Despite his universal popularity and fame, not much is known about William Adams — born in East Los Angeles and raised in the Estrada Courts housing projects in Boyle Heights.
"I was in fifth grade and we had to bring canned foods into school and at the time I didn't know who the poor people were," said will.i.am, speaking to CNBC.
"I came back home and was like, 'Mom, I need to bring canned foods to school.' And she was like, 'Boy, you ain't taking no canned foods to school.'
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"It was right around Thanksgiving and I saw Brit and Brad walking up my little sidewalk area and there's no Brit and Brads in the hood. There’s Joses, Joselitos, Juan, Juanitos. There's everybody but a Brit and a Brad."
The rapper then explained that his classmates delivered canned goods to his home, and he still hadn't registered that he was "poor" until the next day.
"It didn't hit me until I went back to school, and Brit and Brad were like 'William's the poor people'. So I was like wow," said the rapper. "Ever since I was twelve, I wanted to move my Mom out of the neighbourhood.
"So that was my dream at thirteen. You don’t have a dream for nothing, usually dreams come from something."
The Black Eyes Peas singer was able to accomplish exactly this when he bought his mother Debra Cain a house after finding fame. Growing up, will.i.am said that he would "work and live to make my Mom proud," just as his own mother had done for his grandmother.
"We feared our Moms more than we did the police," said the musician. "The police come round — whatever. But my Mom? That's it. You fear your Mom. But not in a monster way, more in not wanting to let them down."
The full CNBC interview will air on 11 September at 10pm.