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The Black Eyed Peas will "rock" Cowboys Stadium for the Super Bowl XLV halftime show in mere moments, which makes this a good a time as any to learn about the Black Eyed Peas. Who are these minions of keyboard- and synthesizer-heavy hip-pop, and how did they come to rule the world of music? Glad you asked.
The Black Eyed Peas were originally a "conscious" hip-hop group, sort of in the vein of De La Soul meets the Pharcyde. Frontman will.i.am and apl.de.ap were both members of Atban Klann, which formed in 1991 and was signed to Eazy-E's Ruthless Records. After that group disbanded following Eazy-E's death, they joined with Taboo and backup singer Kim Hill to form Black Eyed Pods, then Black Eyed Peas. That iteration of the group was known for organic sounds and thoughtful lyrics in a "real hip-hop" vein; "Weekend" is a pretty good track from that era.
Fergie Adds The The
Of course, the more soulful sound Black Eyed Peas pursued wasn't particularly popular; when Fergie joined the group in 2002, the poppier sound she and other BEP members produced was far more potent. 2003's Elephunk was the first album released as The Black Eyed Peas, and featured worldwide number-one hit "Where Is The Love?" (which still managed to lament "We still got terrorists here livin' / In the USA, the big CIA / The Bloods and the Crips, and the KKK"). It went triple platinum in the U.S., and 2005 follow-up Monkey Business went quadruple platinum, mining a goofy, funky sound that was often brighter and lighter than the louder fare that topped the charts in that period. The Peas were big then, but not huge; in 2005, BEP performed at the halftime show for the CFL's Grey Cup.
The Dutchess Interlude
The Peas went on hiatus as Fergie took a break from the Peas for a one-album solo career. 2006's The Dutchess was a huge success: it's sold over six million copies worldwide and spawned as many number one Hot 100 hits in the U.S. than The Black Eyed Peas have in their career. The album was executive produced by will.i.am, so there were Peas traces on it, but the five charting singles, all top-five hits, showed a range that the Peas didn't and don't have. It was also a triumph for a longtime show business fixture — as Stacy Ferguson, Fergie had been on Kids, Incorporated and done the voice of Sally Brown in various Charlie Brown specials, and her singing career began with short-lived group Wild Orchid — because Fergie, 31 at the time of The Dutchess' release, was a bit older than the average female pop artist.
The Guetta-fication of The Black Eyed Peas
But it was Fergie's return to the Peas proper in 2008 that began a BEP's current period of chart domination. The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies), the Black Eyed Peas' 2009 opus, borrowed heavily from French DJ David Guetta's electro style for a sound that turned the bass-and-synth grooves will.i.am could cobble together into chart-topping hits. Both "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling" hit number one on the Hot 100, and between those two songs and "Meet Me Halfway," the Peas locked down the top spot on the charts for an astounding 30 consecutive weeks in 2009, and dropped an album that nearly went triple platinum during a time when platinum was rare.
BEP followed that up by playing virtually every live show possible for the next two years and releasing The Beginning in 2010. That album's already produced "The Time (Dirty Bit)," a top-five song in the U.S. that's topped charts globally.
Who to Credit, Who to Blame
It's undeniable that will.i.am is the heart of the Peas' music — he's the lead lyricist and producer, is usually the featured artist, and is the public face of the group — but Fergie and her powerful voice may be the soul. If you want to call the Peas soulless or sellouts, it's probably fair to blame will.i.am again: he's been the driving force behind the Peas going electro, and though he remains an absurdly talented producer, he's let the Peas' ethos atrophy to "We're going to say a bunch of random words while you dance," and diluted the value of those songs to high school dance staples.
Taboo's lasting contribution to the band is probably his hair. apl.de.ap has a verse on "The Time" in which he puns on his name with "I'm the Mac daddy, y'all" and "I'm the party application, rockin' just like that." But both of them are far, far richer than you or I will ever be, so, uh, good for them.
With Usher and Slash rumored to join the Peas for the Super Bowl halftime show, expect a medley of only the biggest hits: "I Gotta Feeling" to "Boom Boom Pow" to Usher's "OMG" to a bit of the Slash/Fergie collaboration/abomination "Beautiful Dangerous" to new hit "The Time (Dirty Bit)" would be a pretty safe projected setlist.
As for the optimal setlist, "Let's Get It Started" to "I Gotta Feeling" to "The Time" is a clean, fun, fairly painless triptych of the best of late-period BEP, which means it has no shot whatsoever to happen.
will.i.am is William Adams. apl.de.ap is Allan Pineda. Taboo is Jaime Gomez. Fergie is Stacy Ferguson.
For more on this game follow along with our Super Bowl XLV StoryStream, and check out our stream of live analysis and video of the Super Bowl commercials.