File this one under the category of making a whole shit-load of money does not necessarily mean you are creatively successful. The Black Eyed Peas have always confounded me and disappointed me. In fact I’ve been inclined to call them the Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde of the Hip-Hop genre.
Now don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t say y’all aren’t successful. Your wack-assed dance tunes are everywhere and you’ve won a Grammy in 2010 and performed on American Idol twice, performed at Super Bowl XLV and lead man will.i.am is even a voice in the Blue Sky Studios animated movie Rio.
So why do I have a problem with y’all, when obviously no one else seems to have a problem with the Peas?
I guess it probably has to do with your musical ubiquity in the face of possible Hip-Hop greatness or maybe it’s the way I felt back in 1998 when I bought your first effort Behind the Front. Back in the good old days, when there were so many flavors of Hip-Hop that one could get lost in the sauce and actually miss some great music.
In those days of old – back some 10-15 years ago, the art form had not yet become this international form of music and its roots in the four elements of the culture were prevalent. Street culture permeated through the old stuff like a pair of funky sneakers sitting on a steamy winter radiator and we loved it. We had jazzy Hip-Hop, Gangsta Hip-Hop, Conscious Hip-Hop, West Coast, East Coast, Dirty South, Mid-West all representing the essence.
Forgive me for the nostalgia, but in today’s market, saturated with the glitz and slick sounds of what may be a new Disco movement, MC’s are expected to bring way more pizzazz than substance. You have to kind of sing, the latest R&B chick or dude has to sing the hook and of course, my biggest pet peeve, you have to run your voice, the R&B singer’s voice, your mamma’s voice through Auto Tunes to achieve the correct formula and sell several million records or units on iTunes.
And before you can big up James Brown and say, “We’ve just got too far gone…” here comes the biggest Hip-Hop group on the planet – The Black Eyed Peas! Can someone quote James again, or at least hit me…one time, maybe two times. OK – thanks.
Now, I know the industry pigeon holes you and as artists everyone tries to just sell records. I get it, but there are some screaming questions that singe my brain – largely because it’s impossible to get away from the BEP movement. You’re in heavy rotation on every pop station, video station. will. i. am. this, Fergie than…even Taboo – whose role I still can’t define – has a friggin’ book deal. So excuse my open questions, but it’s impossible to get you and your “out of this world group” out of my reverie – sorry.
First question: Are the Black Eyed Peas a Hip-Hop group?
As I mentioned earlier, I bought the first album – Behind the Front – and was happy someone new was pushing the envelope in a jazzy, phat nasty kind of way. Featuring eclectic samples like Funkin’ for Jamaica and White Horse – it was like the Fugees had joined with Digable Planets and created something still totally different and interesting. Macy Gray washed through another track late in the album and at least I felt like I didn’t waste my money.
I had to bust it out after some digging and figure out why my opinion changed and why my hate grew thick. The emceeing was a little light, but I could deal with that in light of the beats and the texture. will. i. am. was the main MC and those other two guys (apl.de.ap. and Taboo) – joined in just enough to really peak our interest. You released a second effort, which I didn’t catch, but it must have been pretty successful, but then something down-right weird happened.
That brings me to my second question: Is Fergie just some ho or some kind of Evil Genie?
Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, according to the group’s website, joined in, “2002 for their third album Elephunk.” The site continues to describe the historic move as one that, “transformed them from beloved backpack rap stalwarts into one of the most popular groups in the world.”
So what makes three guys drop Hip-Hop and go Pop?
Could it be a woman, money or both? Pissy the Succubus or as y’all know her – Fergie – sang background vocals for the group, so it wasn’t completely shocking that the former child star joined a Hip-Hop group. She actually has a great singing voice and ain’t that harsh on the eyes.
It would be foolish to deny that Fergie helped y’all pop and become the biggest “Hip-Hop” group in the world. However, as a purist of the genre, I would argue it was with more flash than substance, too many teeny boppers began humming and reciting your cat-in-a-hat, simple rhymes. It seemed to work with her, somehow. She went solo and proceeded to destroy the genre with songs like: Lady Lumps and London Bridge. No one could have expected that to work, but it did. Fergulicious in a Monet kind of way and full of all of the moves of a pro, it seems the direction and future of the group was all tied to the welcoming of the former child star.
In fact the Peas are so successful these days, Fergie could sing the phone book or maybe – um, an old 80’s standard like I Had the Time of My Life and somehow make it Hip-Hop – I don’t get it.
That brings me to my third and final question? Is it just the allure of the money or do y’all really hate being tied to Hip-Hop?
On the first album, and I’m ignoring the shirtless insert – okay, there was a structure based in the culture and everyone was interested to see where y’all were going.
It was somewhere between Let’s Get It Started and I Gotta Feeling– that I really began seeing red and grew intolerant of a group that fains Hip-Hop, but is really pop or dance.
Let’s be honest, I like a pretty girl as much as the next guy, but it seems fame and Fergie have made it expedient for you to quietly toss your Hip-Hop roots in the garbage can. Now I would have lived with the trading of your wallets for man-purses and believed that will. i. am. really likes the spacesuits and plastic hair, but then you sneak in real Hip-Hop on the humble and screw everybody up.
In fact, in 2006 the Peas produced a themed compilation honoring the work of Sergio Mendes entitled Timeless a. It was hot!!!! Way hotter than the junk that pumps on the airways all day, every day. One of my favorite tracks featured Pharoahe Monch, Justin Timberlake and Sergio Mendes. Loose Ends literally blew me away. There were other tracks that feature the Peas with a Samba feel, yet they were pure enjoyable Hip-Hop tracks.
This is what confounds me about one of the world’s most popular groups, their casual use of Hip-Hop. I haven’t seen such a seemingly disdainful use of the art form since J-Lo exploded onto the scene with Jenny from the Block, replete with Styles P., Jadakiss, Sheek in the Lox days. If you have all this power, money and adulation, why not show the culture that born you some love? Given the obscurity in which Hip-Hop began, I guess I should be happy the group – seen as innovators during their debut in 1998, is literally everywhere. But without throwing Hip-Hop a bone, it appears the variety that used to define the genre has been parsed and the leader of the pack could care less.
They performed at Super Bowl XLV and were the first modern group allowed to do that since Justin literally had Janet naked by the end of the song. They’ve endorse a clothing line for Aeropostale and have been on American Idol, the nation’s most watched television show several times. Most recently when they debuted their new single Just Can’t Get Enough and dedicated it to relief efforts in Japan. The group was decked-out all in white; Fergie in a flowing gown, will. i.am with a glowing, flashing plastic hair piece on his head, apl.de.ap and Taboo did their things, whatever that is – it was just so, so – benevolent.
But like Spike Lee once asked of Eddie Murphy, would it hurt you guys so much to sort of embrace Hip-Hop and use your powers for good while you ease your way down the path into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame? Or will it continue to be the deferral of a dream where you seemingly continue to as Pharoahe Monch says, make, “…a mockery of the music for Pop fame.”
Now let’s get it smashing like OMG.