When Black Eyed Peas made their debut in 1998 with Behind The Front, they surprised everyone, delivering a fresh perspective on an art form that would grow increasingly commercial with each consecutive year passed. This was their 3 Feet High and Rising, and while BEP never carried the lyrical content that De La Soul did, they however managed win their fans over by subscribing to that same post-daisy age sound & sense of humor that was abandoned by everyone else around the time Wu-Tang Clan, Bad Boy, and Death Row took over. Their second album, Bridging The Gap was a worthy sequel, marketed heavily on credibility boosting guest appearances from DJ Premier, Mos Def, Jurassic 5, and De La Soul, which actually helped strengthen a relatively strong album already. For 2003, enter Elephunk, the Peas third endeavor, but one that could spell the beginning of the end.
Everything that was accomplished with their first two albums now seems incredibly trivial with the release of their third. Reason being is that they have finally succumbed to the pressures of the record label and compromised their sound, which makes the listener automatically question if they were ever really talented in the first place (this critic would like to believe they were/are). Don’t look for the same organic original hip-hop you found on Behind The Front here, because you won’t really find it. What you will find is a watered-down version of their original sound, now with even more interpolated hooks from various pop records of the last 20 years. And this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if it was done with some originality, but just about every song on this album borrows bits and pieces from songs that happy Wal-Mart shoppers are already familiar with, and hey, just ask Irv Gotti, once they think they’ve heard it somewhere before, you’re halfway there to an album sold! But it’s almost disgusting at how obvious the intent of the interpolations are – peep “Smells Like Funk” which rips “Puttin’ On The Ritz” (really?), or “Sexy” which borrows Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Insensatez” as if nobody saw Lost Highway, or “The Elephunk Theme” which can’t help but conjure up images of “The Macarena” (eww), or “The Boogie That B”, where new member Fergie goes into “When I Hear Music” (leave it at the skating rink, girl). But even worse – the two aforementioned songs (“Elephunk Theme” & “Boogie That B”), BOTH interpolate Milk D’s flow from “Top Billin’”. You read it right; the same verse from Audio Two’s “Top Billin’” is borrowed TWICE on two different tracks on the same CD, coincidentally located right after one another on the CD. Even worse it seems like nobody in the group or at the label even noticed this ridiculous of a mistake. With so much borrowed material, this ends up sounding like the Peas are simply singing their favorite parts of their favorite songs over some otherwise decent beats.
And while the bashing continues, don’t look for your favorite underground artists that showed up on Bridging The Gap to reappear on this record, because they have no business being anywhere near it (wouldn’t want to scare any anti-backpack types away, huh?). In fact, what we get instead is Papa Roach, who takes over “Anxiety” with brash guitars and rock-guy pain, completely disrupting the “flow” of the album. Not to mention Justin Timberlake who lends his syrupy bitch voice to “Where Is The Love”, robbing it’s political message of any relevance, all for the sake of some TRL play.
On the flipside of things, the Black Eyed Peas are still somewhat grounded in the original structure they created with their first two albums, even if they’ve strayed way the fuck off course with Elephunk. The full, earthy instrumentated sound and low end basslines are still here, propelling tracks like “Labor Day”, “Boogie That B”, and “Hands Up” into something listenable, however their shameless borrowing that plagues the album gets tired quickly. Submerged with awful tracks like “Anxety” or “Latin Girls” (no quiero), the end result is a jumbled mess of sounds that wants so badly to be The Fugees, but ends up sounding more like a bad Wyclef Jean solo album. Better luck next time.
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