will.i.am: Bridging the Gaps
As the leader of The Black Eyed Peas–arguably the biggest commercial pop group of the moment–will.i.am’s take on electronic-dance music and his forays into DJing might actually surprise you.
Unlike other mainstream artists who have only recently discovered the joys of DJing, will.i.am (aka 36-year-old William Adams) has been close to the culture for awhile. In fact, he came of age in L.A. during the early-’90s convergence of two major DJ-driven movements—the raging hip-hop and rave scenes.
With that in mind, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising at all that he retains mad respect for the DJ, and even less surprising that electro-leaning elements from modern clubland infiltrated the crossover sounds of The Black Eyed Peas. It’s evident on the group’s previous two full-lengths—The E.N.D. and The Beginning—and especially so on hits like “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling,” one of the group’s collaborations with David Guetta.
Inspired by the newer DJ technologies, will.i.am has been seen taking the decks at top clubs and major festivals around the globe in recent times. (As will.i.am mentions in the following interview, many of his DJ fees go to the charities he’s founded.) As it turns out, his DJing has further sparked his technical curiosities and he’s currently looking into further tweaking his current digital-DJ setup.
We recently caught up with will.i.am, the main man from The Black Eyed Peas, winners of seven Grammy Awards. From backstage at a BEP show in Rio, he gushed about the place of the modern DJ, new technology and very future of our music.
DJ Times: You grew up in the early ’90s L.A. rave scene. What drew you to that?
will.i.am: I haven’t been DJing for long, but I’ve been making beats since 1991. I noticed with the new technology that the DJing has changed from what it was when I was growing up. When I grew up in hip-hop, the DJ was about [makes scratching noise] on the turntables. Even though it’s still part of that, having that gift is still important for some DJs… now, what turned me on is that I went to a club and I’m like, “I’ve never heard any of these freakin’ songs!” And then I asked the DJ, “What song is that?” And he’s like, “Oh yeah, the beat I made yesterday.” I’m like, “The beat you made yesterday? Are you serious?”
DJ Times: How did that impact you?
will.i.am: It changed my whole perception on what a DJ is. He’s more than someone who blends—he’s more of a programmer, a producer. Today’s definition of DJ is what inspired me to get into this world, the fact that these DJs-producers-editors-programmers—whatever you wanna call ’em—inspired me to step outside the world I’m comfortable in, which is in a group. Sometimes I produce tracks for my group and some of those tracks might sit on my hard drive for years and years and nobody ever hears them. The thing is, when I’m traveling around the world, the other DJs are playing my beats. So, how come I can’t play [as a DJ] my own beats?