Will I am Speaks on Hip Hop Materialism
by Dove~the Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~ 9/5/02

Widely known as one third of the eclectic Black Eyed Peas crew, Will.I.Am is steadily proving that his work ethic carries three times the weight of an average emcee. He and his partners in rhyme, Apl.de.Ap and Taboo, have established a respectable spot in Hip Hop music, and Will has been striving to expand upon his own unique talents.

Since the Black Eyed Peas debut album Behind The Front was released in 1998, Will.I.Am’s mysterious yet approachable demeanor has earned him many a devoted fan. In 2001 he ventured out on his own to record the ‘soundtrack’ Lost Change – not to leave the Peas behind, but to set foot on the trail of his personal passions.

Although Lost Change received ardent critical acclaim, the album did not sell particularly well. Will explains that album sales were not a focus to him. “It wasn’t really supposed to [sell a lot]. The only people I really cared about listening to it and liking it was the Okayplayer community and the Breakestra community. That’s not really a lotta people – it’s just tastemakers, people that care about music integrity. That’s pretty much all I cared about. I got the video played on MTV – shot the video, paid for it myself, and I took it to MTV’s offices and they added it. That was kinda surprising cuz it wasn’t like it was [selling] mad units, and there were a whole bunch of other groups that they weren’t playing.”

The Black Eyed Peas recently did a Dr. Pepper TV commercial full of their larger-than-life flair for entertainment. When approached with the fickle Hip Hop stance that artists getting endorsement deals equates to ‘selling out’, Will expresses irritation. “I think that the people that are fickle are these new cats. The people that are saying those things are those cats that really have no clue on entertainment – not just Hip Hop, but the entertainment industry. They expect artists to be their secret little discovery.

If I was really worried about ‘keeping it real’ then I never would have put an album out – I would still be in my neighborhood doing music for my homies. When we went to the next neighborhood to do music for other people, my homies on the block said ‘y’all sellouts, why the fuck y’all goin’ to Hollywood?’ If I really cared about that I would have stopped it back then, cuz in actuality those are the real cats – the people I grew up with that dug what I did.

There’s a time when you gotta grow as an artist, as a businessman, and as a human. I gotta take these steps – people ain’t gonna like it but as long as I feel good – you can’t please everyone. It’s those cats that don’t understand that mentality – they’re selfish. ‘Aw fuck that shit! The Roots won a Grammy?’ ‘Jay-Z’s jiggy!’ - I was talking to Rakim about that – I was like ‘yo, you said yourself: I cold show my rings and my fat gold chains, rock the mic like I’m on Soul Train. You was boastin’ and braggin’ about gold. What’s the difference between that line and any Cash Money [song]?’

“Hip Hop has always been about that. Hip Hop was never supposed to stay in the South Bronx – it’s whole purpose was to be the biggest form of music in the world and do the things that people we’re doing. Run DMC would never have made a song called “My Adidas” – muthafuckas didn’t get a dime for it. They were selling Adidas and Adidas didn’t even have to do a marketing campaign – they didn’t have the little marketing meeting – ‘let’s get these Black guys to sell our shoes with laces that [aren’t suited] to fit the shoe and have all these urban kids buy our gear’.

These corporations – Nike, Sprite, Coke, Panasonic, Motorola – they’re gonna utilize urban music anyway to sell their product because most urban people buy these products. Every rapper talks about Motorola in their video for fuckin’ free. So why not get paid for a commercial when people are doing it for free anyway? Why not give it back to Hip Hop?

Coke is gonna get some corny dude from the suburbs that don’t really know about Hip Hop history, and he’s gonna be rapping on TV selling Coke. Why not the Roots? Do they not deserve it? I’m pretty sure they got Coke in their muthafuckin dressing room. Why not the Black Eyed Peas to do Dr. Pepper? We’re the only muthafuckas that like that soda. I don’t see nobody drinkin no Dr. Pepper in no video. We’re an odd ass group – why not us? I don’t understand why people hate. As long as the Roots next song isn’t ‘Yo, say Coca-coca-cola’…” Will laughs.

“Artists are not making as much money on record sales as they used to because of the internet,” he continues hurriedly. “So many people get the stuff off the internet and it’s the same damn quality. Artists are gonna have to scrounge up new ways of making money to make music for these fans. What do you expect groups like us, J5, and the Roots to do when we ain’t gettin’ record sales to give you the music that you like? Y’all muthafuckas better be happy, because that way we can take more risks creatively.”

The Black Eyed Peas are back in the studio working on their next album, Elephunk, and Will is working on yet another step in his career – the “I Am” clothing line. The fashions will be boutique style pieces in limited editions, and will be mostly for the ladies. “I ain’t tryin to dress no [guys]. I’m trying to dress women, and undress women,” he says with a coy smirk.

Will.I.Am is a man of many talents, and his deep-rooted confidence blossoms daily with new ideas. People’s definitions of what he represents don’t make or break him – because when it comes down to it, Will knows exactly who he is.

~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~
dove@rimemagazine.com Courtesy of RIME Magazine

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