Fresh Pair’s first season wrapped up this week with one of hip-hop’s biggest hitmakers, Will.I.Am, who stopped by share tidbits of his long and storied career with Just Blaze and Katty Customs. A producer and rapper who has been a fixture of the rap business since the early ’90s, he’s seen it all — from a rough and rugged start in LA’s indie underground scene to the majestic heights of international superstardom.
And while his hits can be, well, a bit divisive among hardcore hip-hop heads, there’s simply no denying that the man knows how to create an absolute smash. The truly crazy part, though, is that he might even be underrated once you consider how much work he’s done outside of the stuff with Black Eyed Peas and the super popular European hits. There are plenty of gems to be mined from Will’s discography — if you know where to look.
These are the best Will. I.Am songs, ranked.
10. “This Is Love” feat. Eva Simons
So much of Will’s latter-day output receives a lot of criticism from rap purists who can’t reconcile his electronic and dance leanings with his early status as a backpack rap pioneer. But here’s the thing — his embrace of styles like electro, house, and techno is just as foundational to rap as breakbeats and jazz samples. He’s going for wide appeal now, but that shouldn’t mean overlooking gems like the single “This Is Love” from his 2013 solo album #willpower.
9. “Feelin’ Myself” feat. French Montana, Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa
One of the more “rappy” singles from #willpower, “Feelin’ Myself” lines up some of rap’s most pop-leaning presences (along with Miley Cyrus at the height of her Bangerz flirtation with hip-hop) for a hypnotic club anthem that blends the electro stuff he’d been working on at the time with the “ratchet” chant that was flourishing elsewhere in rap. It works.
8. Black Eyed Peas — “Back 2 HipHop” feat. Nas
On 2018’s Masters Of The Sun, Vol. 1, Black Eyed Peas returned to the creative wellspring that birthed them. What better way to celebrate going “back to hip-hop” than recruiting one of the genre’s most revered stalwarts to remind fans of what they’re capable of? The best part is that they make no apologies for their divergence into pop — instead they boast their ability to make such a departure so successfully without losing touch with what made them cool in the first place.
7. A.T.B.A.N Klann – “No Sequel”
Long before he was the frontman of Black Eyed Peas, Will (along with bandmate Apl.De.Ap) was a member of a different hip-hop unit, the Pharcyde/Freestyle Fellowship-esque A.T.B.A.N Klann. Still teenagers at the time, they were signed to Ruthless Records by Eazy-E, who dug their alt-rap style for his ostensibly gangsta rap-oriented imprint. They never released their album, Grass Roots, but it has since leaked, giving a glimpse into what could have been. It was later given an official vinyl release 25 years later in 2020.
6. Black Eyed Peas — “Constant” feat. Slick Rick
Another Masters Of The Sun cut featuring a rap legend, the beat on “Constant” harkens back to Will.I.Am’s earliest production work and the jazzy sounds from his 2001 solo debut Lost Change, while updating it with the orchestral sensibilities of Elephunk and embracing their dance music leanings. Honestly, the whole album was criminally slept on.
5. “Ev Rebahdee” feat. Planet Asia
This is where I smack the haters in the head for doubting that Will.I.Am is actually ill on the mic. The intro to Lost Change found Will holding his own alongside one of the most respected underground spitters of the early 2000s backpack rap scene.
4. Black Eyed Peas — “Request + Line” feat. Macy Gray
In 2000, Black Eyed Peas released Bridging The Gap, their second album and the one that put them on many rap fans’ radars. This hidden track from the album was their first entry on the Hot 100 chart, as well as giving them their first top forty hit in multiple territories outside the US. If not for this minor hit, they might have stayed another turn-of-the-millennium underground rap footnote. Instead, it became the first step toward their world domination.
3. Black Eyed Peas — “Joints & Jam”
The third single released from BEP’s debut LP Behind The Front, which culled the A.T.B.A.N. Klann’s Grass Roots sessions with the addition of Taboo, “Joints & Jams” is fondly remembered in LA’s B-boy community as one of the few local singles that seemed expressly made for them. An upbeat, unrelentingly positive bop, it laid the groundwork for what would become their signature sound, with roots in dance and old-school hip-hop, with a family-friendly eye toward good vibes for everybody. They’ve never really lost that perspective since.
2. Black Eyed Peas — “Weekend” feat. Esthero
My personal favorite song from Bridging The Gap, it was the first time I heard modern hip-hop (at the time of its release) with disco and funk influences, made specifically for dance floors at the sort of low-key cafes and poetry jams I frequented (yes, I was a NERD). But it had a relatable message, it was different than anything that was out at the time, and it really had an undeniable groove that got me out of my mean-mugging, super serious rap head stance. Hip-hop could be fun again. You can’t put a price on that.
1. Black Eyed Peas — “RITMO (Bad Boys For Life)” feat. J Balvin
Blame it on recency bias or being sucked into the reggaeton vortex, but 1 billion views on YouTube isn’t a fluke. It’s something totally different from what BEP’s done before (and was likely the impetus behind the group’s full-fledged leap into reggaeton on Translation in 2020) but it somehow bridged the gap between the entirety of their discography. It proved that there was style just as much road ahead of them as behind, as long as they can keep transforming and pushing the boundaries of what was to define what can be.