Ali, Lorraine, Newsweek
Byline: Lorraine Ali
The 35-year-old formerly known as William James Adams Jr. is now more ubiquitous than UGG boots and Red Bull combined. His next stop: the Super Bowl.
You've played the World Cup and the presidential inauguration. How does the Super Bowl measure up?
The Super Bowl is different. I mean, it's practically an American holiday! Plus my family are huge football fans. I had an uncle who played with the L.A. Rams. He never made it to the Super Bowl, so at least we'll now be able to say someone in the family did.
Do you consider yourself a celebrity?
Please don't call me that [laughs]. Most of these people who are celebrities now don't do anything to deserve it, so by that fact alone, I don't want to be one. I'm just a guy who is passionate about music, and people have gravitated to what I put out there.
You're constantly writing songs for other people. Don't you ever run out of ideas?
I have to say when I did "Oh My God" for Usher, I thought that I gave a monster away. I kept thinking, I hope I can do that again for us!
You've also produced for a lot of icons. How do you tell someone like Bono he's out of tune?
I panic before I go in the studio, like "Oh, God, I'm about to be chillin' with M.J. for a week in Ireland." So you geek out on your way there, but as soon as you get there you have to be responsible. You also have to humble yourself and not get all extra cocky, like "Yeah, you want my expertise 'n' s--t?" Well, that s--t's wack. You can't ego out.
The songs you worked on with Michael aren't on the CD that just came out. Given the chance, would you have released them now?
The only thing that came out after three years of working together was the "Thriller 25" remixes. All the other songs we recorded haven't come out, and I don't think they should. It isn't right to put that music out without his final say or blessing. He was all about getting it right.
Your new CD is The Beginning, while your last one was The End. Isn't that backward?
For every ending there is a new beginning.
The whole way the recording industry works. Now we're in a whole new technological age.
But the album's loaded with call-backs to the 1980s, from 2 Live Crew lyrics to Dirty Dancing riffs.
Well, the 1980s was the beginning of everything we have now--computers, high-def TV, the Internet, etc. But it also shows you that we're still in our infancy. No matter how advanced you think we are, it's really just the beginning.
You started doing soundtracks and commercials. Do you think that set a precedent for all the multi-platforming you do today?
I did a Nivea hair-product commercial--that's how I paid my mom's mortgage. Then I did a Dr. Pepper commercial, and I bought my mom a new house. I got paid more for 30 seconds of music than I did making 72 minutes of music, and it allowed me to move my family out of the projects. From Otis Redding to Miles Davis to every single major artist I think about, all their record deals sucked. Ads paid. I knew at least that much.
Do you worry about overexposure?
If your only trick is utilizing media, then you run the risk of overexposure. But if your trick is making something good, then all you've done is give people something they like. …