The multi-ethnic southern Californian group in many ways defies the stereotypes of left coast rap, which throughout most of the nineties was most identified with NWA, Tupac, and Shug Knight's cadre of gangsta rappers on Death Row records. The Black Eyed Peas follow more closely in the legacy of east coast politically-aimed and positively messaged groups like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Their smooth, radio-friendly tracks take cues from pop, hip-hop, R&B and dancehall, and stand as a So-Cal alternative to the prevalence of violence-laden gangster rap.
Although now famous for their MC stylings, the Black Eyed Peas' Will I Am (William Adams) and Apl de Ap (Allen Pineda) first began performing together during eighth grade in an LA breakdancing crew called Tribal Nation. Although the crew met with some success, Ap and Will I Am broke away from the group in the early 1990's to expand their focus to all the traditional elements of hip-hop culture (B-boys, MC-ing, DJ-ing) as opposed to solely breakdancing.
They called their new group Atban Klann, (Atban stands for A Tribe Beyond a Nation,) and in 1992 this group of peace-loving, politically-minded kids was signed by Ruthless Record, the label headed by Eazy-E. Eazy-E, of course, was one of the progenitors of gangster rap when he fronted the controversial LA group NWA.
Although Ruthless seemed a strange home for the Atban Klann, Easy-E championed the group within the label. Unfortunately, Eazy succumbed to AIDS in 1995, and with his death the Ruthless - Atban Klann relationship ended.
Will I Am and Apl de Ap decided to form a new group, recruiting another dancer and singer, Taboo (Jaime Gomez), and named this new group Black Eyed Peas. BEP's mix of dance and MC talent impressed the LA circuit, and in 1998 they released their first album, Behind the Front, on Interscope Records. That album also featured vocals from Kim Hill, who contributed to their second album, Bridging the Gap, along with such hip-hop luminaries as Macy Gray, De La Soul and Jurassic 5.
Things started getting big for the Black Eyed Peas in 2003, with the release of Elephunk. Taboo, Will I Am and Apl de Ap replaced singer Kim Hill with Fergie (Stacy Ferguson), a singer and dancer formerly with the group Wild Orchid. Will I Am approached Fergie when she was cutting her debut album, asking her to guest on a couple tracks, and before he knew it, she was part of the band. Also guesting on the track 'Where is the Love' was Justin Timberlake, who was fresh from recording his smash hit album Justified.
When Elephunk hit, timing couldn't have been better for the Black Eyed Peas, as they were able to capitalize on Timberlake's success, and 'Where is the Love' went all the way to number one. The second single from Elephunk, 'Hey Mama,' made a splash on MTV and TRL, based not only on its infectious dance hall rhythms, but also the old school, b-boy style dance battle featured in the video, which showcases the spectacular booty-shaking abilities of Fergie and the rest of the band.
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