Will.i.am says a lot of his friends died or were in jail when he was growing up.
The Black Eyed Peas star opened up about his tough childhood to Britain's The Sun newspaper.
He said that his crazy wardrobe helped to differentiate him from the gang members that lived nearby.
"I grew up in a Mexican neighbourhood in LA and we were the only black family," he explained.
"There were a lot of gangs. A lot of my friends are dead, were in prison, on drugs or were selling drugs."
"You either joined the gang or you did arts or sports. My attire got me through, though. The louder you dressed, it became obvious that you were not in a gang."
When Will first started earning the big bucks he says he was "baffled" by how much he was being paid and didn't know what to do with the money.
"When you are from the ghetto there is no financial literacy," he said. "When I first got Peas cheques I used to put them in my glove compartment and lock it."
"There were five cheques - $400,000 of uncashed cheques. I had a bank account but I never wanted to spend the money."
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