Hip hop has a long standing love affair with liquor. Whether it's Jay Z promoting his own brand of beverage or Busta Rhymes passing the courvoisieur, the two worlds seem made for each other.
But will.i.am from LA hip hop outfit Black Eyed Peas saw an opportunity to do things a little differently. "I came up with an idea to do a soundtrack to an alcoholic beverage and have them pay for the making of it. I didn't want to make it seem like I'm selling beer to cats! That's not what the idea is."
"MUSTb21 was funded by a corporation other than a music corporation. If you think about it, music isn't a product, it's intangible. With most record companies you have to make your music a product and you have to construct a single that sells your record. But what if I give it to a product that already exists, and just make music? Then I don't have to be forced to make jingles to sell my record.
"I'd like it if every single record was like this. It was like Shakespeare, who had his patrons. Michelangelo had no marketing dude in a suit telling him that he was making the elbows too wide as he painted the ceiling.
"Zima liked the idea, and they funded it and they market their product, while we play their music. They are selling beer. We are just making music."
will.i.am has been making music since high school, where he teamed up with fellow classmate and breakdancer Apl de Ap to form Atban Klann. Signed to Easy E's Ruthless Records in 1992, the duo's debut was never released. In 1995, Taboo joined the group to form the Black Eyed Peas.
In 1998 the band's debut 'Behind the Front' saw comparisons being made to Tribe Called Quest, before 'Bridging the Gap' established BEP in artists in there own right.
In 2001 BBE released will.i.am's soundtrack to an internet movie, Lost Change, as part of their critically acclaimed 'Beat Generation' series. "I scored this film and I wanted more cats to hear it. I thought it would be perfect for the Beat Generation. I really liked Jay Dee's 'Welcome to Detroit' so my manager got a hold of [BBE boss] Peter by looking up the address on the back and then, next thing you know, we had a show in Amsterdam so we went to his house".
The Black Eyed Pea's latest album Elephunk, released 2003,
introduces new member Fergie and featured collaborations with man of the moment Justin Timberlake and US rockers Papa Roach.
On his solo project, will.i.am was given complete creative freedom and allowed to indulge his own musical passions. "MUSTb21 is my interpretation of the raw, authentic hip hop I fell in love with between 1989-1994. We wanted to make a hip-hop club record, something fun, nothing too deep. Its pretty much just beats with my favourite MCs on it."
"MUSTb21 all happened in my studio in LA in the last week of May. I said to the MCs, 'I've got an opportunity for you guys to make some loot and I want you guys to be on this record with me'. So they all came. I didn't think people were going to respond like that! They were there all at once - Tash from the Licks, Phife Dawg [from Tribe Called Quest], Planet Asia. You don't understand how smokey my room was!"
will.i.am also manages to secure the talent of legendary rapper KRS-One by sending him a beat, as well as UK festival favourite MC Supernatural. "Supernatural is just raw energy, everything is unscripted. He freestyles, and very few people appreciate and accept that artform."
Another guest vocalist that appears on the album is Fergie, the newest member of the Black Eyed Peas. Her introduction into the group "completed us and gave us more dynamics. On our albums in the past we've always had singing on it. When we got rid of [backing singer] Kim Hill we were missing something, but by adding Fergie as a more prominent member, she's more than just 'the girl that sings with us'. It completes us."
As for other projects, will.i.am not only has his own 'I AM' clothing range, but is also hosting a show for MTV. "MTV approached me as they wanted me to host a show called 'Direct Effect'. I politely refused it because I wasn't a fan of that show. I pitched them a show that was based on improv and freestyling, instead of just hosting videos. Instead of doing that dumb shit, we wanted to do everything in rhyme, in a song form with a band. The idea behind it is that if you f*ck up, it's entertainment. And if you pull it off, you're a genius!"
The show has already attracted the likes of The Neptunes as well as Justin Timberlake, who the Black Eyed Peas recently toured with. "It was different. I learnt a lot. His fans are pretty much the majority, the masses. Before, on our first two albums, our fanbase was pretty much artists, people that are friends of artists, people that are inspiring artists - creative people. That's only about ten per cent of the population. This tour, that's like 85 per cent of the population - they represent the rest of the world. It's a beautiful thing once you realise that. Its not one is greater than the other, but you've got to keep that in mind."
will.i.am doesn't make the distinction between the thug-stylings of mainstream hip hop and the conscious rap of acts such as Jurassic 5 and Talib Kweli. "Creatively, hip hop is making a comeback. You have to be conscious to be into hip hop, even if you're talking about materialism. That's just wants on your conscience. Music is a conscious artform as you get the chance to express the things that you think about."
MUSTb21 is released on BBE on September 29th 2003.