Rarely has a band so completely changed direction — and had such incredible success doing so — as the Black Eyed Peas. The group appeared in the mid-Nineties as backpack rappers, hanging with indie hip-hop heroes like Jurassic 5 and De La Soul while slyly deriding mainstream rap and pop as garbage. "Yeah you platinum, but you wack as hell," snarled rapper-multi-instrumentalist-producer will.i.am on early single "Get Original." Everything changed in 2003, when the band, then consisting of MCs apl.de.ap and Taboo and will.i.am, hired singer Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson and made a conscious decision to pursue commercial success. Over the next six years, they would achieve it in spades, with three platinum albums, 11 Top Twenty Five singles and a reputation as pop's biggest party-starters.
The original Black Eyed Peas formed out of the ashes of Los Angeles hip-hop collective Atban Klann (A Tribe Beyond a Nation), which included will.i.am (then known as Will 1X), Taboo and three other MCs. Signed to Eazy-E's Ruthless Records, the quintet debuted on Eazy-E's "Merry Muthafuckkin' Xmas" in 1992 but were dropped after Eazy-E's death in 1995. Soon thereafter, Will 1X became will.i.am and he and apl.de.ap teamed with Taboo to form Black Eyed Peas.
The Peas' upbeat 1998 debut album, Behind the Front, on Interscope, featured labelmate Macy Gray on "Love Won't Wait," and built the trio's reputation as an antidote to hip-hop's mainstream thuggery with lines like "We don't use dollars to represent/We just use our innocence and talent." It received generally positive reviews, and reached Number 129 on the album chart. The 2000 follow-up, Bridging the Gap, featured a who's who of indie rappers including Mos Def, Wyclef Jean, Les Nubian, DJ Premier, and Jurassic 5's Chali 2na, and reached Number 67. "Request + Line," featuring Macy Gray hit Number 63 on the singles chart.
The band began working on a third LP in 2001, but things didn't come together until Fergie came on board in 2003. Along with the new, blond singer, the band adopted a more pop-friendly approach, from its guest list and fashion sense to its lyrical content. The first single from the band's 2003 album Elephunk was "Where is the Love," featuring Justin Timberlake, a plaintive plea for world peace. The single reached Number Eight, and pushing Elephunk to Number 14 on the charts, and helping the album to ultimately sell more than two million copies. Subsequent singles, "Hey Mama" and "Let's Get It Started" (which, regrettably, is called "Let's Get Retarded" on the album version) reached Number 23 and 21 respectively.
After extensive worldwide touring — the band proved even more popular in Europe and Australia, where "Where is the Love" hit Number One — the Black Eyed Peas released a second album with Fergie, Monkey Business, which featured a series of hit singles, re-inforcing the band's intent to focus on simplistic, pop-centric jingles, none more simplistic than "My Humps," which reached Number Three and set the stage for Fergie's forthcoming solo album. Monkey Business went on to sell three million copies.
The band continued on several successful tours around the world, and proved unmatched in popular music in its willingness to team with corporate sponsors, as it did in a series of ads for Verizon and web shorts for Snickers.
The Peas' fifth album, The E.N.D. (The Energy Never Dies), came out in June 2009. The single "Boom Boom Pow" reached Number One in the U.S. and stayed there for 12 weeks. Second single "I Gotta Feeling," reached Number One, pushing "Boom Boom Pow" to the Number Two spot and making the Peas one of very few bands in history to simultaneously hold the top two spots on the singles chart. After "I Gotta Feeling" topped the chart for five consecutive weeks, the Peas had surpassed Boyz II Men's record for most consecutive weeks with a single atop the chart. The band won three Grammy's in February, 2010, including Best Pop Vocal Album for The E.N.D.
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