In an era of an ever-changing music industry that's defined by diminishing expectation, where a "successful" career means having one, maybe two hit records; The Black Eyed Peas are a glorious exception. They have become one of the best selling, most popular and most innovative groups for over a decade. They have transformed themselves from a beloved backpack rap troop from the West Coast Underground into fully-fledged, massive global superstars whose music can be heard in any country around the world.
They've done this the right way: creating albums that are more innovative than the last; which has translated into each new album being more popular than the last. And in following this pattern, The Black Eyed Peas – will.i.am, Fergie, Taboo and apl.de.ap – are releasing their sixth full-length album, The Beginning.
The Beginning follows on the heels of 2009's The E.N.D., BEP's most popular and most creative album to date – and the album that reaffirmed their singular status as global music icons. The E.N.D sold more than 11 million copies worldwide; it entered the Billboard Top 200 Chart at #1 outperforming their previous cd, Monkey Business– an unheard of feat in this day and age. It yielded 5 Top 10 singles (the first album to do so in 20 years), spent an entire year in the Billboard Top 200 Chart, and earned the group 3 new Grammy Awards, for a total of six Grammy Awards they've won. In all, they've sold 29 million records worldwide (plus over 30-million digital tracks). They've sold over 3-million tickets and headlined over 300 different tour dates in 29 different countries. Simply put, there doesn't exist another contemporary artist or group who can come close to their sustained success.
It's how The Black Eyed Peas have achieved that success that is the most rewarding part of their story: through constant innovation. The Peas never follow contemporary trends in music, but rather create their own – soundtracking everyday emotions with new musical styles. They seem to always be one-step ahead of everyone else, but still remain effortlessly accessible to anyone who likes to nod their head. The E.N.D., was a perfect example of that. Invigorated by the energy of the underground club scene, the Peas found a way to mix hip-hop with the rhythms and beats of house, electro and techno music – and turn it into pop music. It's a sound no one had created before, and quick scan of the dozens of R&B and pop singles on the radio today will reveal just how much of an impact the Peas made on pop music.
Now, however, comes The Beginning to up the ante. The Beginning does not signal a new start for the group, will not provoke talk of a rebirth. In fact, musically, The Beginning taps very much into the dance-club energy perfected on The E.N.D., albeit with a more sophisticated pop and electronic music palette. The Beginning, rather, is a reference to the world at large, right here at this very moment in time – new methods of communicating, new methods of broadcasting are connecting the world in ways never before imaginable. It's created an exciting time – for making music, for creating – and it's invigorated the group.
"The Beginning is symbolic of adopting new technologies, such as augmented reality, 3D and 360 video," explains will.i.am. "It's also about being experimental, taking songs we've liked from the past and playing around with sick, crazy beats. It's an amazing time to be creative right now and I think people are open to that."
The Black Eyed Peas have always been considered innovators ever since emerging out of the West Coast underground rap scene in the 1990s. In 2002, they welcomed Fergie into the group (for their third album, Elephunk), and it transformed them from beloved backpack rap stalwarts into one of the most popular groups in the world. It was on The E.N.D., though, that the Peas truly made their musical mark, tapping into the infinite energy and communal experience of worldwide club music. The sound they created on that album is now the blueprint for contemporary pop and R&B music; a fact that any quick scan of the radio dial can confirm.
The Beginning is an evolution of that sound, this time harnessing a more seductive electro vibe in addition to big house grooves. The song, "The Time (Dirty Bit)," is the first single from The Beginning, and it features an interpolation of the theme song from the 1987 film, Dirty Dancing.
It went straight to #1 on iTunes in 11 countries within the first 24 hours. "That song is a celebration of this amazing time in our lives,” says vocalist Fergie. “We’ve been on tour all over the world, and looking out at stadiums full of people who came out to see us — that’s as big as it gets. After the shows, we go out to the clubs and meet the fans; those are moments that we have to remember.” “Plus the fact that we get to experience it with each other,” adds vocalist apl.de.ap, “that’s the best feeling ever.”
“You never know what’s going to happen, so you want to make the best of every day,” says will.i.am. “We wanted to capture that feeling and release a song that celebrates with the fans because it wouldn’t have happened without them.” This album is the beginning of a new era of Pea world domination -- fasten your seat belts pea-ple enjoy the ride, declares Taboo.
Along with the first single, other songs from The Beginning, like, "Love You Long Time," "Do It Like This," and "The Best One Yet" are evidence that perhaps no other group in the world can craft an anthem quite like The Black Eyed Peas. It's balanced out on the album with songs like the electro ballad, "Just Can't Get Enough," which highlights the physical and emotional range of Fergie's voice. These are all the type of songs that tap into everyday feelings of everyday folks; they evoke the anxious moments before a great night out; the memories of best times spent with friends; or the butterflies of ambition.
Much of The Beginning was conceived during The Black Eyed Peas most recent worldwide headlining tour, where they visited more than 20 countries and played to more than a million people. Drawing from a long playlist of hits from their catalog and a vibrant, multimedia stage show (which the “New York Times” described as a gripping pop "sci-fi spectacle," the Peas are one of the biggest attractions in the world right now.
"When you have that interaction with the fans (at a live show), there's no other greater inspiration in the world," says will.i.am. "You see them rapping the lyrics back to you or dancing to your joints, it's energizing. And at the after parties, when we DJ, you can experiment with different sounds and see how people react, it's not a pretentious environment in the clubs and they embrace you with an open mind. It becomes like a laboratory. And so that whole experience of being on tour and that interaction, all of it just drives us to want to make the best and most creative music we can."