What’s your definition of home cooking? The flavors that you savor vary based on where you grew up and what your family’s background is. For some, home cooking is meatloaf and mashed potatoes. To others, it might be beef and broccoli with fried rice on the side. Maybe you prefer a big heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs. But there’s one kind of home cooking all hip-hop fans seem to recognize, even if it wasn’t the cuisine they grew up with – SOUL FOOD. You can’t help but recognize attributes, whether or not you heard Goodie Mob’s album and song of the same title: collard greens, cornbread, fried chicken, and as Aceyalone once quipped “black eyed peas with a lot of tobasco.”

The Black Eyed Peas name is not at all subtle. When you hear or see their name, you’re supposed to automatically think of SOUL. The literal implication of their music is that while soul food will fill your stomach, the jams of the Black Eyed Peas will fill up your mind and spirit too. It’s a high standard to live up to, and the Peas have sometimes fallen short. The musical style on “Behind the Front” and 2000’s follow-up “Bridging the Gap” was well-received, but the lyrics to go with the grooves were often simplistic. Ultimately this resulted in the Black Eyed Peas being more of a mental snack – a pleasant diversion with a good taste but no long-lasting nourishment value.

Seeking to rectify that on their third album (fourth if you count the aborted Atban Klann LP that Ruthless Records never released) the Peas are coming a little mo’ serious on “Where is the Love” with Justin Timberlake. Produced by Will.I.Am, as is every track on this release, it’s a bouncy romp that sounds tailor made to go pop yet hides within it’s depths important questions about society most pop music wouldn’t dare to ask:

“What’s wrong with the world, momma?
People livin like they ain’t got no mommas
I think the whole world’s addicted to the drama
Only attracted to the things that’ll bring the trauma
Overseas yea we tryin to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin
in the U.S.A, the big C.I.A.
The Bloods and the Crips, and the KKK
But if you only jave love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate, then you’re bound to get irate
Yeah – madness is what you demonstrate
And that’s exactly how anger works and operates
Man ya gotta have love, this’ll set us straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate, to the love y’all”

If like this reviewer you were familiar with B.E.P. before now, this song is a revelation both for a pop tune in general and from this group in particular. It’s not as though the entire album is profound though. In fact, one of the catchiest songs on the LP is “Let’s Get Retarded.” It’s not an update of Craig Mack’s old school classic, but it does capture the same silly feeling of having a good time:

“In this context, there’s no disrespect
So when I bust my rhyme, you break your necks
We got five minutes for us to disconnect
from all intellect and let the rhythm effect
us to lose our inhibition, follow yo’ intuition
Free your inner soul and break away from tradition
Cause when we be out, girlies pullin weave out
You wouldn’t believe how we wild shit OUT
We burn until it’s burned out, turn until it’s turned out
Act up from North West East South!”

The writtens of Apl.De.Ap, Taboo and Will.I.Am have come a long way since their inaugural release, as well as the music. “Hey Mama” has a convincing dancehall feel Sean Paul would respect, you may mistake Fergie (singer/seemingly now permanent member of the crew) for Pink or Nelly Furtado on “Shut Up,” and you’ll have happy thoughts of J-Lo and Rosie Perez when listening to “Latin Girls.” Even though the latter track’s rhyming falters a bit in poetic terms, the simplistic verbiage may in the end fondly remind you of their earlier albums:

“I like latin, them latin women (I do)
And they love me cause I’m that man
with coco-nuts and chocolate skin
I’m that mocha masculine
Feminines that are latin, call your friends
And call your cousins, cuz I know got dozens of them
Marias, Elizabeths, Sonias and Brancas
Wanna see ya, you can get boned if ya want ta”

Clearly, it’s still wrong to expect the Peas to be profound on every song, or to showcase a more serious approach to the lyric craft every track. What one can expect from “Elephunk” though is what the last syllable implies – PHUNK. Whether it’s the swinging jazz of “Sexy,” the rock singing and swinging Fergie crooning to “Fly Away,” or the vintage early 1980’s electro-funk sound of “The Boogie That Be,” Black Eyed Peas showcase a bold fearlessness at capturing any musical style and making it uniquely their own. Will.I.Am proves the grooves of the first two albums were not a fluke, and should become a hot commodity if he decides to produce outside the Peas. While still in it, he’ll be turning out songs from the chunky guitars of “Anixety” to the soft and subtle strumming of Apl.De.Ap’s solo “The Apl Song”:

“Listen closely y’all I got a story to tell
A version of my ghetto where my life felt for real
Some would call it hell but to me it was heaven
God gave me the grace, amazing ways of livin
How would you feel if you had to catch a meal
Build a hut to live and to eat and chill in?
Havin to pump the water out of the ground
And the way we put it down utilizing what is around
Like plantin for farmin, river for fishin
Everyone helpin each other whenever they can
We makin it happen, from nothin to somethin
That’s how we be survivin back in my homeland”

It’s these glimpses of deeper roots that really enhance the overall presentation of “Elephunk” and makes the nearly hour long package complete. While this release will sound good throughout the summer of 2003, the nice thing about it is that it will still be relevant years down the road. The Black Eyed Peas seem finally to have lived up to their own funky and soulful name and released a CD to nourish your soul at the same time it shakes your hips. Even in simplicity it’s complex, and in complexity it’s surprisingly sharp. It’s not hard to recommend “Elephunk” to anybody who is a fan of good music, because with or without the tobasco the Black Eyed Peas are hot.

Black Eyed Peas :: Elephunk
8Overall Score