expand; leading to a different way of expression, and that has an effect on the outcome and sound. I am so happy with our growth. And can’t wait to grow more, keeping our fundamentals, hunger, and excitement to write and make music.

Did you handle the producing of the album this time around?

Yes, produced on Monkey Business too. Our keyboardist Printz Board contributed as well and of course Timbaland on ‘my style’…but I produced the majority of the record, or else it wouldn’t be the Peas. (laughs)

How do you think you’ve grown as a producer since you started?

ProTools, understanding a little bit of theory, but most importantly ‘my imagination.’ It allows me to freak technology, doing stuff with ProTools that I didn’t intend for it to do.

Any chances of you giving up rapping and focusing solely on producing as a career?

No way. Never. I’m always gonna freestyle. I make beats and write music from a rap ‘freestyle’ improv perspective…it just has to feel right.

You have some tv appearances coming up, any plans for a tour?

Of course we live on the road.We’re going out on our first headlining tour with Talib Kweli.

If you could have your pick, who would you bring out on tour with you?

John Legend, a Peas/Outkast bill would be hot, Kanye…

So many hip-hop artists these days seem to love to brag about how much money they have, or how tough they are, kind of hyping up the gangster lifestyle. What makes you stay away from all of that and speak of a more positive, upbeat, fun message? And do you think that hip-hop has become too much about the image, and not enough about the actual music?

It’s our upbringings and family…I was raised in the projects too. My homies are dead and in prison, my cousin Dante is locked up on a murder case. He’s innocent, speakin’ on it from a different perspective…for every 10 bangers in the hood there’s two or four that don’t, one gets married, moves out, one works in the church, one’s in the army or some shit, one’s a cop, and the other works in the community.We’re kinda like that, rebuilding in someway, on a ‘larger’ scale.

This is the second time you’ve worked with Justin Timberlake. What is it about him that you guys like?

He’s a friend…cool as shit…a homie…

I hear that the members of the group are doing solo albums. Is this the end of The Black Eyed Peas?

No way. That will be the stupidest thing if any of us decides to part for whatever dumb ass reason…I think we are all smarter than that…we have something special together.

What are your plans for your solo record? Got any ideas about what the sound will be?

I don’t know yet. But it’s going to be interesting, I want to do something unique.

Will you all be involved in some capacity in each other’s solo records?

I will be producing Fergie’s project, but we all will be a part of everyone’s side projects.

What are your highest aspirations for Monkey Business?

We did it already when we wrote and recorded it. The manifestations of all our experiences, thoughts, and creative visions…

The Black Eyed Peas have been the first of many things, such as the first hip-hop group to play at an NBA game, first hip-hop group to play at the Super Bowl, first hip-hop group to play at the Democratic National Convention. What other firsts would you like to accomplish?

The first to play on the moon, or the first to play at the World Cup.

Would you ever tweak your art for commercial reasons?

No. But I would tweak art for art…

As a producer, what do you think each member of the group brings to the table?

Each member of The Peas brings themselves to the table. And with that comes their ideas, inspirations, and experiences…and we each bring some personality differences as well. Ferg is just beautiful in every way possible, apl is humble and heart driven, Taboo is fire, passion and energy, and I am always thinking and trying to build, and move, like let’s go!! ‘I got an idea,’ that’s my favorite phrase.