“We did the party music — the biggest-you-can-possibly-do party music,” Will.I.Am says as he sits in a trailer with Black Eyed Peas mates Taboo and Apl.De.Ap backstage at Into Action, a 10-day summit of music, art and activism that kicked off in Los Angeles on Friday (Jan. 12). “Why do that again?”
These are not the Black Eyed Peas of “Let’s Get It Started” and “My Humps.” Now a trio, the Peas’ most recent release is the powerful anti-poverty and racism-themed “Street Livin’,” which the New York Times called, “An indictment of systematic racial oppression: poor education, police killings, violent neighborhoods and high incarceration rates.”
Songs of social consciousness are not new for the Peas. The difference this time is the songs are not album tracks with pop party anthems in the forefront. Being in touch with the times, the trio understands fans want songs that have a message right now.
“I think what’s happening now is the renaissance of art and activism colliding so you have people rise up to say, ‘Look, we have all these people that stand together — whether it’s Standing Rock, Ferguson or the marches,” Taboo tells Variety.
“What’s crazy is, when it comes to talking about issues, for some reason the athletes are a lot more vocal than musicians,” Will adds. “And that’s why I’m happy that Black Eyed Peas are starting the conversation off in the right tone.”
To Will, one part of the change in their art is the thirst, as he puts it, of fans with a conscience. The other change in the eight years since the Peas last put out a major project is the way fans consume music. Count him as one of those who sees the album as being obsolete at the moment.
“Let’s look at everybody that put stuff out and for some reason it seemed like it came and went — Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Fergie too, even Taylor Swift, it took the whole industry to market it and promote it,” he says. “The only person that weathered this hurricane, which renders everything obsolete and disposable, is people like Bruno Mars. Where he’s like working, working, working, ‘Let me remix this,’ work, work, work. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing right now. There’s so much sh– out. So putting everything out at once, maybe that’s not the way to go about it.”
So the Peas channeled their energy and connections into the massive “Masters of the Sun” comic book, which comes with both augmented-reality and virtual-reality components.
“A record is so limited to the kind of things we want to do – 15 songs and a video or two videos on a project doesn’t really feel like much creativity,” he says. “So with ‘Masters of the Sun,’ we do a graphic novel, partner up with Marvel from Taboo’s nudge, and add augmented reality to it and score that with Hans Zimmer, and get folks like Stan Lee, Rakim, KRS-One, Raekwon, Slick Rick, Common, Jaden Smith, Charlamagne Tha God, Snoop Dogg, Michael Rapaport, Jason Isaacs, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Rosario Dawson and Jamie Foxx — that’s an amazing collaboration/cast ensemble. Then a hybrid of that story being told in virtual reality, that sounds like some real sh–, compared to an album.”
The partnership with Marvel and elaborate nature of “Masters of the Sun” lend themselves to easy expansion and sequels. Both Will and Taboo say there is much more to come.
“It’s a natural thing for us to be working on content and finding ways to implement, whether it’s visuals or the partnerships to go along with the audio,” Taboo says.
“We’re doing part two now, so look for that around Comic-Con in San Diego in October,” Will says. “Similar type of things, but elevated as far as technology, being able to do AR, also VR, it’s gonna be awesome.”