I’ve come around to viewing the Black Eyed Peas’ worldwide success as a comfort — rather than a sign of the apocalypse. Sure, their influences have always been too obvious, their lyrics vapid (like the NBA-adopted Überhit ”Let’s Get It Started”), and their recent, shameless grasps at mass appeal transparent (welcome Fergie and her midriff!). But pop music is often banal and cloying, and pop rap is no different — look at 50 Cent and Lil Jon, who sell hooks, not substance. And rather than further the notion that violence and nihilism are hip-hop’s biggest selling points, the Black Eyed Peas on their fourth album, Monkey Business, once again declare no, no, no — rap need not be threatening. In fact, edge has nothing on familiarity.
From their first efforts, the Peas have mercilessly plundered the repertoires of alt-rap pioneers De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, down to specific cadences and inflections. And they still do. Though here, aiming to appeal not just to hip-hop fans, they’ve appropriated more recognizable material. Like a Puffy tune from the pilfering producer’s heyday, BEP’s ”Pump It” rides the wave of Dick Dale and His Del-Tones’ ”Misirlou”; the glossy, faux-reggae ”Dum Diddley” desperately meshes refrains from both Musical Youth’s ”Pass the Dutchie” and the Bangles’ ”Walk Like an Egyptian”; even Lisa Lisa gets exhumed. Unfortunately, the tepid voice of Black Eyed Peas crooner Fergie is hardly enough to reinvigorate these chestnuts.
It’s a testimony to the Peas’ current commercial heat that a few high-profile influences appear here, complicit in their own reduction. Justin Timberlake’s been down since ”Where Is the Love?,” so his turn on the typically Timbaland club rumbler ”My Style” is no surprise. But Sting and James Brown cameo on trite cuts (”Union” and ”They Don’t Want Music,” respectively) that borrow liberally from their catalogs without much innovation.
It’s less the uninspired guest vox, however, than the four core Peas’ idea of verse that makes Monkey Business such a bland meringue: a succession of cotton candy raps about chicks, partying, and partying with chicks, broken up by choruses destined to evaporate outside a shindig’s perimeter. And when MCs will.i.am, apl de ap, and Taboo get topical, the result is laughable pseudo-profundity, as on ”Union”: ”Understand that we’re all the same/So when I count to three, let’s change.” It’s probably for the best that the crew traffics mostly in percussive, throwaway stuff like ”If you got boobies, baby, keep ’em on plump.”
Risqué? Hardly. The Black Eyed Peas aren’t out to offend anyone. They just want to dance happily through the metal detectors and party with rock stars.