Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Walking up to the Oval Tuesday to open for President Barack Obama’s speech, will.i.am had numbers on his mind.
Asking his escorts how many people were on the lawn already and how many students attend Ohio State, one of the escorts let him know she was an OSU alumna.
As though a light bulb went off in his head, the frontman of Black Eyed Peas said to himself, “Buckeye Peas,” then laughed at the name.
Taking to his turntables at about 4:30 p.m., the rapper greeted the crowd with “Wassup Buckeyes,” before launching into his nearly half-hour set.
“Right now, I wish the rest of my group was here, but it’s OK because I’m here with the Buckeye peas,” will.i.am said to the crowd.
In an exclusive interview with The Lantern before his opening performance, the rapper made it seem opening for Obama is one of the highest honors of his career.
“It means so much to be considered by the United States president,” will.iam said. “It just makes me proud, speechless really.”
Some members of the audience weren’t so psyched for will.i.am’s performance though.
“Why I’m here is that Obama’s here,” said Tim Day, a disabled United States Air Force Veteran from Cincinnati, who was a USAF plumber in Vietnam. “I’ve been waiting too long on William or whatever his name is. It’s not my kind of music. I’m here to hear Obama speak.”
Will.i.am said getting flak from others about his participation in Obama’s campaign doesn’t bother him because he’s not involving himself as a musician, but as an American citizen.
“I’ve been blessed to have been successful in music to where I can use my platform to encourage people to get involved and raise awareness,” he said, and mentioned raising awareness of the gap between funding for prisons and the lack of funding for education. “I want to shine a light on that and echo that across the world.”
Will.i.am also said he’s involved because he backs Obama’s “Yes We Can” concept and his support for Federal Pell Grants.
“I stand behind the president as it relates to Pell grants, so kids can go to school regardless of if their families can afford it,” he said. “I stand behind the president as it relates to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to get every kid equipped with the STEM skill set, so they can compete in the future.”
He also said being active in Obama’s campaign has further encouraged him to hone his mortgage relief program, which he said “rescues a family or two a year from losing their homes because there’s no jobs in America” and continue advancing his i.am.angel program, which relieves students of college debt.
Will.i.am put an emphasis on education in his opening performance as well.
Stopping mid performance of his cover of “Born in the USA,” he said to the crowd, “You don’t want education in the U.S.? I think the whole crowd should be screaming right now.”
Then, assumingly poking fun at a comment Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made about cutting funding to PBS during last week’s televised presidential debate, he went on to play the Sesame Street theme song, which he said was the theme song of his childhood.
In addition to performing a few Black Eyed Peas songs, such as “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Got a Feeling,” will.i.am also spun to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and Usher’s “OMG,” to name a few.
Spinning to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” will.i.am rapped in honor of Obama’s campaign, “Make a change y’all / Keep moving forward make change” and got the crowd chanting “Four more years.”
Ending his set with Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got a Feeling,” will.i.am said to the audience, “Push forward four more years. Fight for STEM. Fight for education.”
The performance seemed to bring some relief to a few attendees before the president’s speech.
“It was good because I think people were sick of waiting, and that kind of got people excited again,” said Ashley Tabler, a student at Otterbein University.
Brock Hovanick, a first-year in engineering, said will.i.am’s performance didn’t seem like much of a concert though because he DJed his entire performance. But he said it kept him entertained.
“It was pretty good. (It) was better than what I thought it would be,” Hovanick said. “There was a pretty good amount of people there, so I couldn’t really see very well. Other than that, it was good.”
In playing to college students and traveling alongside Obama, who was making his fifth visit to OSU in the past two years, will.i.am said the youth vote is important to him as well.
“America would be a little better if we had more youth involvement,” will.i.am said. “America would be cool, a lot cooler if the youth paid more attention.”
Ben Keith contributed to this story.