Few people are as dominant across so many facets of a given field as will.i.am is across every corner of the music industry. He’s a recording artist in The Black Eyed Peas, and as a solo performer, he’s a songwriter, DJ and record producer.
But that’s far from all he does. He’s also a TV and movie star, philanthropist, technology nut and entrepreneur. What doesn’t will.i.am do?
How We Met Him and Music Career:
The Los Angeles-native was raised in an impoverished neighborhood, surrounded by gangs and crime. However, his humble beginnings helped shaped the man he would become. “The projects to me was wonderful because the joy for life, that’s all you have is life. That’s all you have is friends and family. I’m living proof of whatever you’re born into, your tomorrow could be totally different,” he reflects. He already had music on the brain as a youngster, meeting apl.de.ap when they were just kids.
But rapper Eazy-E saw something in them, signing their group Atban Klann to his Ruthless Records in 1992. It was after Eazy-E’s death that the group coalesced as The Black Eyes Peas in 1997.
And of course, that’s how many know will.i.am, first and foremost as one of the founding members of that group—The Black Eyed Peas have practically every imaginable honor: Grammys, MTV Video Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards—you name it. And it’s with The Black Eyed Peas he’s churned out crazy earbug hits like “Boom Boom Pow,” “Imma Be” and everyone’s wedding favorite “I Gotta Feeling.”
He’s also got four solo albums under his belt (with hits like “I Got It From My Mama”)—including the latest, #willpower, out just this year.
As a producer, he’s worked with just a few itty bitty artists you might have heard of—like Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, U2, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Nicki Minaj and Usher.
Not one to rest on his laurels, will.i.am has taken on many projects outside of the music industry. “Most people get comfortable. I don’t like getting comfortable,” he reveals. “I always like pushing myself, that’s how I got out of the projects. I’m always thinking of new things people haven’t done.”
Film and TV Career:
When it comes to acting, will.i.a.m’s career represents a huge range—from a Snickers commercial with other members of the band to starring in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Rio as a voice actor for animated characters—contributing his musical voice on those films’ soundtracks as well.
And now Brits know him as a coach on The Voice UK, bringing his big personality to the small screen.
Technology and Entrepreneurship:
When he appeared at an event for the 2011 FIRST Robotics Competition and performed in concert with the Black Eyed Peas as a part of a special concert for the high school robotics competition’s championships, will.i.am showed us the kind of nerdy (and we mean that in the best possible way) stuff he’s into.
And last year, during an appearance on the BBC’s Top Gear, he announced he’d be starting his own car company, IAMAUTO—with the goal of bringing jobs to his hometown of L.A. And he also came out with a new tech accessory, known as i.am+, to amp up your iPhone’s camera attachment. He even told Chelsea Handler this year he plans to go back to school for computer science!
Philanthropy and Politics:
will.i.am was active in both of President Barack Obama‘s presidential elections. During the 2008 campaign season, his call-and-respond style song “Yes We Can” featuring clips of Obama’s speeches and several celebrities, was viewed millions of times and won the musician a Webby award in 2008.
He’s the founder of the i.am.angel Foundation, meant to provide education and opportunity for folks in need—including by providing funding for related charitable groups that help with scholarships, homeowner assistance and more. “The world doesn’t need another opinion, they need another person taking action. So I take action because I see the call and respond,” he says.
Why He’s an Innovator:
Musician, movie actor, TV star, tech fan and entrepreneur, devoted philanthropist—all that and he was the first artist to stream a song from the surface of Mars last summer to boot, debuting his aptly named single “Reach for the Stars” with the help of the Curiosity Rover.
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