Who is Will.i.am?

by James HargroveJuly 2, 2024
Who is Will.i.am?

Will.i.am originally came to the attention of the public as a member of the Black Eyed Peas, an underground hip hop group that transitioned into a pop-rap group and achieved international popularity. In addition to being a solo musician and producer, he has collaborated with some of the most popular performers in the world. Recently, he has been fostering the aspirations of other musicians as a judge and coach on the United Kingdom edition of The Voice.

Early Life

Will.i.am was born William James Adams in Los Angeles, California on March 15, 1975. His mother, Debra, raised him on her own when his father, whom he has never met, deserted the family. Adams grew up in a housing complex and told the Daily Beast that he was “raised in the ghetto, on assistance, and two minutes from homelessness.” Having music as an outlet allowed him to see beyond his desolate environment. At the high school level, he met Allan Pineda (stage name: apl.de.ap). Together with numerous others, the two blended their hip-hop and breakdancing talents to establish the rap ensemble, Atban Klann. They were contracted to Eazy-Ruthless E’s Records label in 1992 and performed as guests on his 5150 – Home 4 Tha Sick EP that same year. A single from the album, “Puddles of H2O,” was released in 1994 before the group was dumped from the label following Eazy-death E’s in 1995.

Forming the Black Eyed Peas

Will.i.am nicknamed the group The Black Eyed Pods and subsequently the Black Eyed Peas in 1995. Currently, the lineup included will.i.am, apl.de.ap, and Taboo. After signing with Interscope Records, the group released Behind the Front in June 1998, exhibiting an approachable, entertaining sound that was unmistakably hip-hop-influenced. Rolling Stone praised the “alternative rap” vibe of the music, stating that the album provided “an organic blend of sampled melodies and real instrumentation for those of us wanting a bit enlightenment with our well-oiled boogie.” The addition of supporting vocalists, including Macy Gray, Sierra Swan, Kim Hill, and Dawn Beckman, was indicative of the group’s future success. The Peas’ second studio album, Bridging the Gap, was released in 2000, and their debut appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 was the single “Request + Line” with Macy Gray. On his first solo album, Lost Change, released in 2001, will.i.am demonstrated a more experimental approach to music.

will.i.am first sought Nicole Scherzinger to join the group after realizing that having a female member increased their potential, but after she declined, Fergie joined – her powerful vocals paved the door to popularity. The song “Where Is the Love” starring Justin Timberlake propelled The Peas’ album Elephunk, released in 2003. It reached No. 8 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and was the best-selling song of 2003 in the United Kingdom. More singles followed, including “I Gotta Feeling,” “Boom Boom Pow,” and “Let’s Get It Started,” with vocalist, producer, and composer will.i.am leading the way. The group has sold more than 76 million records worldwide and won six Grammys. They proceeded to release albums such as Monkey Business (2005), The END (2009), The Beginning (2010), and Translation (2012). (2020). However, they have also lost favor with certain reviewers as a result of successful but polarising tracks such as “My Humps” (2005), which Rolling Stone readers voted the most irritating song.

All-Star Music Producer

When not working with Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am has produced songs for other well-known artists, such as Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, and his former bandmate Fergie, after she went solo. The success of Fergie inspired will.i.am to release another solo album, Songs About Girls, in 2007. The album #willpower, released in 2013, contained the duets “#ThatPOWER” with Justin Bieber, “Fall Down” with Miley Cyrus, and “Scream & Shout” with Britney Spears. In addition, he has contributed to hip-hop albums like The Game, Nas, Busta Rhymes, Too Short, and Common.

will.i.am: The Brand

Will.i.am has expanded his career into acting, starring as John Wraith in the 2009 movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He has also been on American Idol and The X Factor, as well as The Voice UK and The Voice Australia as a coach. In addition to attending the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, he has published various collections, including Ekocycle, a partnership with Coca-Cola that combines recycled plastic bottles into new goods, such as clothing, bicycles, and bags. Following a personal request from Dr. Dre to invest, he is a stakeholder in Beats Electronics, a director of creative innovation at Intel, and the creator of his own line of camera accessories. Recently, he created a high-tech laboratory in Hollywood, stating to The Sunday Times Magazine, “Now I’m creating things. Technology is capable of far more than music. “Technology is the new rock and roll.” He has apparently been creating devices such as backpacks with built-in speakers, smart glasses, and a wristwatch in cooperation with Gucci. However, the response to his first couple of products — the i.am+ iPhone camera accessories and the Puls wristwatch — has been extremely unfavorable. Techradar praised will.i.am for his embrace of technology but concluded: “Sorry Puls, there’s much to detest here. The worst design, display, lack of applications, and battery life in the history of messaging… “I believe that will do.”

Activism, Awards, and Artistic 

Will i.am has also embraced the political and activist communities. He made songs and a website to assist the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama. His unique music video for the song “Yes We Can,” which used excerpts from Obama’s speeches, was awarded both an Emmy and a Clio. He also has his own foundation, I.Am.Angel, to support education; one of its initiatives, I.Am.Steam (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), exposed underserved students to learning opportunities outside the classroom and earned him the title of Young Global Leader from the World Economic Forum in 2013.

With a forthcoming solo album, the comeback of the Black Eyed Peas, and his ongoing work on UK television and behind the boards for major musicians, will.i.am shows no sign of slowing down.

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