It’s interesting to consider that present-day mainstream hip-hop entities like Ice Cube and Black Eyed Peas were once signed to Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records, the Galapagos Islands of gangsta rap.
Cube left Ruthless and ultimately became a Hollywood player who associated himself with kid movies such as Are We There Yet? and bizarre cable shows where people trade races. The Peas’ relationship with the label dissolved in 1995 with the death of Eazy, and it wasn’t until ’98 that they re-emerged with the promising debut album Behind the Front. Touring almost non-stop, the Peas developed a steady following on the strength of their Native Tongues vibe and energy packed live shows.
Their sophomore disc, Bridging the Gap, featured appearances from De La Soul, Jurassic 5, Mos Def, and Macy Gray, positing the group as a multi-ethnic, updated version of the Jungle Brothers. During those days it was relatively common to catch the Peas at Stubbs in Austin before the show while they were munching on BBQ and bonding with fans.
Apparently not satisfied with a cult following, the Peas brought Stacy Ferguson (aka Fergie), a lifelong showbiz fringe dweller whose acting credits included Kids Incorporated and Mr. Belvedere, into the fold. Instantly, she became the Gwen Stefani to their anonymous, easily forgotten members of No Doubt.
Black Eyed Peas
Sun, Apr 9
Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
16765 Lookout Road, Selma
Their next album, Elephunk, crossed over all radio boundaries via the sappy single “Where Is The Love.” Monkey Business, their following effort, extended the pattern of bouncy synthetic dance numbers coupled with lackluster lyricism, and before long the crew was cutting ads for cell phone companies, chain electronics stores, and the NBA.
On its own, “My Humps” has set back feminist thought in hip-hop a few strides, something maybe even Eazy would be proud of. The somewhat warped evolution of the Peas illustrates contemporary commercial hip-hop’s blatant rejection of two of the art form’s original commandments: don’t bite and don’t sell out.
These days even Mos Def slangs SUVs, so the Peas aren’t alone in this. Corny hip-hop themed commercials are all over the place, sometimes within actual songs, but when a supposedly conscious artist takes the mercenary plunge it’s that much harder to take. •