American group the Black Eyed Peas expanded beyond their hip-hop roots to become one of the most commercially successful pop groups of the 2000s. Their career began modestly, with a pair of albums inspired by the positive-minded likes of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. After adding Fergie, the group’s pop instincts reached full flight. Ignited by the Top Ten hit “Where Is the Love?” and the Grammy-winning party anthem “Let’s Get It Started,” the group scored three multi-platinum albums in 2003’s Elephunk, 2005’s Monkey Business, and 2009’s The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies). While still connected to hip-hop, the group’s sound turned toward dance-pop — a savvy move that transformed them from a cult act into a mainstream phenomenon.
The group’s earliest connections go back to the early ’90s, when high-schoolers will.i.am (William James Adams Jr.) and apl.de.ap (Allan Pineda Lindo Jr.) were part of Tribal Nation, a breakdancing crew. Eventually the pair focused more on music and split off on their own as Atban Klann, their esoteric name an acronym for A Tribe Beyond a Nation. Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records signed the group in 1992, but many in the Ruthless camp were puzzled by the group and the enthusiasm of Eazy, who had no problem reconciling his own gangsta style with the affable, peace-minded spirit of Atban. Although an album was recorded, Ruthless shelved it, unsure how to market a group whose style wasn’t dependent on violent braggadocio like that of N.W.A.
The death of Eazy-E in 1995 signaled the end of any further deals with Ruthless. Undaunted by the experience, will.i.am and apl.de.ap recruited another dancer/MC, Taboo (Jaime Luis Gómez), and reappeared as the Black Eyed Peas. BEP began playing shows around their native L.A., impressing hip-hop fans with their mike skills and dazzling them with their footwork as well. In 1998 their debut, Behind the Front, was released on the Interscope label to critical acclaim — not only for the trio of MCs, but also for their live band and backing vocalist Kim Hill. It was a modest commercial success, but it did not leave much of an impact, peaking at number 129 on the Billboard 200. BEP’s 2000-issued sophomore release, Bridging the Gap, featured guest appearances from Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na, De La Soul, and Macy Gray. “Request Line,” a single that reached number two on Billboard’s rap chart, helped the album perform significantly better than the debut.
A corner was turned soon after the addition of Fergie (Stacy Ann Ferguson). Formerly featured on the television program Kids Incorporated and a member of Wild Orchid (a late-’90s all-woman trio pitched somewhere between Lisa Stansfield and En Vogue), she replaced Kim Hill and took on a prominent role with her confident, forthright vocals. BEP’s first album with Fergie, 2003’s Elephunk, stormed the Top 40 with three singles — “Where Is the Love?” (a Top Ten hit), “Hey Mama,” and “Let’s Get It Started.” Two years later, the quartet returned with Monkey Business, which pushed BEP into the pop stratosphere courtesy of the hit singles “Don’t Phunk with My Heart” and “My Humps.” In the U.S., it went triple platinum. Fergie released a solo album, Dutchess, the following year. It was no slouch either, as it racked up three number one singles. The album was executive produced by will.i.am — by that point an in-demand producer for the likes of Kelis, Diddy, John Legend, Ciara, and Nas — who reentered the solo game with the 2007 album Songs About Girls. Technically his third solo project, it followed a pair of adventurous, low-key affairs issued on the BBE label earlier in the decade.
After the hiatus, the Black Eyed Peas announced their return in March 2009 with “Boom Boom Pow,” the first of three number one singles — which, altogether, topped the charts for half of the entire year — included on The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies), an album released that June. Featuring a distinctly electronic dance sound, The E.N.D. also produced hit singles “I Gotta Feeling” and “Imma Be” before receiving six Grammy nominations and winning Best Pop Vocal Album. They quickly followed with their sixth LP, The Beginning, a similarly electronic-tinged pop effort. While the album didn’t sell nearly as many copies as the group’s previous work, it produced hit singles like “The Time (Dirty Bit)” and “Just Can’t Get Enough.” The quartet headlined the Super Bowl halftime show a few months later before going on another indefinite hiatus.
Over the following years, will.i.am continued to produce and release music as a solo artist; apl.de.ap became a judge on The Voice of the Philippines; Taboo issued solo singles, including “The Fight,” about his successful battle with cancer; and Fergie worked on her sophomore follow-up, Double Dutchess. It wasn’t until 2018 that BEP returned — as the original trio sans Fergie — with their politically charged single “Street Livin’.” ~ Andy Kellman & Wade Kergan