will’s Power: The 15 Best will.i.am Beats
Today, super-producer/fashion icon/sometimes-hologram will.i.am put out a new record, #willpower, a dance-pop supernova of an album that features Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber, k-pop stars 2NE1, and a long list of other huge acts. The album is pretty much what you'd expect - a lot of rave beats and huge anthemic hooks and simple one-liners sprinkled throughout. And the truth is, it works for him, for whatever he's become in the past few years.
will.i.am wasn't always like this, though. When he started out, will was signed to Eazy E's Ruthless Records and made jazzy beats as the producer for Black Eyed Peas, who were then a backpack rap outfit from LA. By the time Fergie came along and helped the BEPs transition into a global pop super-squad and headline the Super Bowl halftime show, will's hip-hop roots were all but long gone.
But, there was a stretch there in the mid-2000s - up until 2009, when the Peas released their career-defining The E.N.D. - when will re-emerged as a premiere hip-hop producer, working with everyone from conscious minds like Talib and Common to money-getters like The Game and Flo Rida. To celebrate will's new album and take a look back at his hip-hop history, we've compiled a list of will.i.am's best beats. -- Additional reporting by Sean Ryon.
Black Eyed Peas ft. De La Soul - "Cali to New York" (2000)
Before smashing the pop charts with dance-heavy singles, the Black Eyed Peas stuck to a largely underground-oriented sound that combined glossy pop production with definitively hip-hop sampling techniques. With a pulsating bass line, crisp drums and light and jazzy guitar groove, BEP's collaboration with De La Soul perfectly blends will.i.am's pop sensibility and De La's Native Tongues history.
Black Eyed Peas ft. Les Nubians & Mos Def - "On My Own" (2000)
Like "Cali to New York," will.i.am's production on "On My Own" succeeds largely because of his excellent mix of underground-tinged samples and a booming bass line. Flipping a sample of Roy Budd's "Getting Nowhere in a Hurry" from the Get Carter soundtrack, the song incorporates smooth R&B vocals and a drum-n-bass breakdown that shows early signs of will.i.am's inclination for genre-bending sonics.
will.i.am ft. KRS-One - "Take It" (2003)
KRS-One without a knocking boom-bap would be like a Tarantino movie without violence and profanity - and luckily for listeners, wil.i.am channels his inner DJ Premier with this sample-heavy cut. He cleverly blends a loop of the Skull Snaps' "It's A New Day" break with Dr. Dre-reminiscent synth stabs for a track that bridges Golden Era New York and G-funk California.
will.i.am ft. Phife Dawg - "Nah Mean" (2003)
Mixing samples of Minnie Riperton's "Only When I'm Dreaming" and what sounds like strings from a Bollywood film, will.i.am achieves a J Dilla level of sampling on this collaboration with A Tribe Called Quest's shortest member, Phife Dawg. The production has enough of an underground feel to satisfy hip-hop nerds, while providing enough of a rhythmic bounce to get club-goers dancing.
The Black Eyed Peas ft. Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, Cee-Lo & John Legend - "Like That" (2005)
will.i.am finds the perfect balance between an uptempo pop drum pattern and jazzy strings to create a song that pleases hip-hop heads and mainstream consumers alike. It also doesn't hurt that BEP enlisted Q-Tip and Talib Kweli to perfectly compliment this lady-aimed jawn.
Busta Rhymes ft. will.i.am - "I Love My Bitch" (2006)
If there's anyone who could've made Busta Rhymes relevant again, it's will.i.am, who brought Busta and Kelis together for this groovy sort-of love song that made loyal men everywhere scream out, "I love my bitch!" The video for the single was a so-so recreation of the Brad Bitt/Angelina Jolie movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, with Gabrielle Union playing Angie and (as usual) looking extra good.
Too $hort ft. will.i.am - "Keep Bouncin'" (2006)
While this single off Short Dogg's Blow the Whistle was outshined by the LP's crossover single of the same name, this is a funky Bay banger that sounds like a timely precursor to "My Humps." Snoop gets pretty vicious on his verses - you can tell being around $hort makes him embrace his nasty side. will even drops some bars here too, rapping "I want them boobies bouncing on my head." Amen.
The Game ft. will.i.am - "Compton" (2006)
The Game's Doctor's Advocate was definitely his best album, mostly because he no longer had Dr. Dre to lean on, and had to embrace a wide range of sounds from various producers. This cut is a great example of what happens when unlikely forces come together and bring out the best in each other. will's production here is brutally hard-hitting and reminiscent of NWA, while Game spits aggressively and introspectively about his hometown. It's magic.
Nas ft. will.i.am - "Hip Hop is Dead" (2006)
It's easy to forget how bold this song was. Before Jay eulogized auto-tune, Nas hopped on this "Thief's Theme"-esque jam to mourn the current state of the genre. While the intent here is a bit confusing - Nas is as bitter as he is braggadocios - the track is as close to heavy metal as he ever got. Also, Nas spitting his closing verse over nothing but record scratches and drums is just radical.
Nas ft. Chrisette Michelle - "Can't Forget About You" (2006)
Nas and will really went for the throwback vibe on Nasty's 2006 album, and this might've been the highlight of the record. On it, he emotionally reminisces on his long career and missteps, the memories that still stick out to him, and looks ahead to the next step for a hip-hop legend. will expertly samples Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" and makes you feel like you're being serenaded by a young Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in a downtown jazz club.
Common ft. will.i.am - "A Dream" (2007)
Common and will came together for this MLK-sampling track off the Freedom Writers soundtrack. It's equal parts motivating, sensual, and contemplative, and Common revisits his Like Water For Chocolate vibe to exorcise his demons about race, equality, and social status.
Common ft. will.i.am - "I Want You" (2007)
If 2005's Be marked Common's comeback, this song was the moment Common established himself as a sexy and charismatic leading man, capable of rapping about real life problems better than just about anybody. The beat is vibey and clearly influenced by acid jazz, which is a departure for will, but the boom-bap drums are still present and provide a perfect backdrop for Common to divulge his feelings about commitment and infidelity. This is grown-man music.
Talib Kweli ft. willi.am - "Hot Thing" (2007)
Talib must've heard will's production on Com's "I Want You" and wanted some for himself. This jam off Kweli's Eardrum is super sexy, as he raps about the litany of reasons he loves his girl, including her "country ass," "city sass," and "the white voice she's uses on the phone when she handles business." The video's pretty funny, as Kweli employs the same technique used in Jay-Z's HP "Hands" commercial, but overall this is a cute ode to a special, sexy lady.
Estelle ft. Kanye West - "American Boy" (2008)
For John Legend's signee Estelle's debut single, will.i.am reinterpreted his solo track "I Can't Wait" and turned it into a R&B banger that Estelle excitedly shines on. will even leaves a little room for a mink-wearing Yeezy to ad-lib and say things like, "What's your persona about this Americana?" It doesn't make sense, but no one minds - this song is all good vibes and flirtatious fun. It's too bad Estelle and will never recreated the awesomeness of "American Boy."
Flo Rida ft. will.i.am - "In the Ayer" (2008)
Now this isn't a great song by any means, but it really showcases will's versatility as a producer. One minute he's producing a Jamiroquai-esque beat for Common, the next he's making a synthy street-banger for Flo Rida. By the end of 2008, he'd be putting the finishing touches on electro power-jam "Boom Boom Pow." Dude's an eclectic and mystical workhorse of music-making.