will.i.am's eccentric style and musical talent ''kept [him] safe'' from gang warfare and drug dealing when he was growing up.
The Black Eyed Peas star has revealed his wacky dress sense set him apart from the gang culture in the tough Los Angeles neighbourhood where he grew up and meant people didn't mistake him for a member of any group.
He told Now magazine: ''I took safety in dressing up so people knew me to be different. The louder you dressed, the more obvious it became that you weren't in a gang.
''My attire got me through. I used to rap because it kept me out of trouble. It kept me safe.''
The R&B producer - who is currently a judge on the UK version of 'The Voice' alongside Jessie J, Sir Tom Jones and Danny O'Donoghue - admits most of his childhood friends are now ''dead, in prison, on drugs, or have sold drugs''.
Despite his incredible success, the 'I Gotta Feeling' hitmaker is determined to stay down-to-earth and relies on his mother Debra Cain - who raised him as a single parent - for advice.
The musician said: ''My ex-girlfriend cheated on me. But then my mom told me off for wanting to dump her ... She said the girl ain't a ho and if she cheated I obviously did something wrong. She told me, 'I didn't raise no loser and someone who runs away from their problems.' ''