There are no Black Eyed Peas fans. Not really. Sure, there are people who have ‘I Gotta Feeling’ on their house party playlist and sure, there are people who have lost their virginity at these same house parties while ‘Boom Boom Pow’ blasted from Argos speakers, rattling the walls of a temporarily parent-less suburban domicile jam-packed with randy sixth-formers trying to work out which bit goes in what hole, but these people are not Black Eyed Peas fans. They listen to the Black Eyed Peas because they only know two bands and the other one is Smashmouth.
The Black Eyed Peas suffered a serious loss when Fergie left, taking with her approximately 100% of the band’s charisma and vocal powers. Without her, the band are forced to return to the grittier, more homespun sound of the early noughties, eschewing pop choruses in favour of no-frills hip-hop. Surprisingly, ‘Street Livin” is not the directionless disaster many would expect, but a thoughtful, understated rap track.
The Peas’ breakout song ‘Where Is The Love?’ was the closest the group ever came to purposeful hip hop, and even then the message was heavily watered down for the mass market. From there, the band drew inspiration from dancing, partying and, you know, humping and shit, to pen their subsequent hits. ‘Street Livin” offers a return to the group’s political past, but with a sharper edge than ever before.
On their comeback track, Black Eyed Peas take on the race divide in modern America, invoking images of slavery, poverty and police brutality. It’s succinct and considered, everything the Black Eyed Peas were certainly not at the time of Fergie’s departure, a measured rap track that favours flowing rhymes over hammy choruses. While ‘Where Is The Love?’ offered a generalised sense of despair at the world’s injustices, ‘Street Livin” points to its causes. There are even similarities to be drawn between ‘Street Livin” and Jay-Z’s masterful ‘Story Of OJ’ released last year, a similarly understated track that used the image of slave cotton-pickers to draw parallels with today’s America. Though the Peas don’t have quite the same level of lyrical prowess as Jay, this is nonetheless an admirable effort, a compelling, slow-burner miles above what anyone expected a Fergie-less BEP would have in store.
With The Duchess out the way, there’s room for the band’s remaining members to shine. Did you know there’s a guy called apl.de.ap in the Black Eyed Peas? Of course you didn’t – why would you? But now, the lads formerly known as ‘the other two’ are getting some screen time, the most they’ve had since 2003. As a trio, the group works well, politely taking it in turns to rap a verse before passing it on. Fergie’s absence is strangely unnoticeable, perhaps because this feels like a very different band to the one who gave us ‘My Humps’ back in 2005. It feels backwards, but while Fergie’s solo career nosedives, the band she left behind is finally coming into its own.