No one has devoted themselves to the pursuit of the shitegeist with quite the same vigour as the Black Eyed Peas; to tirelessly producing offensive derogatory crap for 4 solid years, but who knew that in delivering their souls so completely to the shitegeist, they would achieve the most unexpected outcome; genius.
It’s hard to remember now, and wikipedia only allows 4 lines to sum up the years 1998-2003 of the Black Eyed Peas career, but they were once a respected (well, sort of . .) conscious hip hop group aiming to follow more in the foot steps of Common, other Spit Kickers and the Native Tongues, with soulful samples and back to basics lyrics that everyone from Dilated People’s to Ugly Duckling were embracing at the time. It was en vogue in a certain retro scene and was shortly after Jurassic 5 had gained a following on the back of their excellent debut. So it was that the Black Eyed Peas, consisting of will.i.am, apl.de.ap and Taboo (their names should have said it all), dropped their debut. Often referred to as ‘backpacker hip hop‘, it was full of the sort of soulful samples, old school rhymes, and sense of positivism that is supposed to define this sub genre. Yes, the rhymes were fairly simplistic, but this was (and still is) more common than you think with various critically acclaimed groups . Slum Village, for example, may have gained some attention in their time for their part in the ‘alternative‘ hip hop scene, but surely only the poverty of their verses over a beat as good as the late J-Dilla’s ‘Raise it Up ’ (based on a twisted sample of ‘Extra Dry’ by Thomas Bangalter) could have prevented it from becoming the hit it surely deserved to be. So yes, the rhymes don’t have anything notable going on in the way of word play, but the overall sound still held its own, relatively speaking. In particular they took cues from the likes of The Pharcyde, and the record has a strong correlation to their superior labcabincalifornia release a couple of years earlier. Take a listen to the closest they got to a hit below, ‘Joints & Jams‘, where they even offer an attempt at an interesting video, and allow 30 seconds space for dance moves of varying quality. This is the Black Eyed Peas I have a soft spot for, they weren’t that good, but they were trying, they knew a nice soul or funk sample, and it seemed they didn’t take themselves to seriously, but you only need to check their flow to see they still aspired to be proper MCs.
Their follow-up, Bridging the Gap, even opened with a production from the legendary DJ Premier on ‘BEP Empire’, and is probably the best thing their recorded in the “early years” (if not ever on the ‘good scale‘), and DJ Premier’s distinctive production is as strong as ever ; the cut up chorus and juttered rhythm reminding you of all his tracks simultaneously, despite its a warmer (some might say watered down) feel. It even has a video that show a sense of humour in abundance, and on the basis that they rap in full, all-white tennis gear, I might even use the word classic to describe it.
Then, the start of the end, their biggest hit to date, ’Request Line’ featuring Macey Gray, which took the paucity of lyrical content to the next level, offered a hook repeated a little too frequently, cut the verse down and simplified everything (from an already simplified starting point too much), and by now the dancing was getting a little tiresome - its barely hip hop, its really just bland pop chasing a bit of money.
The story goes the label dropped them, lack of profitability and all that, and them will.I.am had a brainstorming session before coming to the revelationary conclusion that all their ‘hits’ to date has featured sparse meaningless verse, and a vaguely soulful female sing the hook, which was always repeated at least one time too many, and always went on longer than necessary. In short, get a female singer, cut the verses down, deliver hooks. Into that mix he added the similarly ingenious ideas; get some tits and ass, sample unbelievable recognisable hits (p diddy style), and maybe get Taboo to rap less, because he‘s shit. The formula was simple. ‘Fergie’ was recruited, a monster was born.
The elusive hunt for credibility was abandoned, and despite Fergie in my humble opinion, looking like a 38 single mother who’s still hitting the clubs even though she’s got mouths to feed, who’s pissed herself on stage, some people do apparently find her attractive. She is also no doubt cheaper than Macey Gray, and a lot less hassle to talk to/look at. A key appointment indeed.