When the Black Eyed Peas made the jump from the L.A. conscious-rap underground to the top of the pops in the early 2000s, their crossover success opened the doors for group ringleader will.i.am to execute his own transformation from mere MC into omnipresent showbiz impresario. Whether he’s dropping his own chart-busting solo hits, producing tracks for pop’s biggest names, appearing in Hollywood blockbusters, or coaching the next generation of stars on The Voice, will.i.am (born William James Adams Jr. in 1975) is the snazzily dressed personification of hip-hop’s evolution from gritty inner-city music to a world-dominating cultural force embedded in all facets of the contemporary musical landscape. “I like challenges, I like doing things that push myself,” he tells Apple Music, and even before the Peas blew up with their third album, Elephunk, in 2003, will.i.am was already expanding his horizons. His 2001 solo effort, Lost Change, showcased both his outsized charismatic personality and his ability to infuse classic soul, funk, and jazz beats with global influences and experimental aesthetics. But once the Peas reinvented themselves as America’s most reliable purveyors of libidinous dance-pop bops, will.i.am became the go-to producer for A-list artists across all genres—Justin Timberlake and U2 included—looking to inject their music with the same streetwise sass and joie de vivre. Released in 2013, #willpower, is the ultimate testament to will.i.am’s kingmaker powers and ear-to-the-ground expertise, roping in an all-star cast (Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus) for an era-defining set of EDM-pumped bangers. But the social consciousness that fueled the Peas’ early work remains at the core of will.i.am’s identity: His breezy 2021 aspirational anthem “American Dream” doubled as fundraiser to improve higher-education access in marginalized communities.
HOMETOWNLos Angeles, CA
BORNMarch 15, 1975