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Rap Biographies: Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas
Positive messages and breakdancing are integral parts of hip-hop culture, but by 1990 those elements had been temporarily eclipsed by the tough gangsta image and bleak but compelling lyrics of West Coast groups like

N.W.A. However, despite sharing a zip code, Black Eyed Peas' vision goes beyond the cracked-sidewalk vignettes and sampled gunfire of Los Angeles' gangsta style. The socially conscious group's earliest connections go back to high school, when will.i.am and apl.de.ap were part of Tribal Nation, a breakdancing crew. Eventually the pair focused more on music -- hip-hop, specifically -- and split off into their own as Atban Klann, their esoteric name an acronym for A Tribe Beyond a Nation.

They've transcended their vigilant hip-hop roots and have become a global phenomenon, the likes of which the music world has rarely seen. Ever-curious and ever-confident, that group is The Black Eyed Peas, and after energizing crowds 'round the globe with the monster-stomp of Elephunk, it's time for the quartet - William, Fergie, apl.de.ap and Taboo to get down to business - Monkey Business, that is.

Black Eyed Peas dates back to 1989, when will.i.am (Born: William Adams) and Apl.de.ap (Born: Allen Pineda) met and began rapping and performing together around Los Angeles. The pair signed to Ruthless Records (run by Eazy-E) after catching the attention of Eazy-E, manager Jerry Heller's nephew. Along with another friend of theirs, Dante Santiago, they called their trio Atban Klann. Their debut album was never released because Ruthless did not consider the positive themes reflected in the group's music to be marketable to their audience.

After Eazy-E died of an AIDS related illness in 1995 (see 1995 in music), Atban Klann reformed the group as Black Eyed Peas, named so because - as will.i.am explained on the front cover of the Monkey Business album - 'Black Eyed Peas are food for the soul'. They replaced their original third member with Taboo (Born: Jaime Gomez), and having Kim Hill as a steady background singer. Unlike many hip-hop acts, they chose to perform with a live band and adopted a musical and clothing style that differed wildly from the "Gangsta Rap" sounds of other Los Angeles-based hip-hop acts at the time. Through the mid-'90s, they performed in the local club circuit alongside fellow acts such as Ozomatli and Jurassic 5. After being signed to Interscope Records and releasing their debut, Behind the Front (1998, 1998 in music) the group (and their accompanying live band) earned critical acclaim. The hit single from the album was "Joints and Jam", and was featured on the Bulworth soundtrack. Their second album was 2000's Bridging the Gap (2000 in music), which had the hit "Request + Line" featuring Macy Gray.

Their breakout album, Elephunk, was released in 2003, featuring a new female vocalist, Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson, previously a cast member of Kids Incorporated and a member of teen pop band Wild Orchid. She is the replacement of background singer Kim Hill, who departed the band during 2000.

From Elephunk came the anti-war anthem "Where is the Love?", which became their first major hit, peaking at #8 on the US Hot 100, but topping the charts practically everywhere else, including six weeks at #1 in the UK where it became the biggest-selling single of 2003. The album subsequently spawned "Shut Up", which peaked at #2 in the UK (despite being referred to by one reviewer as "the single most vacuous, pointless, vile and generally loathsome song in a generation") and topped the charts in many other European countries including France and Germany. Elephunk won worldwide success and went gold and platinum in the US, UK, Germany and other European markets. The third single from the album, although significantly restyled from the original Elephunk version, "Hey Mama" hit the Top 10 in the UK, Germany and other European countries and reached #23 in the US.

During Black Eyed Peas' concert tour in Asia in 2004, Apl.de.ap's life story was featured in a weekly Filipino TV drama special called Maalaala Mo Kaya (Will You Remember), which explained his childhood with his poor family in Pampanga, Philippines, back then when he was teased as "baluga" (a derogatory word for Negro), before sadly parting with them to live a better life in the US at the age of 14. "The Apl Song", with the chorus written in Tagalog, a language of the Philippines, from their album Elephunk, tells the story of Apl.de.ap. The Tagalog lyrics and backing melody were based on the song "Balita", an original composition of the 1970s Filipino folk rock group Asin. The group produced an exclusive video of the song whose distribution coincided with their tour of the Philippines as part of their album promotion.

Black Eyed Peas' song "Let's Get Retarded" was restyled as "Let's Get It Started" for an NBA Finals worldwide commercial. New, less offensive, lyrics gave the tune a basketball theme, as opposed to the original's theme dealing with getting heavily intoxicated and partying, this spot featured Carlos Santana. The revised song had great success as a single, particularly on the iTunes music download service. The song earned the group a 2005 Grammy for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group Black Eyed Peas were then featured in The Urbz: Sims in the City videogame as characters. They re-recorded "Let's Get it Started" and "Shut Up" as well as other songs in "simlish", the language used by 'The Sims' characters, for the game also.

Their next album, Monkey Business, was released on June 7, 2005. Much of the preproduction writing was performed on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus while on the BEP/NERD tour of 2004. The album's first single, "Don't Phunk with My Heart", was a hit in the U.S., reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100. The song reached the highest peak yet of their career and earned them another Grammy for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group. The song also reached three in the U.K., and five in Canada, and number one in Australia. (Some radio stations, skittish about complaints of obscenity, play an alternative version, "Don't Mess with My Heart".) "My Humps", another song from the album, immediately achieved commercial success in the U.S. and fairly substantial radio play despite the sexually suggestive lyrics; also reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100. However, many mocked the song for its (perceived) poor lyrical content, and the popular satirical website Something Awful gave the song the award of "Stupidest Song of the Year", stating that "the Black Eyed Peas have crafted what is without a doubt the dumbest, most obnoxious song ever to disgrace the airwaves." Despite this, the album Monkey Business itself debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, selling over 295,000 copies in its first week and was later certified triple platinum by the RIAA. As well as being a hip-hop album, Monkey Business also features some acoustic guitar playing from Jack Johnson in the single, "Gone Going".

In September 2005, Black Eyed Peas released an iTunes Essentials playlist of their greatest hits, as well as some that were re-recorded especially for purchase through iTunes. The playlist includes popular songs such as "Don't Lie", "Shut Up", and a new version of "Where Is the Love?". It also has small stories containing info and commentary about the songs and how the group first met.

On November 27, 2005, Black Eyed Peas performed the half-time show at the Canadian Football League's 93rd Grey Cup in Vancouver, British Columbia. The group performed the suggestive song "My Humps".

On December 10, 2005, a Peas cover of the John Lennon classic "Power to the People", which was mostly recorded on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, was released by Amnesty International as part of the Make Some Noise campaign to celebrate human rights. The same day, Black Eyes Peas performed their version live on the UK television program The Record of the Year together with John Legend and Mary J. Blige.

Black Eyed Peas established the Pea Pod Foundation to help suffering children around the world. The foundation is administered through the Entertainment Industry Foundation. On February 6, 2006, at a concert in Hollywood, California to benefit the foundation, the band was joined by Sergio Mendes, Jessica Simpson, and other stars.

On March 21, 2006, Black Eyed Peas released a remix album, entitled "Renegotiations: The Remixes" to iTunes. It features remixed versions of Ba Bump, My Style, Feel It, Disco Club, They Don't Want Music, Audio Delite at Low Fidelity, and the standard version and video of Like That. The following week it was released on CD without the music video.

In April 2006 BEP hit the road again with supporting bands Flipsyde and The Pussycat Dolls. They again brought the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus on the tour with them to craft new songs for several upcoming albums, including Fergie's solo debut album and a future Peas album.

2003's Elephunk was a breakthrough album for The Black Eyed Peas, vaulting them to a level of success unparalleled by any other hip-hop group. The accolades are quick to recite: 7.5 million albums sold worldwide, 4 Grammy nominations, 1 Grammy award, and an unforgettable performance on the 2005 broadcast. But fitted with loose rhymes, buoyant anthemic funk and an ebullient live spirit, the album also heralded a new sound for the modern age - one that is inspired by hip-hop, eschews boundaries and inhibitions, and cuts across ages, races and backgrounds. It is a sound that can be described only as One Nation Under A Black Eyed Peas Groove.

But if Elephunk was the group being crowned prince of the castle, then Monkey Business, their fourth album, is The Black Eyed Peas conquering the throne to become King. It is an album that further intensifies their passion for making music together, for connecting with their audience through the most fundamental ways: making people have a good time. It is a credo that has inspired the group since they formed in the late 1990s, earning their keep in the nurturing environment of Los Angeles' vibrant hip-hop underground. Even then, the group possessed a magnetic spirit that helped them establish a worldwide following through their first two albums, 1998's Behind The Front and 2000's Bridging The Gap.

In many ways, Monkey Business is a direct descendant of its predecessor. The success of Elephunk kept the group touring around the globe for nearly 18 months. "In going on the road for so long, we got an idea of what kind of music we wanted to play and make," explains will.i.am. "Monkey Business is very much about the types of songs we play live. It's about a party. It's layered differently and has energy to it that reflects how we tour - from the beats to the types of instruments we used to how we interact with the audience. It's very much about us and the crowd on this record."

Monkey Business was literally produced and recorded during The Black Eyed Peas everlasting road trip. "I was in Brazil doing some CD shopping," will.i.am recalls. "I came across this compilation and I thought it was one thing but it turned out to be something else. The Dick Dale song 'Miserlou,' was on it. At first I was angry - this isn't what I wanted to buy," he laughs. "But then, really, that song is hot. I said, 'we should do a song like this.' I jump-started the computer and made some beats on the train. Then we had to fly to Tokyo and I tightened up the beat on the plane. Then I recorded vocals in this park in Tokyo. And that's how we recorded the song, 'Pump It.'"

The song, a jump-up party anthem, is one of the featured tracks on Monkey Business - and made its debut in a commercial for Best Buy electronics. "It's the beauty of technology now - you can record anywhere, anytime, any which way. And I love that song because it feels like our live shows, it has that energy."

Monkey Business also furthers the bond the group forged as friends during the making of Elephunk. Before recording that album, the three original members of The Black Eyed Peas - will.i.am, apl.de.ap and Taboo - had been ensnared by personal demons. "I remember that we were each talking about the things that were haunting us and seemed to be crippling us," recalls will.i.am. Adding the vocal talents of singer, Fergie, the group used music as a therapeutic vehicle. Making music with that near-desperate fervor also is maintained on Monkey Business, says will.i.am. "You're always challenged not to go back to those bad habits in life," he says. "When you're comfortable living, you sometimes think that, well, I beat it once so I can do it again. But you never really escape the things that haunt you."

Thus, making Monkey Business became an effort put forth by all the members of the group - the first the foursome co-wrote together - and the more sophisticated songwriting; the layered grooves of the record and its fulfilled spirit reflect that. "This was really about all of us building a house together," says will.i.am.

"Don't Phunk With My Heart" is a gripping soulful serenade that will.i.am describes as a sequel to The Black Eyed Peas song, "Shut Up." "Not sonically but in subject matter," he clarifies. "When you're on bad terms with a significant other, you don't want to break up. You tell her things and at the time you really mean them. But she's saying, stop f****ing with me."

If it sounds like the personal lives of the members infiltrated their songwriting, it is mostly because it did. "Don't Lie," is a song will.i.am says was born of true experience of deceptively bending the truth to an ex-girlfriend. "It's a song about owning up and apologizing and realizing your faults. It's about being a man or a woman - an adult - and confronting situations honestly."

Singer Justin Timberlake joins the group again for the song, "My Style." He first sang on the song, "Where Is The Love?," the breakout single from Elephunk. "We get along real well," says will.i.am, "and he sees music in a very similar way. Plus, he's just a good dude." The song was produced by famed beat-maker Timbaland. "I like experiencing things I've never experienced before," will.i.am says. "It brings you out of your comfort zone and that can be creatively inspiring. And Timbaland is an incredible talent."

Other collaborators join The Black Eyed Peas on this album, too, like Sting on "Union." Neo-folk singer, Jack Johnson is sampled on the song, "Gone Going." The Peas also got to live something of a dream when they hooked up with the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, for the song, "They Don't Want Music."

"That was just stupid, man," will.i.am says. "Being a fan of hip-hop and knowing that the music's backbone is based entirely on James Brown - the concept of hitting the beat on the "one," it's an otherworldly experience." The Black Eyed Peas remain one of only a handful of select groups that have been able to collaborate with Funk's inventor. "We met in the UK, at the Mojo Awards, and we talked about working together. I remember when we recorded; I played him the beat all nervous and everything. We all sat in the room and he nodded his head and grunted in approval."

That song is reflective of the Peas' fluid funk that can run from generation to generation - and is one of the reasons why the group is beloved and respected worldwide. "I think the fact that we just have fun with music is the reason why it works for us," says will.i.am. "We love music and melodies and don't try to distinguish ourselves from regular music fans. It's really that simple."
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