Will.i.am’s long-delayed fourth solo album, #willpower, acts as the culmination of his transition from rapper to producer. Songs About Girls, his 2007 release, is a more traditional hip-hop/R&B offering, but in the six years since its release, will.i.am has become a ubiquitous producer of pop megahits, crafting hits for artists like Usher, Britney Spears and Ke$ha, as well as for his own band, The Black Eyed Peas. His rapping has never been his strong suit, and on #willpower he seems to have embraced this fact and smartly surrounds himself with all-star features.
One thing that hasn’t changed since his last release is his ambition. Will.i.am crafts his albums with extended outros and transitions between songs. #willpower is filled with lush orchestral arrangements, contrasting the hyper-digital production of drums, synths and auto-tuned vocals. Conceptually, #willpower explores the dichotomy between social consciousness and reckless hedonism. Many of his songs are concerned with the fate of future generations, with education, and with social oppression. But just as easily as he questions the inequalities of life, he promotes partying to excess.
The track listing plays an interesting role in this dichotomy as well, juxtaposing songs like “Gettin’ Dumb” with a song called “Geekin’,” a celebration of smart, tech-savvy kids. The tension created by these two thematic focal points enhances the meaning of both. The partying can be seen as an escape from the harsh realities outlined in other songs, while the importance of the social consciousness songs are brought into sharper focus when surrounded by out-of-control excess.
Will.i.am’s music may be largely inane, overblown and rarely innovative, but you always get the sense that he knows exactly what he’s doing. The songs on #willpower add up to a wholly interesting listening experience, simultaneously celebrating and parodying our modern digital culture, as well as keeping a concerned eye on the future.