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Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'?

will.i.am: photo courtesy Interscope/Polydor

It's been another day with wisps of different ideas coming together in the same place, slightly unexpectedly. The end result is that I'm going to mark the death of Michael Jackson by posting some previously unpublished parts of an interview with will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. And if you bear with me, the reasons for doing so may possibly hove in to view.

I'd been in mind of this old interview since Perez Hilton accused will.i.am of beating him up earlier in the week, then decided to claim that what happened to him was part of an ugly pattern. I wouldn't pretend to know will or the Peas at all, but I have spent a little time with him, and found him witty, intelligent and very good company - certainly, he doesn't come across like the type to go round slugging people, even people whose lives seem to be largely dedicated to deriving profit from insulting others. I've also, over time, found that there tends to be a correlation between the people creating art and the art they create; if the latter exhibits certain personality traits, and feels real and accurate, chances are you'll find the former to be in keeping when and if you get to meet them. So it came as little surprise to then learn on reading past the Tweets and the headlines that Hilton's assailant was an employee of the Peas', not will himself - and that the whole thing happened because Perez shouted a homophobic term of abuse at will. And there was certainly no raised eyebrows round these parts when John Mayer - who made his views on the celebrity media and how it operates clear some time ago - got into it with Perez. Yet I felt somewhat conflicted.

I'm not keen on Hilton or the style of journalism he practices (I don't deny it is journalism, or say this out of some Luddite fear of new media or the notion that a blog is a collaborative work-in-progress: I just don't feel happy accepting that abuse is the same as opinion, and I don't trust anyone who slings a lot of rocks then takes no responsibility for where they land). But I'm also not keen on the idea that someone should be beaten up because of what they write, or what they say. There's a lot to be said for some of the analysis here, but some selective quoting and a palpable bias ends up painting Mayer as an intellectual bully: I think that's a seriously bad call - based, I freely admit, on nothing more than a couple of hours with the man and plenty more listening to and thinking about his music. I still feel his worldview is one that makes more sense than most.

Then comes Michael Jackson's collapse and emergency dash to hospital. And here's how Perez responds: he calls it a publicity stunt and goes on the attack (as one might expect from someone with such an exaggeratedly bilious persona to promote and reinforce). A few moments later and he realises what's happened, so he deletes the original post, and instead starts writing things that are more in keeping with his readers' mood - ie, less likely to result in droves of people abandoning him and his site. I don't mind him making the wrong call - anyone can make a mistake - but he compounds the error when he tries to walk away from what he's made to look like a stand taken on a point of principle for superficial, commercial reasons. I wasn't waiting for - or expecting - anything back from Mayer or will.i.am, but when Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson followed up, I found myself warming to them, even though I've no great interest in their work, or them as people. (This in turn started feeding in to another issue du semaine, the Nightjack/Times brouhaha, because I started to wonder whether I was doing what Martin Cloake points out we shouldn't, and allowing my definitions of acceptable behaviour to become pliable depending on my feelings about the people whose behaviour I was considering. But I digress.)

Anyway. In one of his tweets, Hilton pointed to a story about an incident in 2006 where the Black Eyed Peas were involved in a fight with a bouncer at a German venue. And finally, I get to the point. In the summer of 2007, I interviewed will.i.am at his home in Los Angeles, and he told me a fantastic story that I wasn't able to include in the piece I wrote about him at the time, which links the fight in Germany to Michael Jackson via a private jet and an unexpected dash through a Las Vegas traffic jam and a case of mistaken identity and... well, you'll see.

---

will.i.am: I'm at the BET Awards, and I'm like, 'Fuck! I'm gonna miss Prince! He's about to go on, and when he goes on, I'm gonna be in an airplane flyin' to Germany 'cos we're doin' our show. So let me go see his rehearsal.' So I watch his rehearsal. So I'm sittin' in the front, he's there, I'm like, 'Damn! That's Prince!' So then he's gettin' his guitar strap on, gettin' ready to do a guitar solo, he grabs the mic and throws it to me! So I'm like, I'mma start rappin'. Like, 'Wow! This is crazy!' So they finish, and he says...

[in a spot-on Prince impersonation] 'Is that where you're gonna be durin' the show?'

I was like, 'Nah, actually, I'm gettin' ready to take a flight back to Germany to perform.'

[as Prince] 'Too bad. It woulda been great to show our people how it's supposed to be done.'

I'm like... 'what?' So I call the record company, right? I'm like, 'Yo, is there a way you could charter me a jet?' I don't like private planes, I just like flyin' commercial, with people. But I was like, 'I don't wanna take that Lufthansa flight because it leaves at eight, and Prince goes on at 7.30. Could you just give me a private jet? I think it's important. I'm here to perform with Busta, but to play with Busta and Prince, on BET? I think that's a little better, right?' But the record company didn't wanna pay for it. I'm like, 'Damn it!' So I call my manager Seth. 'Yo Seth - what the fuck! Prince said to perform with him! I get the chance to perform with Prince on the BET Awards! I came here to perform with Busta - don't you think it would be hot if I ended that night rockin' with Prince too? That's gonna put me on a whole different level!' So he was like, 'Gosh, will, Interscope doesn't wanna pay for the flight'. I was like, 'How much is it gonna cost?' He's like, 'Well, that's a 200,000-dollar plane ticket'. I'm like, 'Ah, damn.'

[He pauses, miming being lost in thought for a second] 'Aren't I gonna produce music for them next year? They got acts, right? They're gonna want me to do beats! Well, tell 'em to give me an advance for the beats I'm gonna do for 'em, and I'll give 'em those beats for free! I'm gonna produce for 'em anyway, so, tell 'em that the next three songs I do for 'em is for free. Because, one, I need to do the beats anyway, 'cos I got a publishin' deal that I need to fulfil: I'm gonna have to do that anyway. So tell 'em to pay for that, and I'll do the beats for free, I'll do my publishin' thing, I'll perform with Prince, and they gave me the loot that they're gonna give me anyways!' So we worked it out. We get on stage, and I rock with Prince. And it was great. Fly off to Germany. Right when we land I go on stage... Right? Rock with Prince, fly to Germany, land, go on stage, after the stage, go to the after-party, fight.

AB: What was the fight about?

will: The German dudes beat up our securty dude, because our security guy kept flashin' a light on the paparazzis' eyes. So they were like, 'Put the flashlight away!' He was like, 'It's a little flashlight, dude'. So, anyway, there was a fight. I go to jail. The police dudes in Germany were like, 'Oh! Black Eyed Peas! Take a picture!' They let me go. I'm like, 'Come on, dude? See this hat? You think I'm gonna get in a fight with this little Peter Pan hat?' So they let me go, right? [Cackles and slaps palm] So they let me go.

Fast forward eight months later, I'm in Vegas and I get a call from Prince's assistant. 'Hey, Prince wants to know if you wanna rock with him at the Palms tonight.' I'm there! Right? Hold on, the story is not even... it gets even crazier. I'm there. Rock with Prince. He's like,

[as Prince] 'That was great.'

I'm like, 'Cool!'

[as Prince] 'Same place, same time tomorrow.'

Right? Hold on, it gets crazier. So we're there, same place, same time tomorrow. Cool! Lo and behold, we get off stage [at a Peas show]. Right after we get off stage, ring ring ring: it's Prince's assistant. 'You wanna rock with Prince again tonight?' I'm there! Hang up the phone, count to five minutes, ring-ring-ring. 'Hello?'

[In perfect falsetto Michael Jackson voice] 'Hey will, how you doin'?'

'Hey Mike!'

[as Michael] 'Hey, um, I heard you just got a show in Vegas. I really wanted to come.'

'Yeah, yeah, I just... I just performed.'

[as Michael] 'Oh wow. So what you doin' now?'

'I'm about to go perform with Prince.'

[as Michael] 'Oh wow. Really?'

'Yeah, you should come!'

[as Michael] 'Oh, you think it's alright?'

'Tssshhhooo! It's at the Palms.'

[as Michael] 'Alright, I'll be there.'

Click-click. I'm stuck in traffic. Fuck! What the fuck! I'm in traffic! Ring-ring-ring.

[as Michael] 'We're here now - where you at?'

'Aw, Mike - I'm in traffic. I'll be there right now.'

[as Michael] 'OK.' Click-click.

Bumper-to-bumper: it's NBA All-Star weekend. Cars ain't goin' anywhere, right? I'm like, 'Fuck! Stop the car!' Stopped the car. 'Dante, let's go!' We runnin'. So we're runnin'. No security! I'm like, [mimes cartoon sprint].

will.i.am in full flight: photo courtesy Interscope/Polydor

 

[Imitating shout from a passer-by] 'Black Eyed Peas!'

'Hey, wassup?'

[Another passer-by] 'Wyclef!'

'That ain't me?'

[Another passer-by] 'I think that was Wyclef!'

'No! It's me!'

So then, I get to the place, Palms hotel, [mimes out of breath] 'Hurry up! Get on stage!' Fhu-foom. Do my little thing. Prince goes to change. I'm on stage for like two minutes, conducting the band. I'm like, 'What the hell? Oh, I don't care, I'm gonna rock it'. So Prince comes back on:

[as Prince] 'Give it up for will.i.am!'

I'm like, 'Phew. Damn!' Get off the stage. Michael Jackson's right there in the centre, at the back. He's like,

[as Michael] 'Wow, that was awesome! I didn't even know you rapped!'

'You didn't know I rapped?'

[as Michael] 'No, I thought the guy with the long hair raps.'

'We all rap.'

[as Michael] 'Oh, I just thought you did the music and wrote the songs.'

'I write the songs too.'

[as Michael] 'Oh, that's awesome, we need to do some of that stuff on the stuff we're workin' on.'

'I think we can put some raps on there, yeah.'

---

 

We wrapped up this part of the interview by talking about Michael's then mooted comeback album - which I expect probably was never going to see the light of day, and which now (no pun intended) will.

 

AB: So how's his album coming along?

will: We did about three, four songs now.

AB:
As a result of that night?

will: Before that night we had already worked together in Ireland and worked together in Vegas a couple times.

AB: How's it sounding?

will: His voice is like... it's still incredible.

AB: And what sort of songs are they? Can you say, or are you not allowed to really?

will: Erm... Really, we're just focused on... The only thing we're worryin' about is melodies. There's really no genre that we're tryin' to stick with, they're just infectious melodies. It's not about crazy beats that are just gonna be here today and gone tomorrow, but melodies that'll stay for a lifetime. That's what we're... not what we're tryin' to come up with, but what we're coming up with. And if that melody don't work? Just keep comin' back. It's really about the melodies.





Comments

Great piece..



posted by: James Davies: 30 Jun, 2009 14:23:28

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