Back to Life
When you think about the Black Eyed Peas, hip-hop may not be the first thing that pops into your mind. The group’s forays into stadium pop, dance music and R&B led them to dominate the 2000s with hits. Songs like “Where is the Love,” “Pump It,” “I Gotta Feeling” and “Boom Boom Pow” were certainly not strangers to the public airwaves. These songs were catchy and ultimately anthemic for many millennial and older music listeners alike. With that being said, these songs were also a betrayal to a smaller group of listeners out there. Rooted in alternative hip-hop, The Black Eyed Peas had become strangers to themselves. No longer prevalent were the idiosyncratic flows and sharp-tongued lyricism that made up their early LPs. While politics were still occasionally touched on, the group also touched on political issues a noticeable amount less. With such a drastic departure enacted, it was reasonable to assume the Black Eyed Peas of the 1990s were forever gone.
Luckily for old-school hip-hop fans, this hunch was ultimately wrong. Inspired by the increasing racial tensions and political division in our country, will.i.am felt it was necessary for the group to challenge itself. He wanted to make a record that gave direction to the world. The group aimed to make an album that lived out the philosophy of “art, smart, and heart.” This was certainly ambitious coming off of two very celebratory, dance-themed records, but the group certainly has changed enough for this to be a rather natural shift. In the eight years since The Beginning, Fergie has departed the group, Taboo has undergone treatment for testicular cancer and the Trump presidency has taken full effect. If there was any time for the group to radically reinvent, or in this case return to its original form, it would be now.
Sometimes dramatic changes in sound backfire on artists, but it certainly did not in this case. It appears the Peas remember exactly what hip-hop heads loved about them in the first place. The group delivers culturally relevant bars with an impressive urgency and evident hunger. Beyond just the lyrics, it is clear that the Peas are passionate about their message. This record is far from phoned in. Another thing this record has going for it is its impressive showcase of wordplay. Tracks such as “Back 2 HipHop” and “New Wave” showcase will.i.am’s very unique ability to manipulate words at his leisure. Overall, the rapping on this really is far better than one could have hoped for a group that is 23 years into their career.
With that being said, one should be careful about completely jumping back on this group’s bandwagon. While this album is certainly an impressive achievement, it is far from flawless. While tracks like “Yes or No” and “Get Ready” have fantastic and earnest messages behind them, they still tend to delve into some of the clichés that populated the group’s more pop-centric efforts. On top of this, a track like “Dopeness” felt a bit out of place on this record. While the beat certainly is smooth and the hook is infectious, the track’s braggadocio is not in line with many of the tracks on this record.
Still, these are minor gripes at the end of the day. Smooth production, impassioned rapping and an impressive array of guest features make this album a treat for fans of the group’s earlier work. If you know who the Black Eyed Peas can be, you will not be blown away by this record. However, if you are completely thrown aback by the sound of this record, then Masters of the Sun Vol. 1 should be just the nudge on the shoulder you need.