Ok, don’t ask me why, but I’ve done considerable research and pondering about The Black Eyed Peas throughout my life. Like, yeah I can turn up to their music like a normal human. But when I’m not turning up, I have so many questions. So, I’ve felt the need to take an academic approach to understanding their existence.
I stumbled into a rabbit hole in the summer because it was tangentially related to something for my job. I don’t remember what triggered it anymore but I ended up watching a historical recap of the way this band evolved. And even though it’s been a few months, I need to digest it along with the way I’ve grown up listening to them with y’all.
So that said, let us begin.
When I think of The Black Eyed Peas, I’m instantly transported to elementary school and how they literally had a hit song on the radio during my entire childhood. Their songs were the definition of the good (Meet Me Halfway, Where Is The Love?, I Gotta Feeling), the so bad it’s actually good (Imma Be, Don’t Phunk with My Heart, RITMO), and the ugly (My Humps, VIDA LOCA, The Time (Dirty Bit)).
For some odd reason, I didn’t question their chaos when I was a kid but in the vein of childhood nostalgia for the 2000s, all I can do is question it now!
But their chart-topping career is far from the start of the story. Yes — there was a time before will.i.am voiced random animated characters in kids’ movies. In fact, he cared a lot about the message in music.
They started as a group in 1995 comprised of will.i.am, apl.de.ap, and Taboo. They had a singer occasionally in the group (Kim Hill) and eventually added Fergie to the lineup. They seemed to become known for doing rap and hip hop that was loaded with powerful social commentary.
Perhaps the best and most known example of this era of the Black Eyed Peas is their first hit, “Where Is The Love?” Their flows are iconic, the chorus is sweet, and the production is such a nice mix of hip-hop, emotive strings, and melodic guitar-like synths. It’s a great song! I distinctly remember this song being used in a prayer service when I was in Catholic elementary school. Tbh, respect on the choice to use it.
If you listen to their first 3 albums Behind the Front, Bridging the Gap, and Elephunk, you hear a lot of that style, along with some typical Black Eyed Peas production choices in using world instruments.
But, that focus on social commentary seemed to change once the follow up to “Where Is The Love?” happened because that’s where focus on sports anthems started.
“Let’s Get It Started” was EVERYWHERE when I was a kid. I couldn’t listen to Radio Disney without hearing it at least once at some point. Every basketball game. Every baseball game. Every place you needed to be hyped up. It was there. Same thing with “Hey Mama” and “Pump It”. That’s honestly what gave way to the weird stuff starting. But it was ALL hits.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand Monkey Business as an album. Like how do you have such iconic beats and flows paired with the most insane lyrics. I can’t even begin to call out things, just go listen to the album. Truthfully you’ve probably heard most, if not all of it. I also just have to note that with the amount of times Radio Disney played “Don’t Lie” growing up, every time I listen to it I can’t get it out of my head for at least 3 business days.
HOWEVER, I HAVE to talk specifically about what a ridiculous song “My Humps” is. Tell me WHY me as a CHILD got away with thinking that the part where will.i.am sings “mix your milk with my cocoa puff, milky milky cocoa puff” was about cereal. I’ll never forget the moment I told my sister and she ruined my childhood by laughing at my genius marketing idea to use it for those stupid cocoa puff cereal bars. Also, who was like ‘yeah let’s compare curvy women to camels’? JAIL. Immediately. But I will dance to this song if I’m lit enough. I cannot listen to this song sober —it is a cringe fest.
By this point, I felt like the Black Eyed Peas were beyond redemption. But it turned out that was the perfect time for Fergie to go solo. The Duchess was such an iconic era. I could (and should) discuss the cultural phenomenon that was that album in a separate post. But for now, just know that I fully believe that “My Humps” was the runway for Fergie to do “Fergalicious”. And for that, we have to give credit I guess.
Understandably so, this led to a hiatus. But when the Black Eyed Peas came back in 2008, they had actually come from the year 3008.
The END era was insane and just the fact that the END stands for “the energy never dies” lowkey tells you everything you need to know. Honestly nothing really captures how ridiculous it was though than the SNL sketch parodying what might’ve gone on in the studio when “Boom Boom Pow” was made. So many questions, none of them answered. However, don’t get me started on “Imma Be” because that song is “Boom Boom Pow”’s equally crazy sister. At the same time, we got the most iconic party anthem of all time “I Gotta Feeling” and probably my favorite Black Eyed Peas song “Meet Me Halfway”.
I honestly feel like I can’t explain why I love “Meet Me Halfway”. There’s some extra vocals from Fergie, a strangely catchy verse from will.i.am, overdramatic production — I shouldn’t like it, but I do. It’s kind of a stellar pop song and yes, I will defend it. The melody at the end of the chorus? Euphoric. I love it. It’s a masterclass.
One of the funniest things the Black Eyed Peas has ever done is cause breakup rumors by releasing The END and follow it up by releasing an album called The Beginning. Like, I’m glad y’all are having fun there lol. The Beginning in 2010 had the hits “Dirty Bit (The Time)” and “Just Can’t Get Enough”. “Dirty Bit (The Time)” definitely falls in the “insane category”. Like how are you gonna remix the iconic song from Dirty Dancing with EDM. Nothing explains the 2010s better than that. “Just Can’t Get Enough” is a banger though.
The 2010s were a weird decade for everyone, including the Black Eyed Peas. They kind of faded into the distance. Like, Fergie left the band and brought them back to a three-piece with a featured singer.
They released an album in 2016 called “Masters of the Sun Vol. 1” that definitely flew under my radar. Upon listening to a few of their tracks, it gives the vibe of almost letting the three piece do whatever they might wanna do. I have respect for that.
But in 2019, they came back to the mainstream fully invested in Latin music. At first it felt random, but upon hearing their early days, it felt right. I couldn’t escape the song “RITMO (Bad Boys For Life)” with J Balvin and honestly it grew on me. However, I will not forgive my best friend Juliette for showing me the video to “VIDA LOCA”. It’s truly an unhinged video for an unhinged song: from the “Super Freak” sample to will.i.am including the lyrics “it’s my life bitch” in the chorus. But again, you gotta dance to it.
Since then, they’ve collaborated with my queen Shakira on a couple songs and because it’s Shakira, it’s kind of impossible for me to not like it. Funnily enough, at the time of editing this post on Friday morning I learned that they actually released an album today. Good for them! It seems like it’s continuing the collabs with Latin artists which does seem to fit them well.
It’s at this point that I step back and acknowledge that the Black Eyed Peas are a cultural force. Their music has united people, defined people’s lives, and just pushed the boundaries of hip hop, pop, rap, EDM, Latin music and so much more. They’re a global sensation and there’s no denying that. As much as I cringe when I listen to some of their songs, I gotta say it’s admirable that they’ve been able to do so much as a group. I gotta give credit where credit is due.
Now, will I ever understand why the Black Eyed Peas became such a cultural force? No, but I hope to one day talk face to face with God and will.i.am to understand once and for all.
So it’s with this that I say, they’re the prime example that music doesn’t have to be so heady all the time. Sometimes you just need to scream “Mazel Tov! L’Chaim!” mid-song ‘cause that’s what the party demands.
I’ve put together a playlist that’ll help tell the story of The Black Eyed Peas, from their most unforgettable to the hidden gems I didn’t know about. Use it however you’d like.
Now if you excuse me, I’m going to book a karaoke room so I can see Eden’s boyfriend Nick perform his legendary rendition of “Boom Boom Pow”.