will.i.am’s first recorded appearance was back in 1993, when he appeared on Blood of Abraham’s “N*ggaz and Jewz (Some Say K*kes)” alongside the man who discovered him, Eazy-E. Obviously it’s going to be all downhill from there, but it’s been more like a leap off a clip into a pit of fire and poop and farts for will.i.am — his Black Eyed Peas have become one of, if not THE most hated pop music group out there today.
But hey, let’s not be haters on will.i.am’s 38th birthday (that’s today) — let’s try to make sense of his music. It’s devil’s advocate time: I am going to try to defend the Black Eyed Peas. Why yes, I do hate myself, but also, we should follow Patrick Stump’s advice and try to be more positive (but mostly the “I hate myself” thing). Here are five pro-Peas arguments that a fan could conceivably make, all about their music, not about their charity work or the time apl.de.ap gave a homeless guy half a hoagie. Please leave your dignity at the door — the Black Eyed Peas have.
1. Their first two albums aren’t bad, bordering on pretty good.
The Black Eyed Peas will never appear on any best-of lists — they were and continue to be too lightweight, too inconsequential, too soul-sucking — but their first two albums, 1998’s Behind the Front and 2000’s Bridging the Gap, an all-too-fitting name considering what was to come three years later, aren’t robotic throwaways. They at least sound like they were made by people (could stop there) who care about the quality of the content they’re putting out, not about how soon they can land a commercial deal with Diet Pepsi Zero to the Maxx. Bridging the Gap, in particular, is infectiously enthusiastic and calls to mind the Pharcyde, at least in terms of its playfulness. The hooks are there, and not yet grating, like on “Boom Boom Pow.” Then came the Fergie Ferg…
2. They’re hella positive
I’m already reaching here, but c’mon, it’s the Black Eyed Peas. Fergie joined the Peas in 2002 (beating out former-Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger), and a year later, the group put out Elephunk, the so-called “brightest actual pop album of 2003,” according to Robert Christgau. That’s not not true — first single, and likely entry point for most people, “Where Is the Love?” featuring an immediately catchy Justin Timberlake hook, is very, um, bright and positive. It’s hard to fault a group for bringing issues like, “Not respectin’ each other, deny thy brother/A war is goin’ on but the reason’s undercover” to the top-40 charts. We often complain about the vapidness of pop music, and in “Love,” the Peas are discussing something that actually matters. But once again, like the Fergie thing in #1, they were undercut by their own sins: Elephunk features a cameo from Papa Roach. Hell is “Anxiety.”
3. They’re maybe our most honest pop stars
will.i.am gets most of the world’s Peas-related fury, rightfully so. He’s a huckster, selling his goods (“goods”) to the highest bidder. Can you blame him, though? We want to believe that our pop stars, someone like a Justin Timberlake or Jay-Z, wouldn’t sacrifice the integrity of their music to make a few quick bucks from a heartless corporation. But honestly that’s what pop music (and rock and hip-hop and country and…) is often about: making money, and few acts know how to do that as well as the Peas. They’re the music business personified, because it’s exactly that, a business; the Peas are just (refreshingly?) open about it. To quote Nathan Rabin, they’re “essentially a four-person advertising agency flimsily masquerading as a pop group” that, I believe, don’t care about legitimacy. They want to — and do — make music that appeals to the widest audience possible, which is why “Boom Boom Pow” got stuck in your head as soon as I mentioned earlier, and will be played on the radio until Taboo becomes Forever President in 2051 and launches the Bomb Bomb Pows, killing us all. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to cry on my copy of Slanted and Enchanted on vinyl.
4. will.i.am can do it all
Britney Spears, who most people like, sings. That’s all she does — she doesn’t produce or write her songs, let alone play an instrument on any of them. She’s a vocalist and that’s that. will.i.am, on the other the hand, does a little bit on everything. He’s, obviously, the frontman, but he also co-writes and co-produces nearly every song, while also playing Moog synthesizers, clavinet, drums, and piano, and that’s just on Elephunk alone. Credit where credit’s due: dude’s really talented, except for when it comes to naming albums.
5. At least they’re not as bad as Justin Bieber?