DENVER — If 2005 was the year of the Black Eyed Peas — and who can argue when "Saturday Night Live" spoofs your ubiquity — then 2006 will be the year of Will.I.Am.
The group's primary producer is behind the boards on projects by everyone from Justin Timberlake to Macy Gray to Sergio Mendes (see "Will.I.Am Wants To Pull A Rick Rubin With Sergio Mendes, Macy Gray"), and also plans to release his first major-label solo album.
"My Humps"-era Peas fans may not know that Will has dropped two solo albums on London's BBE Records over the past four years, although his 2006 project will be an entirely different beast.
"The whole mind-set [on 2001's Lost Change and 2003's Must B 21] was if it takes longer than a week, don't put it out," Will said. "If it's not done that day, throw it away and that was just it. It's not for radio, it's not for video, it's just for us to go out and make music that says, 'Oh wow, rewind that part, you wanna hear that!' That kind of stuff."
Will's upcoming, as-yet-untitled album will combine the spontaneous, street hip-hop showcased on his prior solo albums and on early Black Eyed Peas releases with what he's learned from hits like "Where Is the Love?" and "Hey Mama."
"I'm a battle MC, don't forget it. Yeah, we on the radio, but I eat a lot of n----as up," Will said. "My roots are as a backpack parking-lot rapper. ... I got signed by Eazy-E in 1991 just by freestyling, so it's gonna have a lot of that, but at the same time, I love the art form of writing songs. A lot of MCs don't practice that art form of songwriting structure, cadences, melody and whatnot, so I honor that art form and it's gonna be on my solo project as well."
With the Black Eyed Peas' busy schedule — the group is about to release another single, "Pump It" (see "Black Eyed Peas Want To Shoot A Kung-Fu Breakdancing Movie") — Will has had little time to work on his own music, but he's clearing his calendar in early 2006.
"There's three ways I could go about it," he said. "I could pick my favorite producers and just have 'em produce me as an MC and a singer/songwriter. Or I could do everything myself. Or I could hook up with like a Lalo Schifrin-type of orchestrator and really do some mind-boggling type of stuff, like, 'Did you hear that one record Will.I.Am did, it was kinda crazy?' I might wanna make it real theatrical and orchestral."
Along with his solo album, Will also plans to oversee individual efforts from the rest of the Peas: Fergie, Taboo and Apl.De.Ap.
"We all help each other," Will said. "Black Eyed Peas is the franchise and at the same time we all launch off and do other things and always come back to Black Eyed Peas."
Taboo and Apl's albums will explore their Latin and Filipino roots, respectively, while Fergie's will be more of a pure R&B record.
"I've been wanting to do this ever since I was a little girl, so it's just a beautiful thing, it's my lifetime project," Fergie said. "It's gonna be more personal and a deeper look into who I am as a person, more vulnerable than I am with the Peas."
As for their omnipresence in 2005, the Peas are making no apologies.
"It's not like we're seen at every red carpet or going to an opening of an envelope, it's like we're performing our songs and getting out there," Fergie said.
"We don't do anything that doesn't fit with the music," Will added. "We kinda lend ourselves to benefits so we did the Democratic National Convention to get people out there to vote. And then we'll do a Best Buy commercial 'cause they sell music. Then we did the first iTunes commercial. We did the NBA 'cause it's like, who's not gonna do the NBA? We did the Super Bowl, 'cause who ain't gonna do the Super Bowl? And if they asked you to do two years at the Grammys, you ain't gonna do it? And then we did the Emmys 'cause they said, 'Ain't nobody ever did the Emmys.'
"We're just trying to push boundaries, but a lot of times when you are the first, you get flak for it," he continued. "People say 'sellout.' That's one thing I don't get. That's some dumb sh--, because it's like we ain't frontin'. I ain't got crazy gold or being something that I'm not. A sellout is somebody who's one way with their mom, and then when they with their homies, it's some totally different dude. ... The reality is the only thing they can say about the Black Eyed Peas is 'Those dudes is all over the place,' and that all relates to the fact that we work hard. So if we're criminals for working hard, then lock me up."
And the "SNL" skit, which had the group playing a bar mitzvah and the opening of a fast-food joint? The Peas thought it was hilarious.
"They did a great job, I have to say," Fergie said.
"They had me all chunky; I ain't chunky, dude, seriously," Will interrupted. "But it was funny, though."