Release Date: Apr 23, 2013
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Pop, Electronic, Rap, R&B, Urban, Pop/Rock, Contemporary R&B, Pop-Rap, Party Rap
Will.i.am's fourth solo album is exactly the Death Star-size Jägerbomb you'd expect. On #willpower, the Black Eyed Peas rapper-producer compares himself to Mark Zuckerberg, rips off "Ni**as in Paris" and siphons Chris Brown, Bieber, Britney, Miley, Skylar Grey, K-pop act N2E1 and many more through mistily whooshing, thunderously stomping dance pop that manages to be both hilariously one-dimensional and obsessively high-def. "This Is Love," with Dutch singer Eva Simons, is the "I Gotta Feeling"-style planet-smasher, and the Britney-abetted "Scream & Shout," is a slinky devil robot.
Will.i.am (William Adams) has played a gargantuan role in pop music. As one quarter of genre-bending band The Black Eyed Peas, the producer, rapper, and singer has achieved phenomenal success. The key is that his success has been constrained to his band or collaborations with others. As a solo artist, success has eluded him; Songs About Girls (2007) delivered a minor pop hit with “I Got It From My Mama”, but failed to capitalize commercially.
That hashtag directs the mind back to the Olympic torch procession, when will.i.am managed to fire off a string of tweets while carrying the flame through Taunton. That self-serving attitude also attends the Black Eyed Pea's first solo album since 2007. He's written 18 joylessly competent club tracks, roped in pals including Lil' Wayne, Nicole Scherzinger and Justin Bieber, and contrived some mutually beneficial hookups with newer artists (watch his stock rise in Asia as a result of association with South Korean girl-band 2NE1 adding a naughty rap to the dopey banger Getting Dumb – which, by the way, is the freshest moment on the record).
What with his TV talent show duties, a voice acting career and an ambassadorial role at Intel (its five-note musical ident is inelegantly shoehorned into Geekin'), it might look as if making music is no longer will.i.am's chief concern. That suspicion is certainly borne out by this underwhelming fourth solo album. The factory default is for disposable, cheesy, trance-influenced pop with Auto-Tuned vocals (Hello, Let's Go, This is Love), although #thatPOWER bucks the trend with an anaemic Daft Punk pastiche featuring Justin Bieber.
Black Eyed Peas ringleader will. i. am's last solo outing was 2007's Songs About Girls, a hearty collection of relaxed R&B pop that was mostly left in the shadows as his main act grew in popularity to the scope of Superbowl halftime shows and world records for most downloaded singles.
How the Black Eyed Peas went from quirky underground hip-hop outfit to hamfisted, self-congratulating pop masturbators seems like one of the great tragedies of modern pop music. There are those all too willing to blame Fergie, considering the group's clumsy, mass-market anthems appeared with greater frequency after her arrival, most of the group's post-millennial obsession with mindless, nonsensical sing-alongs can be traced back to co-founder and mastermind will.i.am. It was he, after all, who was responsible for the sterile, stupid dance-pop on the Peas' 2001 breakthrough, Elephunk, and once the group hit paydirt there was no abandoning the formula.
Due credit should be given to will.i.am for being a master pun-meister. The constant hitmaker and coding preacher sums up his identity into a condensed twitter hashtag, one that fittingly describes a self-determined producer with the mad talent of writing the sort of tacked-on, blasé beats that continues to architecture the scenery of pop music with drab, brutalist walls. Besides being fortunate enough to have such a versatile name, he continues to splice the sort of lopsided, pitch-shifting bangers that are flexible enough to potentially get all the seven continents to get along.
The rechristening of Snoop Dogg (né Snoop Doggy Dogg) into Snoop Lion, the extremely chill reggae superhero, at first didn’t seem much like an evolution. He’d long been low-key, long had an air of knowing semi-spirituality, long been preoccupied with smoking weed. Did he really need to don Rastafarian drag too? But what Snoop Dogg had not long been, he said, was a force for good.
Say what you will about will.i.am, he has a knack for crafting earworm tracks that are impossible to shake, in part because of their ubiquity, but also his ingenious pop-craftsmanship (and, here, nearly every hit-maker in the game). Even flaccid stabs at returning to the “I Gotta Feeling” territory like “Hello” are stacked with hooks. Which isn’t to say it’s an enjoyable song, just admirable.