Will.i.am is fired up.
It’s just past midnight and we’re hanging out in the bedroom of his sprawling hotel suite at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Charlotte, N.C. In the living room, a DJ booth has been erected and a baby-grand piano sits in the corner.
Former president Bill Clinton has just delivered a galvanizing 48-minute speech at the Democratic National Convention that laid out point-by-point why the people should reelect President Obama. It may prove to be the turning point of the 2012 election, and the city—and its left-wing guests—are still buzzing.
"It made me proud to be an American,” he says with excitement. “When I saw Bill Clinton’s speech, I didn’t say, ‘Yay, Democrats!’ I said, ‘Americans!’ His speech was not about Republicans; it was about opportunists that don’t care about people’s well being. That’s what we’re dealing with. It isn’t Democrats vs. Republicans, it’s Americans vs. manipulators and corrupt business practices.”
The man formerly known as William James Adams Jr., serves as front man for the Black Eyed Peas—a socially conscious pop supergroup that’s sold over 56 million albums. When he’s not getting the party started, he serves as director of creative innovation for Intel, and even beamed his latest song, “Reach For The Stars,” from NASA’s rover Curiosity on Mars.
During the 2008 election, will.i.am campaigned on behalf of Senator Barack Obama, concocting a viral video, “Yes We Can,” with lyrics composed from Obama’s famous speech following the New Hampshire presidential primary. The video, featuring everyone from Scarlett Johansson to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, racked up over 24 million views. And on election night, he was beamed onto CNN’s set via hologram technology to have a surreal chat with Anderson Cooper, kicking off an unfortunate trend (see: hologram Tupac).
But nearest and dearest to his heart is his humanitarian work. Will.i.am recently opened a school in his hometown of East Los Angeles and has been an ardent supporter of improving education in the sciences. The artist-entrepreneur takes serious issue with the GOP and the Romney-Ryan economic plan, which slashes funding for education.
“You can rule ignorance; you can manipulate the illiterate; you can do whatever you want when a people are uneducated, so that goes in line with corrupt business and corrupt politics,” he says. “And they’re so transparent about it! They’re telling you right to your face that they’re cutting education because they want you to stay stupid. They don’t want you to know what’s good for your body, mind, or community, and they don’t want you to have a future, they just want you to consume the shit that they benefit from. They don’t want you to be rich, they want you to be butt-ass poor and in debt.” He pauses. “If that’s the America you want to live in, cool. But that’s not my America.”
He continues: “Imagine if a dictator wanted to come up here and have their way with your family and your future? That’s what seems to be happening. And the reason why they’re here is because people are so nonchalant about policies and issues. People are so engulfed by their day-to-day drama and things that are so insignificant in the larger scheme of things, so there’s an open door for a Mitt Romney or a George W. Bush.”
‘It made me proud to be an American. When I saw Bill Clinton’s speech, I didn’t say, “Yay, Democrats!” I said, “Americans!”’
Will.i.am doesn’t mince words when it comes to the GOP, echoing some of the criticisms in Clinton’s reasoned speech.
“How do we know that McCain and Palin wasn’t just a ploy to take four years off, knowing they weren’t going to win, to pit Obama against Hillary and divide the Democrats?” he says. “How do we know they aren’t that strategic? They went to war without anyone signing off on it. We spend trillions on defense in the name of people in caves. How strategic are these people?”
“How do we know they weren’t like: OK, we’re going to take four years off and let this dude try to do shit, block him at every turn, make people tired, and then we’re going to come in and do things the way we want again. Back to business y’all. Fuck what the people think cause they don’t know better anyways. You don’t know if that’s the mentality, but when you look at it, maybe that’s the mentality.” He pauses. “Maybe it’s that sinister. Because it’s not like they’re fighting for the good will of the people. It isn’t like they want to invest in our future, our kids. What the fuck do these people care about? It’s fucked up if you really think about it.”
Will.i.am is back at the DNC to campaign on behalf of President Obama. He co-hosted an event with President Clinton on Tuesday evening put on by the Democratic Party of Arkansas, and was the standout on a panel entitled, “What Is Working: a Bipartisan Search for Solutions to the Jobs Crisis.” When it comes to the 2012 election, the musician wishes the president would take the gloves off and do a better job of exposing the GOP.
“President Obama should be more transparent with the people about where the blockade is, and hold people more accountable for how inhumane and uncooperative they are,” he says. “Bring it out. Snitch. Let people know so they can respond. He should be doing this aggressively. Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex and the damage it could do to society. Obama needs to be warning us about what’s happening right now.”
Will.i.am is constantly moving, which may explain how prolific he’s become. He’s now rocking back and forth a bit in his chair and fiddling with a pair of gold spectacles. When asked about the noticeable difference in diversity between the Democratic National Convention and last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, he finally stops fidgeting and takes a long pause.
“There’s nothing wrong with white if it’s all right,” he says. “It’s not color. What’s wrong is the lack of morals and what they’re standing for. There’s nothing wrong with white blood cells if they’re warding off and fighting disease. Those white blood cells aren’t fighting off disease, they’re letting more in. That’s what’s wrong with it.”