Dueting with Justin Timberlake and going on a nationwide tour with the ‘N Sync singer and Christina Aguilera? That’s not an artistic sellout, Black Eyed Peas MC Taboo says to any naysayers. That just means they’re selling out stadiums.
And having a hit single, “Where Is the Love?,” with Timberlake on backup vocals, is no different than Run-D.M.C.’s classic collaboration with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way.”
“No matter if we do a song with Justin or Run-D.M.C. or Aerosmith or even Mariah Carey,” Taboo said recently, “it’s always going to be Black Eyed Peas. We don’t change who we are. It’s our record. That’s why we didn’t have (Justin) in the video. We want to stand on our own two feet.”
The Peas stand tall, sticking to their alternative hip-hop roots on their third A&M/Interscope album, “Elephunk” (released on June 24), from the rapid-fire rap of “Hands Up” to the free-flowing “Smells Like Funk.”
They also don’t want to stand still. Taboo and band mates will.i.am. and apl.de.ap explore new directions, particularly on the hard-hitting “Anxiety,” featuring Papa Roach. To further avoid complacency, they’ve even added a fourth member: female vocalist Fergie.
“We want to show the world our growth as producers and writers, knowing how to work our equipment – the whole aspect of recording, and plus our personal experiences,” Taboo said.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the uncertainty in its wake weighed heavily on the group, so much so Taboo says they tossed out nine tracks they had finished in the months beforehand and started all over again.
“After 9/11, we didn’t know what was going to happen to us as humans,” he said. “We didn’t know if there was going to be a war or if it was going to be the end of the world.
“So we decided to go back in there and get personal with this record, give the world an inside to Black Eyed Peas’ personal lives. We also wanted to surpass the norm of having just two good songs on a record. We wanted to give you a whole record – singles and everything, marketable stuff.”
There’s a reason the album is titled “Elephunk.” Elephants are big animals, and Black Eyed Peas has a big, funky sound.
“When we were recording this in Bodega Bay in Northern California, there’s this club where we would go every Thursday,” Taboo said. “We’d invite musicians, poets, dancers and MCs to jam with us. One time, this lady brought in a tuba – it was big, a big-sounding instrument. And from that point on, we wanted our sound to be big, just like elephants.
“Most people think that lions are the kings of the jungle, but if you make an elephant mad, a lion has no chance with an elephant. You can be stampeded by an elephant, no matter if you have sharp teeth. That’s how we feel this album is – don’t sleep on it, you’ll wake up a sleeping giant. It’s a stampede of good music.”
To all those people who think today’s music “ain’t got no soul,” Taboo says give Black Eyed Peas a chance.
“Also, get the Talib Kweli album,” he said. “Pick up the new Roots, the new Common and the OutKast that’s coming out soon. A Tribe Called Quest are coming back. There’s a recycling of good music that’s starting to happen, going away from the flossy, glossy shit. We’re not after gold chains or platinum chains. We want to make music for the world.”
Even when the music stops, Black Eyed Peas will keep moving on, Taboo says.
“I don’t think it’ll ever be over, because the Black Eyed Peas will become a corporation to release other projects,” he said. “I’m talking about clothing, footwear, films, action video games. The Rolling Stones are a band, but they’re also a merchandise band; they’re able to sell T-shirts to create a longevity that surpasses just doing music.
“We want to be able to produce movies, direct videos, have a film and production company. There’s so many things that we, as entrepreneurs, want to open up.”
Above all else, group members have solidified their friendship. Will.i.am. and apl.de.ap go back to their breakdancing-crew days in Los Angeles; when an early recording deal with Ruthless Records went sour, they formed Black Eyed Peas with another dancer, Taboo. Together, they have dazzled hip-hop fans with their beats and footwork.
“Our friendship is first and foremost, more than the business aspect,” Taboo said. “We’re able to bring each other back to reality. If anyone steps out of line, as far as not being on board, we’ll check each other.
“We went into this as friends. We weren’t hired or had to audition to be in this band. This is us. We’re friends. It’s a brotherhood and a kinship.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Prince and the Revolution’s ‘Purple Rain.’ That was a great one. I never had any money, but when I heard ‘Purple Rain,’ I had to buy it.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Black Eyed Peas. Like I said, I never had any money to go to concerts; I had never been to a concert before our own. I’m a Mexican kid from East L.A., and it’s a predominantly poor neighborhood.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “I literally picked up shit after the electrical parade at Disneyland. I walked behind it with this honey bucket, and there were horses in the parade, so I had to scoop up globs of shit with a shovel and dump it in the bucket. I did that for two summers; I had to support my kid. I used to daydream, ‘One day I’m going to be in music and I’ll never have to do this again.’ And look at me now.”
ON THE WEB: www.blackeyedpeas.com.
BWF (before we forget): The Black Eyed Peas album discography – “Behind the Front” (Interscope, 1998); “Bridging the Gap” (2000); “Elephunk” (A&M/Interscope, 2003).
Upcoming tour dates (with Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera) – Aug. 1, Buffalo, HSBC Arena; Aug. 3, Columbus, Ohio, Schottenstein Center; Aug. 5-6, Boston, FleetCenter; Aug. 8, Philadelphia, First Union Center; Aug. 13, East Rutherford, N.J., Continental Airlines Arena; Aug. 14, Hartford, Civic Center Coliseum; Aug. 16-17, Uniondale, N.Y., Nassau Coliseum; Aug. 19, Washington, D.C., MCI Center; Aug. 21, Indianapolis, Conseco Fieldhouse; Aug. 23, Milwaukee, Bradley Center; Aug. 24, St. Paul, Minn., Xcel Energy Center