Why will.i.am Deserves More Hip Hop Cred
The Black Eyed Peas may not be as pervasive a musical entity as they were in previous years, but man – there was a solid decade there where you couldn’t step outside without hearing one of the hip hop-turned-pop group’s many chart-topping songs. For that ubiquity alone, many have less than fond opinions of the group’s music (it doesn’t help that much has been written about the collective’s conscious decision – under the leadership of producer/rapper/superstar will.i.am to abandon their true-school hip hop roots to make a grab for mainstream success).
But you know what? All that aside, will.i.am is an undeniable talent whose sometimes-shrewd career decisions may have obscured some of the truly impressive and undeniable music moments that could warm the hearts of even the most die-hard “keep it real” hip hop purists. You just have to look – ahem – “behind the front.”
will.i.am is an incredible hip hop producer.
It might seem easy to discredit a guy who steeped himself so deeply inside the world of pop music, but will.i.am’s background as a very dope hip hop producer has informed most of the songs he has made. Even after the Black Eyed Peas had begun their ascent, he was still competing in beat battles with some of the underground’s most prolific beatmakers, as evidenced in DJ Dusk’s Rootdown Soundclash DVD which captured a 2002 throwdown between the BEP frontman and Thes One from indie group People Under the Stairs. Shortly after partaking in this head-to-head battle in Los Angeles, will.i.am would record “Where Is The Love?” with Justin Timberlake and BEP.
He’s been in the room for some of your favorite hip hop songs.
Many hardcore hip hop heads would pit will.i.am against his more “conscious” contemporaries like Mos Def, comparing the music of the BEP to other groups that “kept it real.” Few were aware of the fact that the lines in the sand weren’t so distinct, as a quick liner notes check reveals that will.i.am actually played Rhodes piano on Mos Def’s classic “Umi Says” from his Black on Both Sides album in 1999. Take THAT, backpackers!
His solo work is as hip hop as it gets.
In the early ’00s, will.i.am released a pair of solo albums that were as far from the pop radio aesthetic of the BEP as could be. Showcasing the jazzier and more out-there aesthetic of his artistry, these records also featured a who’s-who of the hip hop underground and legends, including A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg, KRS-ONE, MC Supernatural, Planet Asia, MC Lyte, and more.
Let’s not act like he totally abandoned his roots, either.
By the time the Black Eyed Peas released their fourth album Monkey Business, the group had already dominated the music world, having sold close to 10 million copies of their previous album Elephunk. Still, will.i.am included the song “Like That” on the album, featuring a hip hop wet dream of Q-Tip, Cee-Lo Green, Talib Kweli, and John Legend all collaborating on one track.
In the mood for some Black Eyed Peas? Score free downloads from will.i.am and the gang on the Trebel app!