VIBE: Over the years, you and the Black Eyed Peas have taken hits for not being “real” hip-hop. What is your response?
Will.i.am: I am hip-hop! If there’s anyone that’s the personification of hip-hop, I’m probably the most hip-hop nigga out of all these hip-hop niggas. But hip-hop editorial and blogs and even some of the hip-hop fans don’t see it that way, which is cool. I’m going to win. I’m going to win and win bigger than all these niggas are winning. And they probably don’t see that. I’m winning regardless of what hip-hop thinks of what I am. I won’t shrivel up in a little ball and not continue to rock, rock planet rock, don’t stop just because a few people think the [Black Eyed Peas] is just a pop act.
I [always] knew I was going to move more into dance and club. That’s the reason I produced Nas’ “Hip Hop Is Dead.” People forgot that hip-hop was a bunch of things back in the days. Hip-hop was the Jungle Brothers’ “I’ll House You.” When someone is denying what they are, then that’s when things start to spiral down. Hip-hop is limiting itself and that also goes for editorially. Magazines and websites are the gatekeepers of what people think hip-hop is, but they actually end up limiting what hip-hop can be.
I can do a Talib Kweli track [“Hot Thing”] and Estelle’s “American Boy,” and co-write “Ordinary People” with John Legend and I’m still hip-hop. If Nas calls me for another track, I can do that. But at the same time, if Usher calls me I can do [an “OMG”] as well. Songs like “OMG” are international hits, not just hits on American urban radio. I’m talking about the fucking world! And those kind of accomplishments don’t get you the cover of VIBE. I don’t need anyone to validate me. I am hip-hop. —As told to Keith Murphy