The Black Eyed Peas' Journey from Conscious to the Charts
Published Nov 25, 2018For much of the 2000s, the Black Eyed Peas dominated radio waves, pushing out pop hits rooted in bodacious hip-hop production. But before they reached multi-platinum group status, Black Eyed Peas were two kids from East L.A.; one of which was an immigrant, the other lived in the projects. As hip-hop culture started to popularize in in L.A., will.i.am (fka Will 1X) and apl.de.ap would create a group that would see several changes, from names to band members, vocalists to styles.
Through it all, they'd retain their passion for dance and music, and spend the latter part of their careers merging the two, alongside rapper Taboo and singer Fergie. Though many groups have crumbled under the pressure over the past 20 years, the Black Eyed Peas have thrived off of it, not only allowing members to etch out their own solo paths, but also highlighting the resilience of hip-hop culture: start with nothing, leave with everything.
1974 to 1987
Allan Pineda Lindo Jr. is born in 1974 in Angeles City, Philippines. Through an international sponsorship program (Pearl S. Buck International), Pineda is sponsored to go to the United States at 11 years old, specifically to treat an eye problem that leaves him legally blind. Halfway around the world, William James Adams Jr. is born in 1975 in Inglewood, CA, and is raised in East L.A.'s Estrada Courts projects with his six siblings.
As a teenager, Adams' mother sends him to Palisades Charter School, located in a wealthy area of town. Described as a multi-racial school, Adams Jr. will later tell Billboard: "The black people hung out by the lunch tables, the Mexicans hung out by the bathroom, the white people hung out in their cars, the Asian people stood next to their lockers. I would always wander between different sections. If I didn't go to that school, the Black Eyed Peas wouldn't be what it is. I don't think we would be able to relate to every country on the planet."
Following his first visit to America in 1986, Pineda is adopted and moves to America in 1988. Through his adoptive father, Joe Ben Hudgens, the John Marshall High School student befriends his future bandmate will.i.am.
1988 to 1992
By the 10th grade, Adams and Pineda find themselves going to early raves and club nights at Club What?, immersing themselves in a scene that keeps calling them back. They decide to form a dance and rap crew called Tribal Nation, taking on the names Will 1X (also spelled Willonex) and apl.de.ap ("Allan Pineda Lindo from Angeles, Pampagna"), as well as bringing on mutual friends Dante Santiago, rapper Mooky Mook, and shortly after, DJ Motiv8 into the group.
Tribal Nation starts performing throughout Los Angeles, starting with Sunset Strip's dedicated all-ages hip-hop club Balistyx, which is promoted by David Faustino (Bud Bundy on Married With Children). "[We were rocking] the same stage that the Doors started on and that's where I got my start," will.i.am will recount to Hip Hop DX.
"He won battles and held the top spot for like, like three, four, five months in a row. No one could beat him," Faustino will recall.
Catching the attention of producer Bret Mazur (Wolf and Epic), Mazur tips off Jerry Heller, manager of N.W.A. and co-founder of Ruthless Records, about the burgeoning artist. Heller forwards the information to rapper Eazy-E, who meets 17-year-old Will 1X at Balistyx.
During the L.A. riots in April 1992, Eazy-E signs Will 1X and apl.de.ap to Ruthless Records with a $10,000 deal. Tribal Nation rebrands as A.T.B.A.N. Klann ("A Tribe Beyond a Nation"), fitting in with the freeform music coming from the likes of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. A.T.B.A.N. Klann make their debut on Eazy-E's first solo EP 5150: Home 4 the Sick with the DJ Motiv8 and Will 1X-produced single, "Merry Muthaphuckkin' Xmas."
1993 to 1994
With Will 1X and apl.de.ap now out of high school, A.T.B.A.N. Klann start working on their debut album, Grass Roots. Despite being scheduled for release at the end of 1993, the album, described as "fantastic" by Jerry Heller, is never released. In 1994, the group release a CD single and promotional twelve-inch titled "Puddles of H20," with the B-side single "Let Me Get Down" credited as being produced for "Black Eyed Peas."
Following a six-week incarceration for an assault charge, Mooky Mook, whose experience affects him deeply, quits A.T.B.A.N. Klann during an argument. In late February, Eazy-E tells Will 1X that MTV is interested in "Puddles of H20" — for the group, this is their show-and-prove moment. In that same conversation, Eazy-E reveals that he's in the hospital with bronchitis. On March 26, ten days later, Eazy-E dies of AIDS.
After Eazy-E's passing and amidst legal issues, Ruthless Records drop A.T.B.A.N. Klann. The label, which owns the rights to the A.T.B.A.N. Klann name, forces Will 1X to rebrand the group once again, first as Black Eyed Pods, before settling on Black Eyed Peas — already the informal name of the production team of Will 1X and Motiv8. Will 1X also decides to change his name, taking on the nom-de-plume will.i.am.
Dante Santiago leaves the group (maintaining a guest vocalist position), and Jamie Luis Gomez, better known as Taboo, joins the Black Eyed Peas after a longstanding relationship between A.T.B.A.N. Klann and his own dance outfit, Divine Tribal Brothers. Throughout 1995, the group add keyboardist Carlos Galvan, guitarist "JC," drummer Terry Graves and bassist Mike Fratantuno to complete the band, as well as manager Yon Styles. At a BMI showcase, the Black Eyed Peas meet singer Kim Hill, who lives on the same street as Styles. "We met and we really clicked, will and I immediately had a connection as musicians… [and] we immediately started writing together," Hill says. Hill joins the Black Eyed Peas and signs to will.i.am's label I Am Music, but maintains her solo career and only plays the group's most significant shows.
While working on new music, the group create the Peapod Foundation, a charity organization that runs toy drives to give back to the L.A. community.
1996 to 1997
The Black Eyed Peas record a demo tape, comprised of old school-style tracks, but it's their uptempo track "Joints & Jam" that plays throughout college campuses and clubs. As the group's music gets more popular across L.A., their management arranges a club showcase at the Dragonfly Club — little did they know that Jimmy Iovine, co-founder of Interscope Records, had already been given a copy of their demo and attends the night. The Black Eyed Peas sign to Interscope for $500,000 for a three-album deal; the label also agrees to oversee will.i.am's. I Am Music label.
In 1996, will.i.am (still credited as Will 1X) produces and appears on the single "That's Right" for actor Brian Austin Green's hip-hop album, One Stop Carnival.
Despite shooting a video for forthcoming album single "Head Bobs," the group decide to hold off on releasing it. In December 1997, will.i.am, apl.de.ap and Taboo, along with new group vocalist Sierra Swan, make their debut as the Black Eyed Peas with the double single "Fallin' Up/¿Que Dices?," along with its accompanying sepia-shot video. The video sets up the group's identity: simple, grassroots, peaceful, fun, conscious and lyrical.
On June 30 1998, the Black Eyed Peas releases their studio debut Behind the Front to positive reception. The 16-track album consists of several songs re-recorded for their original Ruthless Records Grass Roots album to include verses from Taboo, including "Joints & Jam," which is re-released in the fall. The album also marks singer Macy Gray's recording debut, on the single "Love Won't Wait."
Behind the Front reaches No. 37 in the Billboard R&B chart and number 129 in the Billboard Top 200, selling approximately 300,000 copies. Over the summer, the Black Eyed Peas embark on a eight-week tour as a part of the historic "Smokin' Grooves" tour, performing a 20-minute opening set for 20 shows. "This was our first tour. The first time we ever stepped out on the road was on a tour bus, not a van," will.i.am will recall. "There was no, 'Oh, I'm calling shotgun.' We were on the road with Wyclef [Jean], Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, M.O.P. and Gang Starr. That was dope."
Nominated for two UK MOBO Awards, the group fly to London in September 1998, subsequently helping to redefine how West coast rap music is perceived. "Did you see how they were receiving us? I felt like one of the fucking Beatles out there!," apl.de.ap us heard saying. The group continue touring, including a stint on "Vans Warped Tour" and adding two new band members, guitarist George Pajon Jr. and keyboard player Priese Prince LaMont Board, better known as Printz Board.
In September, the Black Eyed Peas start recording their sophomore album, Bridging the Gap. With hearts set on working with the likes of Portishead, Beck and Stereolab, as well as Lauryn Hill, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, the group quickly set themselves apart from other rap acts at the time.
In the year since they start recording, the Black Eyed Peas complete work on Kim Hill's album, but it's ultimately rejected by Interscope. Just as album piracy is starting to become an issue for the music industry, the Black Eyed Peas' second album is unknowingly leaked before release. They quickly realize their online branding isn't up to par, and they launch their own website to connect to fans. On September 26, 2000, the group officially release Bridging the Gap, which they say is their attempt to bridge the gap between different worlds, genres and countries. It sells approximately 250,000 units. Singer Macy Gray, who has since become a breakout star with her single "I Try," returns to sing on "Request + Line"; it becomes the group's first Billboard Hot 100 single, reaching #63.
While touring their newest album, Interscope executive Ron Fair tells the Black Eyed Peas that they should move to the A&M wing of Interscope/Geffen/A&M, and with Jimmy Iovine's blessing, they move forward with their last contractual album. The group also find new management in the form of David Soneberg, known for managing Meat Loaf, while Kim Hill, who will claim in 2010 that the label is trying to over-sexualize her, decides to leave the group permanently.
In April, the Black Eyed Peas play a concert with California-based girl band Wild Orchid in Minneapolis; their frontwoman is Stacy Ferguson, who originally met the Black Eyed Peas in 1998. At the time, she's struggling with addiction and eating disorder issues. will.i.am recognizes the need for a female voice in the group and asks Nicole Scherzinger (later of the Pussycat Dolls) to join them; Scherzinger, then a member of girl group Eden's Crush, declines, as she's under contract.
will.i.am releases his solo debut, Lost Change, on October 2. The album takes an even more experimental approach, fusing jazz, electronica, funk, Caribbean sounds and trip-hop, featuring production from Printz Board and heavy metal guitarist Michael Angelo Batio.
During the spring of 2001, the Black Eyed Peas start working on their third album, but following the events of 9/11, the album takes a turn. In December, will.i.am. and Printz Board begin working on a song at will.i.am's newly renovated studio (Stewchia), that'll later become "Where Is the Love?"
After performing with Justin Timberlake at a Hollywood club, Taboo reaches out to the *NSYNC vocalist with a written chorus to "Where Is the Love?" In March, the song is recorded; it won't be released until the following year.
Alongside Garth Brooks, Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray and Thalia, Dr. Pepper enlists the Black Eyed Peas for their "Be You" campaign, giving them a $100,000 advance. The campaign is perceived as a blatant cry to reach black and Latino audiences, and the Black Eyed Peas are subsequently crucified as being sell-outs. However, it also helps open the floodgates for more advertising in hip-hop culture at large.
As the Black Eyed Peas are looking for a female vocalist to bring concept song "Shut Up" together, original member Dante Santiago brings a now-sober Stacy Ferguson to the studio. After recording the song and developing a relationship with the group, Jimmy Iovine suggests they made Ferguson an official member. They bring her in, rename her Fergie, and take her on tour.
With Elephunk to be released in June, the group re-work "Where Is the Love" to include Fergie's vocals. The song, released in mid-June, introducing the new group, but they maintain their socio-political roots. "It was as aces, because it was letting people ask the question of themselves, not just the government," Taboo notes to the Daily Mirror.
"Where Is the Love?" is nominated for Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the Grammys, losing to Coldplay's "Clocks" and "Crazy In Love" by Beyoncé with JAY-Z, respectively.
While the group is on tour with Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, Elephunk is released on June 24, 2003, reaches #14 on Billboard charts, #3 in the UK and sells over eight million copies worldwide.
will.i.am releases his second solo album, Must B 21, in September.
2004 to 2005
Almost a year to the day after Elephunk's release, B.E.P. drop fourth single "Let's Get It Started," which reaches #21 on the U.S. charts and #11 in the UK.
A week after playing the Super Bowl pre-game show with Earth, Wind & Fire, the Black Eyed Peas win the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group Grammy for "Let's Get It Started."
The Peapod Foundation becomes a donor-advised fund of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a charitable organization that oversees several charities that focus on health, educational and social issues.
Monkey Business is released on June 7, 2005 to mixed reviews. Inspired by the group's worldwide travels, the album plays to global sounds with each single distinguishing itself to a different market, including "Don't Phunk with My Heart" and "My Humps." It sells over 11 million copies worldwide. The Black Eyed Peas embark on the 137-date "Monkey Business" tour; in the midst of it, will.i.am announces that the group will shift its focus to solo endeavours while they take a brief hiatus.
To the dismay of feminists, "My Humps" — which gets criticized for "setting the base of feminism back several decades" — gets turned into a mobile ringtone that sells over two million units and wins both Best Hip-hop Video at the VMA awards and a Grammy in 2007.
Fergie releases her solo debut, The Dutchess, on September 13 on will.i.am's imprint. The album launches Fergie into stardom on her own, and reaches #2 on the Billboard 200, spending 94 weeks on the chart. The album, which includes "London Bridge," "Fergalicious" and "Big Girls Don't Cry" sells five-times platinum in America.
2007 to 2009
On March 27, 2007, Taboo is arrested for driving under the influence and incarcerated; he gets sober. As Barack Obama campaigns to become president, will.i.am puts his support behind the political movement, making a multi-celebrity video titled, "Yes We Can." He'll end up performing at one of the inauguration events for Obama in January 2009.
On a personal front, in 2008, Taboo becomes the first married member of the group, followed by Fergie in January 2009, while apl.de.ap establishes the apl Foundation, which benefits children in the Philippines.
In early 2009, the group leave A&M Records, but remain on Interscope, and release the electro-hop single "Boom Boom Pow" in March. A far cry from their hip-hop roots, the song becomes their first #1 single, followed shortly by "I Gotta Feeling," which stays at #1 for 14 weeks.
The group release The E.N.D. (The Energy Never Dies) on June 9, 2009. Though the numbers fail in comparison to their two prior albums, The E.N.D. includes two of the most downloaded singles ever.
At the Grammys, B.E.P win Best Pop Vocal Album for The E.N.D., Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group for "I Gotta Feeling" and Best Short Form Video for "Boom Boom Pow."
As they finished a tour leg in Canada, they release a remix compilation titled The E.N.D. Summer 2010 Canadian Invasion Collection on iTunes in Canada only. It doesn't make much noise. They release The Beginning on November 30.
The Beginning is met with mixed reviews, but the group is invited to perform once again at the 2011 Super Bowl. They release their third single, "Don't Stop the Party" in May, and two months later, announced at a concert at Alton Towers in Staffordshire that they will be taking an indefinite hiatus, though will.i.am. tweeted shortly after that it doesn't mean they will "stop creating." On November 23, the group closed out their The Beginning tour.
2012 to 2014
Solo work dominates a down period for Black Eyed Peas as a group. will.i.am releases #willpower in April 2013. Fergie releases three different fragrances between 2011 and 2015. Apl.de.ap appears as a judge on two seasons of The Voice of the Philippines and is a guest mentor, with will.i.am, as a guest mentor on The Voice Australia.
will.i.am announces that the group are coming together to celebrate their 20th anniversary and work on their seventh studio album. The group premiere "Awesome" on UK radio; it does not feature Fergie. In summer, they release their newest single "Yesterday" with a still-absent Fergie. In a conversation with BET, will.i.am puts rumours to rest, saying that they are working on new music with her, and the old-school-styled video was to pay homage to the 20-year anniversary of the group and the Daisy era of hip-hop. All members perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
2016 to 2017
The Black Eyed Peas re-release "Where Is the Love?," credited as the Black Eyed Peas featuring the World. The group come together to perform for the first time in several years in June, and after five years of no new music, rumours start once more that Fergie is no longer with them, to which will.i.am responds, saying, "Since the beginning of Black Eyed Peas, we've always had amazing vocalists that appeared on the mic with us."
In February, the Black Eyed Peas release their first single in seven years, "Street Livin'." will.i.am announces that Fergie has, in fact, left the group. "We are now a trio. I don't know why Fergie isn't on the project. You will have to ask Fergie that," he says in an interview with Daily Star.
The single is followed up with "Ring the Alarm" and "Get It," as well as an announcement that the new album will mark a return to the group's socio-political hip-hop roots. Masters of the Sun Vol. 1 comes out on October 26.
Essential Black Eyed Peas
Behind the Front (Interscope, 1998)
This album solidified their position in the underground rap world, despite being distributed on a major label. "Welcome to the rap game, where the music is the business, but the music isn't the business," will.i.am states on "Fallin' Up." Behind the Front introduced the group as the culture, but would also introduced long-time collaborator Kim Hill and spotlit Macy Gray for the first time.
Elephunk (Interscope, 2003)
Elephunk introduced the newest member of the Black Eyed Peas to the world — an indie-pop, rock-styled vocalist named Fergie — as well as a new pop sound, layering it under their distinct rhyme style and still-present consciousness largely shaped by the events of 9/11.
The E.N.D. (Interscope, 2009)
As will.i.am and Fergie found success with their own solo albums, rumours flew that they were splitting up. Jokingly, they decided to name their album The E.N.D. — the acronym meaning "The Energy Never Dies," which was also an accurate representation for the album. Though hugely successful commercially, for day-one fans, this album signified "the end" of an era.