Will.i.am On The Role Of The Black Community To Problem-solve And Shape Its Future Using Technology

Key Insights: 

  • Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am spoke on the role of the Black community in tech, business and shaping the future at a BYP Network conference. 
  • The entertainer has had a collaborative career in tech for over a decade and spoke to how he went about new partnerships. 

The Black Young Professionals (BYP) Network, a platform that connects Black professionals to opportunities, hosted an event last week that drew from the insights of entertainer and Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am. In an interview with Kike Oniwinde, cofounder of the BYP Network, will.i.am mapped out his career and collaboration with tech, which started more than a decade ago. 

“In 2007 I gave Jimmy Lovine a crazy concept, and that was to make our own hardware and sell our own products, and that turned into Beats. I was the third silent partner and equity shareholder of Beats, from there I realized what intercity folks can do and how big we can grow stuff. Beats was the validation that we can create products,” will.i.am said during the conference. 

His fascination with technology and having Black folks at the center of creating technological solutions brought about other collaborations with brands like Apple, Blackberry and Intel.

Will.i.am’s  His philanthropic work centers on educating youth from his hometown of East L.A. in STEM disciplines like robotics. The organization he founded to facilitate this work, i.am Angel Foundation, recently partnered with Honeywell to expand the reach of the program, which already works with schools throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District. 

“When [the Black community] applies our creativity to solve problems and the pathway is through software or hardware, the sky is not the limit, the universe, which is always expanding, is the limit,” he said. 

He challenged Black entrepreneurs to be audacious in how they conceive ideas and go about running companies. “In general we’re afraid to fail and take an ‘L’, but that “L” is not ‘Loss’, it’s Learn,” will.i.am said.

Will.i.am reflected on the role of Black people as consumers rather than creators and how to keep from being left behind as technology advances, citing platforms like Clubhouse becoming popular with Black users. 

“For some reason, [the Black community] is the testing ground for things that have become gigantic companies. Beats is an example of what Black culture can do in a field that no one thought it was possible to compete with companies that have been around for what seems like 100 years,’ he said. 

“Our community’s adoption of stuff blows up because [sic] why can’t we adopt and support our own? We have the ability to see the problem and solve it in the form of a product and company. We have everything it takes,” he continued. 

Will.i.am also talked about the role of technology in shaping the future and accomplishing what governments and cities had not been able to solve and using technology as a means for the Black community to be arbiters of problem-solving.

“My mom is 67 years old, there are countries that are not that old that are booming with a surplus every single year. Keep that in mind when you think of the Black community as a whole,” he said. “If we were to start today, what does 67 years from now look like for us? As a collective, what are we trying to build, what problems are we trying to solve, starting with the youth and encouraging them?”

Monica Melton

Monica Melton is the managing editor of The Plug Insights. She previously covered innovation, technology, and venture capital at Forbes. She has also covered politics at POLITICO, entertainment for Time Out New York, but her most fascinating beat has been covering the intersection of technology, finance, and entrepreneurship. She is an alumna of CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Washington.