“I’ve been here before,” says will.i.am, reached by Zoom at his studio in Los Angeles. In the wake of 9/11, the Black Eyed Peas front man—born William Adams—co-wrote “Where Is the Love?”; eight years later, he co-wrote “I Gotta Feeling” as an escapist response to the 2008 financial crisis.
In late March, will.i.am released another unifying anthem in the face of a global crisis: the song “#Sing4Life” features will.i.am, Bono, Jennifer Hudson and Yoshiki performing together, albeit in their own homes, and offers a message of solidarity in the face of isolation. As will.i.am prepares the Black Eyed Peas’ eighth studio album, which he says will arrive this summer, he talks to TIME about creating in crisis and more. Excerpts of the conversation are below.
TIME: Are you having trouble finding inspiration in this anxious moment?
will.i.am: No. I have no distractions. I’m in the studio, and it’s the only thing I have to do. I don’t have to fly to London—I do a Zoom now and then. I have two or three ideas a day. I scour through Instagram, I read Twitter, I meditate. I go to French news sites and use Google Translate. I feel more connected to the world than I have ever been.
What drew you to working on “#Sing4Life”?
If you’re on Twitter scrolling, scrolling, looking for something to make you feel better about the situation, you’re being bombarded by so much that none of it is really landing. Spiritually and mentally, we have this layer of resistance. But Bono’s message got through: he figured out a way to smuggle it into my heart. So I was like, “You know what? Let me respond to that.”
Do you feel like you have a duty to create something uplifting?
When you have to sneeze because of allergies, do you have a duty to sneeze or do you just react? I didn’t plan to do it. Something went in my spirit—a song—I had to let it out. There are a lot of people that are sensitive like me: highly emotional, with mood swings. I’ve figured out a way so that I don’t need medicine for it. Music is my medicine.
Over the past few years you’ve collaborated with superstars from around the world, from Ozuna to J Balvin to CL. Why do you have this global focus?
The folks you just mentioned have this extraordinary reach—and they’ve figured it out themselves. I’m drawn to folks that are architects of their own frequency. The globe is the new village, and these guys—Ozuna, Anitta, Piso 21, Balvin, Becky G—are the new titans.
The record company did not build them. The things that came out of the traditional pop machine, that’s done. Those artists are having a hard time existing right now. It’s a totally different ballgame than it was in the ’90s and ’00s. For us now, it’s, How do we populate that feed? What keeps our name at the highest level on these streaming platforms?
What are we learning from being in isolation?
People like to say we’re locked up in prison. No: how about we’re in school, to learn about how to be in this new age?
Maybe this is teaching us just to be better people, to be better citizens and occupants of the planet, and be mindful of what we consume and how we behave. Because when this is over, what are we going to do? Are we just going to go back and f-ck up the Earth again? We’re just going to go back and be rude to each other again? Are we just going to go back to the world and be swallowed by the phone?
What are you working on right now?
In 2003, the Black Eyed Peas sang, “What’s wrong with the world, Mama?” In 2009, we sang, “I feel stressed out, I wanna let it go.” Now is the time for me to do the new version of that.
I’ve been here two times already. Have you seen The Mandalorian? I see it: there’s this glowing thing that’s telling me [lowers voice ominously], “This is the way.”
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