Photo Credit: Black Eye Peas via Facebook
In the nearly two decades since they broke through with the 2x Platinum-certified Elephunk, LA trio the Black Eyed Peas have been the butt of many a joke – especially as their star continued to grow throughout the noughties. “What the f**k happened?” was the question on the mind of one critic after listening to the hit factory that was Monkey Business, while another gave the then-quartet the most backhanded compliment possible – saying he was “forced to admire” the band’s “preternatural knack for beating the lowest common denominator to the punch.” Earlier this year, an SNL sketch featuring Lizzo lamented the band’s lack of lyrical prowess, Fergie’s over-singing, and, of course, the very unfortunately titled “Let’s Get R*tarded.”
Chalk it up to nostalgia, but I still get a lot of enjoyment out of the Peas’ biggest hits – “Boom Boom Pow,” “Pump It,” and yes, even “Where Is The Love?” – the oft-derided, an admittedly saccharine protest song that became the emotional linchpin of 2003’s Elephunk. As an unabashed enjoyer of some of the Peas’ most famous – and also most divisive – material, it’s frustrating to see that their ninth, and worst, LP effectively confirms all the harshest criticisms that have long been levied against the group – it’s soulless, trend-chasing music that barely pretends to be anything other than a shameless cash grab.
The ironically titled Elevation sees the will.i.am led three-piece adopt a reggaetón and Latin pop flair and invite a number of the genre’s biggest stars to feature – including Anitta and Daddy Yankee. The album’s 12 featured artists are a testament to the new shameless lows the Peas have reached; an indication of how little faith the trio has in themselves to still deliver hit singles and successful albums. Even the biggest Black Eyed Peas fan would have to admit that the band has always had the tendency to create music that is overwrought and often corny, but its saving grace has always been that the band has always sounded like they believed in what they were creating – even when that involved building songs that revolved around repetitions of “Gotta get that boom boom boom.”
Perhaps, then, the greatest sin of Elevation is its inauthenticity. It’s clear listening to the music that will.i.am, apl.de.ap, and Taboo are not the main creative forces behind the LP. Instead, it’s the 35 writers and 10 producers credited in the liner notes; most of whom seem like they were recruited for the sole purpose of maximizing Spotify streams. At 55 minutes in length, Elevation overstays its welcome, but this feeling would probably remain even if the album was half this length. It truly is painful to hear the trio co-opt a genre they have only a transient interest in; as they offer up chemistry-free collaborations, incorporate awkward samples of Scatman John (“Bailar Contigo”), and come dangerously close to plagiarising Eiffel 65’s “Blue” (“Get Down”). All the while, will.i.am sounds asleep at the wheel as he shows off his fifth-grade Spanish language skills (“Uno, dos, tres, cuatro // B*tch, I got to go, adios” he raps on “Audios”) and offers some of the most awkward raps possible about the female body. The best Black Eyed Peas songs always had – and still do have the ability – to electrify any room they’re played in. The songs of Elevation, by comparison, are the sort of songs that if they started playing in a club, would make you realize you should have gone home about an hour ago.
On album nadir “Double D’z”, will.i.am raps, without a hint of irony, “How you such an hourglass? // body on curve // I may need to see the booty, make it twerk // Seriously f*ck that booty is superb.” By comparison, he makes Adam Levine’s instantly infamous sexts suddenly sound like a masterclass in flirting. The song is indicative of the complete lack of taste, sincerity and meaningful artistry that pervades Elevation – an album that, contrary to its title, sees the band stoop to stunning new lows.