Exclusive: Black Eyed Peas on "Ring the Alarm" and Their Plans to Bring About Positive Change

Black Eyed Peas open up about the issues hindering society and what they're doing to change that.

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The Black Eyed Peas are on a mission to effect positive change in a time of turmoil, and they're looking to make it happen through their music and actions in their respective communities.

The early 2018 release "Street Livin'" was a step toward their mission, and that continues with "Ring the Alarm," a three-part record that tackles issues society has been dealing with, but with no direct roadmap to a resolution. According to member will.i.am, "The next record is like GPS directions on how to get there."

Check out the video for "Ring the Alarm" above and read our extensive interview with the trio below. The song/video release also comes with the announcement of a new interactive website in partnership with Sweet that will allow fans to earn digital tokens (called Sugar) for doing positive social and user actions on behalf of the group. The tokens are redeemable for rewards like VIP access, exclusive content, and meet and greets. 

Was when was this record made, and were there any specific events that were inspiration for it? 
will.i.am: Let me answer it this way. “Where Is the Love?” was written in 2001, and it came out in 2003, and because that means we were just reiterating, fixing, and finally, we got it to a nice point where we loved it. We wrote that after like, you know, 9/11. So “Ring the Alarm,” we wrote in 2014, ‘13? It was after all the police shootings and Ferguson and then, you know… figuring out the rhyme and reason to why that happened, so every time there’s a police shooting, it just so happens to be around an area where the funding of education is low. You didn’t see a police shooting of an unarmed black man in Brentwood. 

will.i.am: Right? You’re not seeing police shootings in the Palisades of unarmed black men. It’s in the hood where funding for kid’s education is like, the lowest of the low, and around wherever you have funding of poor education, you have liquor stores, check cashing, motels; no freaking community stores that are thriving. Like, no franchises coming out of Watts. You know what I’m saying?

Meanwhile, wherever the owner of Starbucks was, now Starbucks is everywhere. There is no equivalent of a Starbucks that came out of Mississippi, right? Because the education is poor, there’s no opportunity, and the conditions of life are harsh. So, we’ve done our homework, our research. That’s the reason why the lyrics are like, “Wake up! Sound the alarm. Revolution time has come.” What is the revolution? The revolution is a community, togetherness, education, and building a freaking army of entrepreneurs; business leaders owning stuff. That is the revolution. Owning things, IP, property, business, building a freaking legion of ethnic excellence, and that starts with education and information exchange, opportunity, mentorship, internship. That kind of stuff. 

It’s very telling you saying that this song was recorded, three, almost four years ago and yet it still feels—
will.i.am: No, no, written. 

Written. But it still feels fresh to what’s happening today. 
Taboo: Yeah. I could honestly say that “Where Is the Love?” is kind of one of those songs as well. Every time there’s a horrible disaster that happens around the world, whether it’s a mass shooting here in the United States or terrorist bombings around the world, “Where Is the Love?” is the song that people go to and gravitate to and I think “Ring the Alarm” is an extension of that but it’s on steroids. It’s kind of like in your face. It’s letting you know that you need to wake up because there’s a lot of serious issues going on in the world. Without being too preachy, we just made sure that we keep it as one hundred as possible with people that need that message and that information at this time. 

apl.de.ap: And I’m glad that there’s a shift in artists, too, right now. I’m proud of Meek Mill, speaking on his behalf on trying to change prison reform, and trying to fight to pass laws on probation, and stuff like that. It’s still going on right now unfortunately, so that’s why we gotta keep talking about the subject matter and shed light on it. 

if people are going to rep the streets, protect the streets.

Taboo: Just to add onto that, it’s cool to see artists that are actually involved in activism like T.I. and people like Common and John Legend and all these artists actually taking action and standing up for different causes other than them just being the artist, but also using their platform and their voice to bring out messaging to help others in this crazy revolution we’re about to embark on. 

With the video, there’s obviously a lot of symbolism that takes place throughout. You have the people marching militantly with their eyes covered up, you have the individuals sewing American flags. Can you talk about how you wanted to get your message across in visual form? 
will.i.am: it’s about being blind from information and being affected and acting emotionally rather than intelligently when in search of facts. And then you have the blind protecting the blind when police brutality, so that’s the symbolism of the blind police officers versus the protesters, and just the lack of information on what to do. Like, what’s there to do? I know that we wanna do something, but there isn’t a to-do. There’s no how-to. You see us revolt, but what’s the how-to on the change?

We wanted to find a real simple way of like… because how could you tell all that information in a video without just… symbology was the way to do it. People have been stripped away of sight. They know they wanna go somewhere, but they don’t know how to get there. They know they feel something in the culture that is like, it’s off, and I can’t see the path of resolution. And that’s both enforcement and citizens. Like, why is it that every week, a police officer is abusing his authority? Why? Every week. And it’s been that way not just now because everybody got an iPhone but that’s been happening for like, ever. Do they huddle up? Is there a huddle up? Like, “We gonna make sure we gon’ get everybody.” Like, “What’s your deliverable sergeant? Your deliverable is I need you to grab five black people and Latinos.” Do they got a huddle up? It seems like there’s a huddle up. 

Taboo: Like, what’s your quota for the month? I’ll take five blacks and five Latinos. 

will.i.am: And that’s the reason why that lyric is like, “It's kinda like they got us in a trap/It’s kind of like they knowin’ how we act/Fuck your fuckin’ laboratory, I am not a rat/I am light, am godbody, wise to the fact.” Godbody is like the governor of my fucking domain and I will be, you know, as successful in life, and I will help out my community. I govern my domain, and my domain is my community. My domain is my intent, my aspirations, and I am my own governor of how I apply myself to influence and change my community, and I might educate myself to do so. What’s the difference between Watts and Palisades. It’s the amount of information, and when you get money, how that money flows in your community and that leads your community, how you improve the livelihoods of your community with education and opportunity. That’s it bro. It’s not that hard. So if people are going to rep the streets, protect the streets. And that’s not preachy, that’s just business. That’s not some newly discovered information. That’s why Brentwood’s Brentwood. How about this: gentrification is gonna happen anyway. Why don’t we be our own gentrifiers and improve the lives of our community our own selves. It’s gonna happen anyway, bro.

Look at Brooklyn. Brooklyn wasn’t the bomb. Now it’s like, what? Gentrified. Look at Boyle Heights. Anywhere you have people that go from thriving, like you know, just in the mud and arts coming from it because there’s pain, guess what happens in the next couple of years, in a decade or two? That becomes the art hub of the community and here comes an affluent demographic that is thriving, and that’s how a community goes from striving to thriving. Why can’t they come from the inside? Why does it always have to be outside? And then these people have to leave because they can’t afford their community. Why can’t everybody come up from the inside? That comes from education, bro. That comes from the music that we have. So that’s why I like J. Cole. That’s why I like all these new acts. There’s a couple of them that are talking about some progressive stuff. It all starts with the art. We can have successful artists talking about progress in not a preachy way. We celebrating progress. If you listen to music [nowadays], we celebrate the oppression. Music is kind of low key prison commercials, actually. “I just did this dude, I shot this dude. I’m selling on the block.” OK, you gonna end up in some prison that’s actually privately owned. Whoopee! You see what I’m saying? “Aye, you ain’t about that life.” I’m about this other life, but guess what? We come from the same place. I’m coming from the projects, too. Not the same projects but the projects, and I made the choice not to be about that life. I wanna be about this other life. I wanna dream up some other shit. Why do I wanna live a nightmare? Fuck that. 

“Ring the Alarm” follows “Street Livin’” which dealt with police brutality, gun violence, among other issues. How do these records fit into the material you guys will be releasing later this year?
will.i.am: Now that we got the flow and the reason why, we’ve just been making as many videos as possible so that when we launched “Street Livin’,” in the next two or three weeks we launched, and another one, and another one, and not let up for the rest of the year. We got material that’s just gonna come out consistently along the same guidelines of art, smart, and heart. We have some artistic stuff, we have some intellect and smart stuff, and then some heart, some things that we love just because we love it. We’ve made amazing careers out of being audio scientists. We’ve done things that we never thought we could do, and we’ve done it the best, selling out stadiums, making chart-topping hits. This is different. We have a different laboratory on this one, and audio scientists and activists, philanthropists, and all this music that we’re doing right now reflects that side, the philanthropy side of who we are as people and the independent route in a way… So ap will speak on the school that he got in the Philippines, he got a bunch of schools in the Philippines. I got an after school program here in East Los Angeles, where we teach our kids science, technology. And Taboo is with the Native community and the American Cancer Society, just trying to address the issues and add to the community. 

apl.de.ap: Yeah, just like will said, it’s about building our community and the actual industry. I’m not trying to get out of my neighborhood. I’m trying to build up my neighborhood and build schools for the kids, and beyond just having to make a change here, I’m trying to build the economy, so when we finish, they have somewhere to go and somewhere for employment and they’re not just stuck. So their lives are obligated to give back to their community. So just like will said, we gotta start from education, information. We built computer labs so all these kids can [receive] equally provided information just like the rest of the world, you know? We want the kids in the Philippines to know about computers, about coding, and all that stuff. So instead of just making songs and talking about it, we’re trying to make movements from the inside. 

Taboo: Yeah, and as ap said, it’s important for us to be leaders and use our voices to amplify issues that are going on in our own community. myself, I’ve been working on Indian reservations, specifically at Standing Rock. I did a thing with Turnaround Arts program where we brought music and art to Standing Rock, to the middle school and to the elementary school, and we’re just trying to give hope and inspiration to the Native kids from that reservation, and it’s important to be that person that’s able to inspire them but also to never forget where you come from. I think that’s the best way that we approach making music is that even though we’ve hit the top of the mountain with our last couple of years, I feel like now we’re making music that we love, that we’re inspired by. You know, a lot of good remnants from our earlier work when we first came out with Behind the Front; it’s a mix of Behind the Front and Elephunk. To me it’s some of the best work we’ve ever done because it’s art, it’s smart, it says a lot of where we’re at in our lives. 

will.i.am: And just to top all that off, it’s a different mission that we’re on. There’s a lot of entertainment out there, and we’ve never been like the same old… we’re not followers of the trends. We’ve always looked at ourselves as like, you know, to go against the grain of popular culture. When we did our first album, gangster rap was dominating the charts in 1998. So to be on Interscope Records when gangster rap was like…  we were signed in 1997, right after 2Pac passed away in 1996. [Dr.] Dre, we got signed two months before Eminem got signed to Interscope, and we were on Ruthless, so we have this tradition of being like salmon, being the guy that goes upstream, and now we’re going upstream again. We’re using our music and our platform to do work. So it’s not like, let’s do socially conscious music just to do it. Like yo, let’s do socially conscious music to amplify the work that we’re doing in the community. And so what we don’t want to do is like, make “Where Is the Love?” again. That’s the only reason “Where Is the Love?” was like one of the only things like that because when you make a song like that, it comes from nowhere and you… we didn’t make it to be like, “Yo, we’re gonna make a socially conscious record and it’ll blow up.” You make a socially conscious record because you’re socially conscious. You’re aware of what’s going on with society. To reiterate, the mission is to bring awareness to what we’re doing in all of our communities that we’re passionate about, and using Black Eyed Peas as the amplifier to that work.

apl.de.ap: It’s easy to make party songs. You can always use that as like an escape. Will will be like, what do you wanna talk about today? Is it a party? I don’t know, man. This doesn’t feel like a party and the world doesn’t feel like a party right now, and with everything that’s going on, it’s hard. You have to write about it and find some sort of release. 

will.i.am: Like when we did The E.N.D., and that party album, that’s because the world felt like a party. In 2008 when no one… end of 2007, no one thought Obama could be president, and I did a song called “Yes We Can” that helped got him elected. Everyone looked at me sideways when I was like, “Yo, Obama.” They were like, “Yo, a black guy with a Muslim name is not going to be the President of the United States.” And so when that happened, we celebrated. We never would have written “I Got a Feeling” if we weren’t in the center of a ginormous change in America. And Oprah told us, she said it to me, “I Got a Feeling” helped change the course of America, and that’s true to a lot of people. And we were in the center of all that change, all that love, and the result of that was “I Got a Feeling.” You know, just celebrating optimism and what’s possible and tonight’s gonna be a good night, right? So here’s a different emotion, bro. It’s [“Ring the Alarm,”] it’s “Street Livin’,” and all the other songs that are coming after that because our antenna is up and we are connected to that frequency, and I’m so happy with this new collection of music that me and my best friends are putting out. 

Oprah told us, she said it to me, 'I Got a Feeling' helped change the course of America.

Taboo: We made it clear when we were in the studio is that every bar was gonna be something very powerful and poignant. And we made sure that we went line to line to make sure that we outdid each line, and we stood in the studio and we worked and made sure that... we always say our 17-year-old self would be proud of how we came up with this album. 

will.i.am: To Taboo’s point, on certain songs. And not bars for bars’ sake. Like, “Oh, let me hit you with a punchline. Yeah!” We started off as battle MCs. At one point in time we were like, I don’t wanna write raps for rappers. I’m trying to write raps for the world. People in Lithuania, people in Czech Republic, people in Romania. People in freaking Kazakhstan, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Uganda. They ain’t fucking flipping over freaking meta chords and similes and punchlines. We figured that out. Now we’re of the hearts and minds of folks that wanna be about change, and that’s the mindset that we’re in right now. 

I’m looking forward to the new material that you guys got coming because it feels like you are well-equipped with the music and the message that you’re sharing at this time in your careers. 
will.i.am: Yeah. It’s more than just a message. This next record is like GPS directions on how to get there. There’s a lot of messages out there, but I think the world wants some direction. How do we get there, though? Because there’s so many messages out there; I don’t know the right messages from the wrong message. Can you send me the coordinates to get there? This is the coordinates, bro. This is the directions, the GPS: “Make a left on purpose street. In the next corner mile, turn right on intelligence download. Go straight. Veer to the left lane to make a left on collaboration and organization.” These are directions for those who want to get there. 

And if you like living life in bliss and ignorance, that’s cool. As long as you’re happy. But there’s a lot of people out there that ain’t happy, and they’ve been living that ignorant life by force. They’ve been forced to live that life and they’re been reaching to live a better life and don’t have access to information and opportunity, and through our work that we’re doing in our community, and in the songs that we are singing about, their direction is more than just a message. Like peace and love. No, no, no. Everybody practice peace and love. Come over here and work with us, and “dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.” And the “dah, dah, dah, dah, dah” is actually the how-to, the coordinates; send me your location. Here’s my location, bro. We got there. That sums up the whole thing. We’re just sending the location and coordinates to where we got.

I don’t wanna overdo this; we came from the suicide. You know, thinking about suicide. But now we reside on the top. We don’t wanna redo “started from the bottom now we’re here” because here doesn’t really tell you where you are. You can be on the side somewhere… the top, bro, and the top is how you look down and lift somebody else up. I love Drake, he’s like one of my favorite artists; consistent, I like his work. The only reason why I wanted to say that is because I don’t want it to seem that, I don’t like to repeat other people’s lyrics, but “started from the bottom now we’re here” is pretty poppin’.

Taboo: And one of the great things that you didn’t notice throughout the videos is that Masters of the Sun, our graphic novel, is always incorporated somehow so that it all ties in. It all lives from the Masters of the Sun universe.

will.i.am: You’ll be able to see the video in our VR experience on Oculus Go, and the Oculus Gear on Samsung. In addition to making music for streaming services and YouTube videos, you can experience it in virtual reality because a big part of this Masters of the Sun project is print, the book that we put out with Marvel, the augmented reality experience that you can get on your iPhone or your Android device, and then the next level of storytelling is virtual reality. 

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