will.i.am has a lot on his mind.
The outspoken frontman, producer, technology geek and restless visionary behind the Black Eyed Peas has heard the whispers. He’s heard all the talk that the Peas’ high profile siren, multi-platinum vocalist Fergie, is no longer with the 40 million records sold act, which includes energetic emcees and dancers Taboo and apl.de.ap.
Will, who rumor has it just signed a multimillion pound contract to re-up with the UK version of The Voice, is dismayed by what he sees as the claustrophobic state of hip hop beyond such applaud-worthy standouts like Kendrick Lamar and Run the Jewels.
And while he is happy that the record-breaking N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton is getting major love, the veteran talent believes his mentor — the late Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, who signed Will and apl to Ruthless Records back in 1992 — deserves an even bigger spotlight.
It’s all here, folks. Buckle up.
BET: All right, let’s get right to it. When the Black Eyed Peas dropped the hip hop throwback track ‘Yesterday’ this past July, all the talk turned to the notable absence of Fergie. So once and for all, is Fergie still a member of the Black Eyed Peas?
Will.i.am: Yes… we are working on Fergie music right now. When people didn’t see her [in the ‘Yeterday’ video] they automatically thought, ‘Fergie is out of the Black Eyed Peas!’ But what people need to understand is that we were just celebrating the 20 summers of the Black Eyed Peas. It was 20 years ago that we started the Peas in July. After Eazy-E died, we turned the name of our production company into the Black Eyed Peas.
But it’s no surprise that the Fergie rumors have again started to bubble given that she has been largely MIA publicly from the Peas, right?
Well, we were just trying to pay homage as those wild and crazy kids back in the day and thanking our heroes like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Queen Latifah, Large Professor and Main Source. We were wanted to say thank you to Chuck D, Flav and Public Enemy. Thank you DJ Premier, Gang Starr, thank you Kool Keith, thank you Eazy-E and N.W.A… just a thank you to the people that are a part of our DNA.
What is your response to the critics who bristled that the Peas were finally coming back to their hip hop roots because their pop success has waned?
We made ‘Yesterday’ just for them. It’s a response to people who look at the Black Eyed Peas and say, “They ain’t hip hop.” That’s when I ask them, “So, if the Black Eyed Peas are not hip hop what was Queen Latifah’s song ‘Come Into My House’?" It was house, but still hip hop. You telling me Heavy D’s “Now That We Found Love” is not hip hop? Is Kid ‘n Play hip hop? People have been conditioned to think that hip hop is just this one edgy, gangsta, drug-peddling, prison commercial music.
It’s Trap all day…
Right, if I wanted to learn how to make crack I have the blueprint with a lot of the records out right now [laughs]. That’s the difference between what N.W.A. did with a song like "Dope Man” vs. what we hear today. Eazy, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Ren and Yella were speaking from both sides of the dope game: the drug dealer and the victim. That part where they go, “Yo Mr. Dopeman you think you’re slick, you sold crack to my sister and now she’s sick/ If she happens to die from one of your drugs/ I’m puttin’ in your culo, a .38 slug!” That was the other side of the dope game. N.W.A was rapping about selling drugs as a means to eat. N***as today rap about selling drugs like it’s a sport.
You mentioned Eazy, a man you have frequently called your mentor. Are you happy to see him and the rest of the N.W.A receive such a glowing mainstream spotlight with the massive box office hit Straight Outta Compton?
We don’t celebrate Eazy-E enough. Eazy’s legacy is up to us to hold up. There wouldn’t be a Dr. Dre, no Beats By Dre if it wasn’t for Eazy having that belief in him. There wouldn’t be an Ice Cube as we know him. Eazy set the foundation for people to even have a start. How many people have emulated what Eazy has done in terms of being the street dude who went out and did it on his own? There wouldn’t be a Tupac, a Cash Money or none of that stuff if it wasn’t for Ruthless and Eazy-E. It wasn’t called gangsta rap before N.W.A came out.
Did you ever feel out of place on the very gangsta Ruthless?
We were signed to Ruthless Records in 1992 because the great Eazy-E looked at us as his Digable Planets. That was his whole premise. He would tell us, 'Yo, you guys can be A Tribe Called Quest and Digables except from the West Coast.' Remember, this was at a time when N.W.A was hip hop right besides Father MC and the Jungle Brothers and Salt-N-Pepa. We were all hip hop.
What was it like to personally work with Eazy-E?
Eazy had a bunch of people writing for him because he was just trying to get the best s**t. I would ghostwrite for other groups and other things he was working on. We would go down to the studio on Torrance. It was us and Blood of Abraham…that was our universe…just trying to get acknowledged in a sea of talent like B.G. Knockout.
B.G. Knockout… you are taking me back!
You know… back then me and apl.de.ap were called Atban Klann. We were signed to Ruthless before Bone Thugs-N-Harmony was signed. We were on the shelf and we were very young.
Take me back to the moment you found out Eazy had died from AIDS. Were you shocked?
It was crazy. So Eazy tells me, “I just got back from New York. MTV really loves your video. When I get out of the hospital we will put it out.” He went to New York to play everyone on his roster to MTV. Everybody thought he had bronchitis. Less than 11 days later, Eazy died of AIDS. I didn’t understand it.
How would you like people to remember Eazy-E?
Just as someone who really believed in his artists. Eazy would be like, “Ya’ll think this n***a Will 1X is weird. Will, freestyle for these motherf***s! I bet ya’ll can’t battle this n****a!” So I would freestyle and Eazy would proclaim proudly, “I told y’all that mother***r was dope!” We would go to vintage stores and buy old man suits. That was our style. But Eazy believed in us.
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Watch: 106 & Rewind! will.i.am talks to Terrence J and Rosci About Longevity, in the video below.
(Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for W Hotels Worldwide)