Will.i.am is a hip-hop and EDM trailblazer and the architect behind the global juggernaut Black Eyed Peas. He’s earned stripes as an underground backpack rapper and an elite producer – remember when he produced for Nas and Game? – and he is a veritable global superstar. With all of his accomplishments, the track record, it’s still hard to peg William Adams to a particular genre and fan base. I mean, who admits to being a will.i.am fan? In a sense, his self-perpetuated eccentricity is what keeps him relevant. He dips his feet into different genres, experiments, and creates party music that lives in the club.
The title of will’s new album, #willpower, says a lot about his headspace. This isn’t hashtag rap in the vein of Big Sean, however. Will.i.am is in full electronica party mode through the first five tracks of the project, bringing along Afrojack for “Hello” and Britney Spears for the single “Scream & Shout.” They are hard to discern from each other, probably because they were meant to be that way – as if will.i.am was getting warmed up at a DJ gig – with each sounding more robotic and futuristic than the next. Only Eva Simons’ soulfully belted chorus on “This Is Love” saves the top third of #willpower from being one long electronica intro, and along the way, will.i.am. professes his “love for computer beats” rather brashly.
The uber-positive, hold-your-hands-and-dance vibe is eased out, thankfully, with a few more memorable songs on the back end. On “Geekin,” which sounds like a will’s on a Timbaland beat with a flow reminiscent of Nicki Minaj, will.i.am describes his affinity for tech in a funny, self-effacing way that brushes up against the border with corny when he raps, “I’m so paid my friends call me Paypal/I make a lot of chips so they call me Intel.” It’s hard to take lyrics like these seriously, which might be intentional. On “Freshy,” which features a sparse, drug-referencing verse from Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J, there are so many boastful, ridiculous lines that it seems like the song is an SNL parody (how else is one supposed to take a line such as, “I’m gonna buy me a jumbo jet, lease it to the New York Jets” or “ball hard muthaf**ka, be black”).
The few high points on #willpower occur when will.i.am decides to take on serious subjects. On “Smile Mona Lisa,” will pens atypically poetic lyrics dedicated to an aspiring model over a simple acoustic guitar instrumental. On “Ghetto Ghetto,” featuring Baby Kaely, he pontificates about the plight of children growing up in the ghetto, while on “The World Is Crazy,” he bemoans various maladies affecting the world.
No doubt, will.i.am is a curiosity – or, depending on who you ask, a downright weirdo. Still, it’s hard to hate his avant-garde ways. #willpower, which has been in the works for several years and previously titled Black Einstein, has to be placed into context as a side project for will. He clearly lives in his own universe and, marching to his own drum, makes music that doesn’t conform to any particular genre. It takes a certain open-mindedness to listen and fully gain something from this album.