Black Eyed Peas have been stirring porridge in their hip-hop pot since seven years ago. Few would have accurately predicted that the group would be more than a one hit wonder, as their first single "Joints & Jam" was a swinging catchy tune that to be perfectly honest was hip-hop fluff perfect for crossover play. The group started to evolve on their second release "Bridging the Gap," using a clever Discover Hip-Hop parody to promote their shit, a DJ Premier beat on "BET Empire" and the vocals of Macy Gray on the crossover hit "Request Line." Their music had definitely improved, but they still needed a lot of work lyrically. By 2003's "Elephunk" they responded to both challenges, delivering their strongest album to date and also scoring their biggest crossover hits yet with "Where is the Love?" and "Let's Get Retarded." It was somewhat dissapointing to see the latter get whitewashed by political correctness for mainstream exposure, as the title and chorus were reworked into "Let's Get it Started," particularly since any intelligent listener knew that the hip-hop meaning of retarded was POSITIVE as opposed to negative, a call to let loss from your inhibitions and enjoy yourself.
Perhaps that's been the real challenge for the Peas all along, in that their meaning may be misinterpreted and misunderstood. Though they are best known for their pop hits, their music has always had a bit of an undercurrent that flows with hip-hop activism and social reformation, a notion reflected by the multi-ethnic multi-cultural nature of the group itself. This notion was only expanded on "Elephunk" when singer Fergie was added to the group, a white sister with a whole lot of soul. Still if you're going to deliver a message to people, it doesn't hurt to sugarcoat the pill so they don't realize the medicine they are swallowing. As such their new album "Monkey Business" is led off with two tracks that go down really easy - the Dick Dale laced adrenaline injected "Pump It" (you'll recognize the sampled melody from "Pulp Fiction") and the equally high octane first single "Don't Phunk With My Heart":
"Girl you know you got me, got me
With you're pistol shot me, shot me
And I'm here helplessly
In love and nothing can stop me
It can't stop me once I started
Can't return it once you bought it
I'm coming baby don't doubt it
(Don't make me wait) So let's be about it"
As good as these songs are it was the Timbaland produced "My Style" featuring the return of their association with crooner Justin Timberlake, who helped them on the aforementioned "Where is the Love?" As Timbaland beats tend to be it's an electronic bouncy affair, drawing it's strength from the very synthetic sound of the notes and beats instead of acting inferior to live instrumentation. Unfortunately the group seems to be taking a step backward lyrically, as Will.I.Am doesn't seem willing to push the boundaries of his rap ability and instead falls into the groove of Hallmark quality poetry:
"Don't jock, don't jock baby, don't jock me
I drop the hotness, baby watch me
You can't, you can't, no you can't stop me
Cause I'm a champ on the rap like Rocky
And when I spit it, tri not a Z rocks me
Cause my styles trademark with the copy - right
You know my style is naughty - right?
So don't cock-block me!
You like my style when I'm wiling out with my gang
And I gain my fame from doing my damn thing - on the mic
Then I burn the stage like propane
And I bang them thangs, I'm a lover mayne"
The verbals are like the bastard child of Baby and Mannie Fresh, without the Southern accent or charm of either. Perhaps it's too early in the album to be this hard on the rhymes though. Let's skip past the smoothed out slow flowing "Don't Lie" to see what Fergie and Will have to say on "My Humps." Although the former usually sings, here she does a very Khia-esque rap:
"I drive these fuckers crazy
I do it on the daily
They treat me really nicely
They buy me all these icies
Gucci and Gabanna
Fendi and Madonna
Carin they be sharin
All their money got me wearin, fly"
Okay, not too impressive. This is sounding like a poor man's version of "My Neck, My Back." Maybe Will can up the ante a little bit:
"I met a girl down at the disco
She said 'Hey, hey, hey you let's go
I could be your baby, you can be my honey
Let's spend time, not money
And mix your milk, with my cocoa puffs
Milky, milky cocoa
Mix your milk, with my cocoa puffs
Milky, milky riiiiiggght'"
Let's be honest here - that IS fucking retarded, and I don't mean it in a positive way at all. What the hell happened to the Peas? On the last LP they seemed to have transformed into the strong voice they had wanted to be ever since originally being known as the Atban Klann, and now they've gone 180 degrees in the opposite direction. I kept searching for anything as clever as their last album's joints, like the alliterative "Smells Like Funk" or Apl.De.Ap's heartfelt solo track "The Apl Song" or the pulse of the aptly titled "Anxiety." Fuhgeddaboutit. Even though the Peas have always straddled the line between fluff and stuff, it felt like they had crossed it for good with "Elephunk" only to find now that the most profound they are capable of getting is "Dum Diddly":
"The rim shots sound like someone gun
BLAOW, BLAOW, there go your eardrum
So raise the volume to the max-i-mum
Bass boomin bottom make ya body feel numb
Pulsation probably penetrate ya skele-ton
This little ditty definitely demonstrates some
Dumb diddy dumb"
Couldn't have said it better myself. Their production on this album is good throughout, thanks to beats largely by Will.I.Am with a few guest appearances on the boards throughout. Lyrically though it's not just sugar coated, it's 100% PURE CANE SUGAR. There are so many pounds of sugar here that you might miss the fact Talib Kweli and Q-Tip show on on "Like That" altogether. You'll keep looking for songs with more depth than "Ba Bump," only to find that they're basically all at that level. While it's understandable that the Peas would want to follow-up on the huge crossover success "Elephunk" had, they've only captured the pop aspects of that success and seemingly forgotten the hip-hop soul the album had when NOT being played on radio. While this album will be commercially successful for them, it feels to this reviewer like a seven year regression backwards. The Peas forgot to stir the porridge in the pot, and now it tastes nine days old. No wonder they need so much sweetner.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 4.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: June 14, 2005