Rapper, producer, songwriter, and composer will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas is one busy man. Aside from recording and touring with the Peas, the 31-year-old manages to find time to work on albums with numerous other artists, score films, appear in a series of online films and run his own clothing line and record label.
So how does he relax? With more work.
"Going into the studio, just being there, and just being around stuff, thinking (and) solving problems, helps me unwind," he told The Showbuzz. "If I'm just chilling with nothing to do, then I'm tense. If my mind's not trying to fix something or create something, I don't know what to do. It just throws me off."
William James Adams Jr. was born and raised in Los Angeles — and was, by his own account, always a "super-duper hyperactive" child. He found a way to channel his energy in the ninth grade when he befriended Allen Pineda Lindo, or apl.de.ap, a newly-arrived immigrant teen from the Philippines. The two started a break-dancing crew and were later joined by Mexican-American Jaime "Taboo" Gomez.
The Black Eyed Peas was born.
After two successful albums and months of touring, the band added a female voice to the act, Stacy Ferguson — better known as simply "Fergie." With the new lineup, the band released "Elephunk" in 2003 and sold more than 7 million copies worldwide. They followed up their success with 2005's "Monkey Business," which has sold almost 10 million copies to date.
Will.i.am has helmed the production of most of the group's albums, but that's not enough to keep his creative juices flowing. Recently, he teamed up with Fergie to do her first solo set, "The Duchess."
It's the first release off his record label, Will.I.Am Music Group.
"Her personality doesn't switch up, she's still Fergie, but, it's just more about her," will.i.am said, explaining the difference between working with Fergie in the context of the group and as a solo artist. "There's more melodies I have to think about, it's way more melodic. It was hard, because we were recording the record while we were touring."
The album spawned her No. 1 single "London Bridges," which will.i.am said evolved from the Peas hit, "My Humps."
"'My Humps' was an anomaly, a fun song I wrote that I didn't want to part with; I didn't want to give it away to anyone else," he explained. "I wrote it for the Pussycat Dolls, but then I said, 'I want to keep this bad boy for us. Hey, Fergie, you wanna sing this?' We would never have originally sung that. But doing that song kinda gave birth to a whole new Fergie character, a side of something that she could have fun with. And it kinda introduced that whole thing: sing-a-long, sing-songy fun music. That song opened the door for the 'London Bridges' song."
"I have a pro tools rig that I carry in my backpack," he said. "Depending on how good the song is, we go to a studio in that city, but in some cities we don't have that luxury. In the Philippines or Korea they didn't have a studio."
Somehow, will.i.am is able to juggle his tour schedule with more projects than most people do in a decade, let alone in less than a year.
2"We had a real intensive Asian tour (in August), and before that tour we were touring Europe. Before Europe we were touring America, and we don't stop touring," he said. "I finished four songs for Kelis' record, three songs for Justin Timberlake's record, four songs for John Legend's album, 10 songs on Fergie's record. I finished two songs for Nas, three songs for Snoop, two songs for The Game, and finished scoring half of (a) movie, and 10 songs on Macy Gray's record. (All this) from January to now, including four tours around the planet. And (I) filmed and scored the Instant Def. ..."
He paused and added, "and three songs on Ciara's album."
Instant Def, a series of sci-fi short adventure films online featuring the Peas, was one of will.i.am's forays into filmmaking. "That was a very nice experience. I personally learned a lot filming it. It was just an idea at one point in time. For Snickers to come in and allow us to execute that idea; it worked for them and it worked for us."
Will.i.am would like to explore working on a larger film project. "I don't want do a large film project that's comedy," he said. "I want to have comedy elements inside the film but I don't want it to be all comedy like Instant Def is. I love (Instant Def), but I like the length of it."
In addition to his work on Instant Def, will.i.am scored half of an upcoming feature film called "Freedom Writers," starring Hilary Swank. The film's theme fits in with will.i.am and the Peas' multicultural sensibility.
"It's a movie based on a true story," he said. "These kids from Long Beach (Calif.), they were going to school in 1992-93, when all the interracial (problems) were going on (there) due to the Rodney King beatings. Koreans weren't getting along with blacks, blacks weren't getting along with Latinos — they were all fighting. Hilary Swank ... is a teacher who influences them to read "Diary of Anne Frank," and that was the thing that bonded them together. They formed a crew called Freedom Writers, where they wrote poems about their childhood and their upbringing. It's a really great film."
Will.i.am did the title song with rapper Common, and did most of the scoring from his hotel room overlooking the Kremlin while on tour in Russia.
His main focus, though, is making albums, a process that has paired him with diverse artists from Sergio Mendes to Justin Timberlake to Stevie Wonder. Sometimes, worlds collide and the artists he's working with end up working together.
Will.i.am is nominated for a Latin Grammy in the Record of the Year category for the song "Mas Que Nada" from Brazilian piano legend Sergio Mendes' album "Timeless." On the album, will.i.am explored pairing hip-hop and pop artists with the pianist's bossa nova and samba beats.
"I remember when I first got with Sergio he was like, 'who do you want to put on the record?' I was just 'hoop dreaming,' like, yeah Justin (Timberlake), I wanna get Stevie Wonder, I could get Q-tip, I could get John Legend. All the people I said I can get I ended up getting, but it was all out of luck, it was all out of timing."
One night, will.i.am ran into Wonder at a recording studio. Will approached the Motown great and introduced himself. Wonder said he was a big fan of the Black Eyed Peas, and of Sergio Mendes, and immediately said yes to working on one of the tracks on "Timeless."
3"I didn't want him to think that I'm overstepping my boundaries and expect him to fall in love with bossa nova and samba the way I love it," he said. "I was trying to figure out a way to ask him.
"One day we did the India Arie song and everyone was listening to it and Justin walks in," he continued. "He was like, 'wow, let me get down.' I asked him if he wanted to do that song and he said, 'Yeah man I love this stuff.' I was like, damn, OK!"
According to will.i.am, Timberlake is much more of an all-around musician and producer than people realize. After being approached by Timberlake's manager Johnny Wright to work on the singer's album, will.i.am suggested that Timberlake just produce himself.
"Of course, I had two glasses of wine, so I normally wouldn't have said that, but I was being honest," he laughed.
Eventually, will.i.am agreed to do three songs on the album, but said he allowed Timberlake to participate in the production.
"(Timberlake) produces great vocals. I never had to say, 'that harmony you got right there is clashing, the fifth harmony you added is making everything sound dissonant,' I never had to say that to him. He just needs someone to press buttons.
"That dude is dope man," he continued. "He plays drums, he plays the bass, he plays the keys, he writes and he sings his ass off, and he can produce. So he's more like Prince than anything. I'm not talking about the music, not the obvious Prince, the genius side of things. He's like Prince, dude."
Will.i.am said that the Black Eyed Peas are planning a 10th anniversary album for Christmas 2007. "That's three tours away and two albums away — that's not far at all," he laughed. "I want it to be jazzier, I want us to go more jazzy, and more poetic, rather than rapping."
Meanwhile, The Black Eyed Peas' relentless touring schedule continues with a series of concerts in South America in November. Somewhere in there, will.i.am also makes time to support his Peapod Foundation, a global children's charity.
In the near future, will.i.am plans to release his first solo album. He said the hardest part for him is trying to figure out what his sound as a soloist should be.
"I don't want to dilute our brand, Black Eyed Peas, by putting out BEP music without the rest of the Peas," he said. "I don't want to switch it up too much, because I don't want it to sound pretentious."
One thing the album will include is songs with socially conscious lyrics.
"I wrote this song called 'The World Is Dying,' which is really talking to the youth, you know, and it's like 'Lord come down and help us out/send us an angel to help us out. Looks like we ain't gonna figure it out/the world is changing. Open up your eyes you can see things rearranging/the world is ending. And if they say it's going to be OK/they're just pretending.'"
"But then I have a lot of fun songs," he added. "I don't want to preach to people. There's a lot of fun songs. I have a song about MySpace, just a bunch of fun things."
Interscope Records wants the album out in December, according to will.i.am. He said that he's got "like 200 songs" but is hoping to have time to "put a little more dream juice on it."
He may not have a lot of time to sleep, but it's nice to know will.i.am still makes time for dreams.
By Judy Faber