Saturday, February 04, 2006

Whoring it up with the Black Eyed Peas

Here begins my enlightening series about assorted artists that had to undergo a process of shitification to become part of the giant manure pile that is saleable popular art.
First up: The Black Eyed Peas. A band which used to embody the spirit of true hip-hop, preferring consciousness "We don't use dollars to represent", a live band, and decent cameos featuring actual musicians to commercial success. Then it all went to shit, and the Black Eyed Peas became a backing band for Wil I. am and the token T&A, Fergie, while naming their tours after anodyne car sponsors.

Charting a disaster:

the message
The chasm between their spirited, well written and deeply, deeply funky debut, 1998s "Behind the Front" and the newest album "Monkey Business" is very freaking deep, and very freaking wide. BTF celebrated creativity, serious beats, parity and consciousness. Compare this with "Falling Up, from BTF a song about taking the high road even if it doesn’t mean raking in the green:” Is it 'cos we don't wear Tommy Hilfiger or baseball caps/ we don't use dollars to represent" to "My Humps" - a homage to tits, ass and Louis Vuitton. Even turning "Let's get retarded" (the title on the original print of Elephunk) into "Let's get it started" although understandably PC undermined what was a homage to krumping (before it got cool), turning it into a weak, lack lustre hip-pop track. ‘Why’d they do it?’ you ask… I think James Brown said it best: “Money, money, money, money”.

re-recording Elephunk
Boho hip-hop to saleable pop meant stripping the live musicians, and soul from the original print and replacing them with some mac generated beats and taking out all the bass (cause the kids in the 'burbs with the CD buying money just don’t dig that). The result was the sort of watered down, weak hip-hop that everybody else churns out.
Then there's "Where is the Love" the weakest pean for world peace ever. The song has no love. It also has no discernable point. Add the clearly-never-in-the-same-studio cameo by Justin Timberlake, and there it is, the sound of selling out.

I am by no means hating. She can sing, and I can see why they needed a non-offensive, curvy, and notably, slightly less brown hook. That reason alone pretty much confirms their status as economic talent migrants.
Their original singer of hooks, Kim Hill, who sang on “Joints and Jam”, left the band as she saw “their soul being diluted”. In her own words, in an interview with the Houston Press: "Like, you know, all these Jewish and white folks were taking control of our music, our soul, our hip-hop, and telling us how we could market it and sell it," said Hill. "And at that point, it got to the point of selling out, and that's when I had to go." Vague record label based anti-Semitism aside, the money was talking, and the Peas were more than happy to listen.

screen time
There used to be complete parity. Each member got a third of the beat to work with and they shared everything else - "Falling Up" from BTF is a perfect example of this. All Taboo and Apl d ap got in "My Humps" was the line "She's got me spending". That’s it. They sing it, together, four times. And that is their entire contribution.
This also ties in to one of my conspiracy theory based predictions: The Peas are probably fractioning away with a mind to splitting up. The evidence: Wil I. Am’s side projects, including cameos with the Pussycatdolls (shudder) and French hip-hoppers Saian Supa Crew. Apl is also planning an English/ Spanish crossover album.

The video for “Joints and Jams”, from BTF was amazing. Witty, well-constructed, fascinating, equal screen time, and very well judged -minimal- use of T&A. The video for "My Humps"? This| |close to being an x-rated 50 Cent video. And x-rated 50 Cent videos are clearly not made for the artistic merits of booty. Dolla dolla bill y'all.

that best buy advert
Best Buy is a Comet-like electrical goods chain in the US. The mark of selling out has changed. It’s no longer letting your music be used in a shitty car advert. The estates of Jimi Hendrix and Nina Simone have meant that you can sell out while dead. The mark is now performing your music in a shitty electrical goods advert. But why? The message was “Buy an MP3 player and download this song” so it clearly wasn’t a consciousness raising effort. It wasn’t a particularly fabulous ad, so it probably wasn’t art. The reason? The Cheese.

the proof is in the fans
So the result is, instead of the dedicated cadre of die hard fans with a love for the message (especially in Australia for some reason), they now have hoards of teeny boppers with a love for assorted 'humps', the newest thing going and 'lovely lady lumps'. And not in the good way either.

"Every person that we talk to asks if we think we're sell-outs," Taboo said in an interview with The Daily Texan. "Every interview we do, people want to know if we think we sold out. I don't get it. If I'm a sell-out it's only because now we're selling out arenas. We're still making the music we want and staying true to what Black Eyed Peas has always been about." I think that says it all.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Les Nubians, les Afropeans et les mots

I heard the term used by one of Les Nubians (I forget which one), and I thought it summed it up beautifully. A beautiful cultural combination of the two, which up until now only yielded slavery, 'world music' and Ethiopian restaurants. Now there are people too. That has to be good.