Black Eyed Peas: Getting Retarded?
After putting out two critically acclaimed albums- critical acclaim often pays about as much as smiling- the Peas were at a make or break point in their career. They had a decision to make: Spend your careers making dope songs that get downloaded by backpackers, or take advantage of the fact that Ron Fair, the president of A & M Records, was willing to work closely with them and make songs that would appeal to a wider audience without alienating the Peabodies, the original heads who've been loving BEP since day one. But it wasn't just their record sales and fan base that were at stake.
"There was a lot of personal destruction within the band," said Taboo, in an interview during a recent tour stop up North. "I was on a booze habit. I was spending $80 a day on booze. I was dropping 'x' three or four times a week. It was crazy."
Besides that, the Peas, like many Americans, were deeply affected by
9/11, and were unsure what was going to become of their country, never mind their band. "We touched subjects a lot of people were talking on," said Apl D
"For some reason, we just pushed a button with that song. We even thought Shut Up was going to be bigger," he said.
Whatever the reason was for the song's success, there is no question it has vaulted the Peas from the land of critical acclaim, street credibility and moderate success to the status if near-superstars in the music world.
The song was even nominated for a Grammy.
But Fair had some concerns that the jump to pursue a wider audience might be hated on. Having Justin Timberlake sing the hook was a risk for sure, but it was a chance the Peas were willing to take.
"We had fears also, making this album. (Those fears) pushed us in making the songs very important. We wanted very good lyrics and very good beats," said Apl.
"The people who respect us as emcees and B-boys will always be there," said Taboo. "It's the young cats, the new booties, who hate on it."
The Peas certainly succeeded in bringing in a new audience, and they realize that the fans who bought their first two albums, and those who bought Elephunk, might not be the same folks. "Before we had the original Peabodies, now we have Black Eyed Peas fans. There are very few Peabodies compared to those," said Will I Am.
There is no doubt that adding a fourth member to the group, the lovely and talented vocalist Fergie, has not only opened up the band to a wider audience, but has also changed the dynamic within the Black Eyed Peas.
"We met Fergie at a night club. She was a fan of ours. She went to one of our shows and met Will," said Taboo. "We needed someone to sing a hook and someone was like 'Yo, why not use Fergie?' and we were like 'Fergie, can she sing?' We just knew her as Ferg, our homie, we didn't know she could sing."
But sing she can. "She's been an amazing addition, she can really blow up there on stage," said Apl.
"We've evolved as people, as performers, with her around. She really filled a gap and gave us the presence we needed," said Taboo.
Fergie, recently named one of People Magazine's 50 most beautiful people, also attracted many new female fans into a hip-hop world that has always been very male-dominated. But Fergie herself was quick to not attribute all the group's success to her arrival. "No one member will make the Black Eyed Peas," she said.
Fergie only came on board towards the end of Elephunk, but she's now a full-fledged Pea, and the group's next album, Monkey Business, will feature her influence all the way through. "Monkey Business will be the first for the Quad Squad," said Will, referring to the new four-member Peas.
The new album is scheduled to drop around November, and will mostly be self-produced, although there is a chance that the Neptunes could contribute a track if the two camps can get their crazy schedules in synch long enough to make it happen, said Will.
After Monkey Business, Fergie will likely also be dropping a solo effort, said Apl.
But in the more immediate future, BEP fans can look for the new video for the single Let's Get Retarded, which they shot in L.A. at the end of
April. With all the touring the band has been doing, it was their first time back to their home town in a very long time, but they wouldn't have it any other way.
"I want us to be like the Grateful Dead of hip-hop. I want to be touring forever," said Will.