The heatwave enveloping Europe at the moment is good news for Black Eyed Peas, as this latest offering from the LA hip-hop crew is undoubtedly a sunshine record. The Peas are generally boxed off as “alternative rap” in the music press – it’s the absence of any drugs, guns or gangs in the lyrics that have always set the Peas apart from the gangsta rap scene. That scene was dominant when they first came together in the early ’90s, and it continues to grab the lion’s share of hip hop sales even now.
Opener Hands Up entreats the listener to get into the hip-hop vibe, with the repeated requests to “get ’em up” underscored by what sounds like a sample from the theme to the 1960s Batman TV series. Labor Day (It’s A Holiday) is such a simple idea for a song, you wonder why no one thought of it before. As the crew holler in the background, the chorus line explains the track’s message succinctly: “Celebrate/It’s a holiday/No work today/Or the next three days.” Stick it on the next time a bank holiday weekend comes around.
It’s not entirely clear what the Peas mean when they say Let’s Get Retarded, but their happy mood on the track suggests that they use the phrase in the most positive way possible. On Hey Mama, it’s worth noting that the boys are singing about attractive members of the opposite sex, and not their mothers. London-born reggae singer Tippa Irie features.
Shut Up sees Fergie, the group’s new girl, telling Taboo to shut up because she’s going crazy, while Taboo’s tired of all her whining. No love lost between the sexes, then. The Peas strut their funky stuff on Smells Like Funk. After all, as they say themselves, “If it smells like funk, it must be us/’Cause nobody is as funky as us/’Cause we keep it stinky.” Indeed.
The male members of the crew brush up on their Spanish on Latin Girls. It’s “coconuts and chocolate skin” they’re after, apparently. If they use chat up lines like the one on Sexy, however, they’re not likely to have much luck. To wit: “I’m like a record, and you’re like a record/So let’s let the DJ mix us.” Ladies, brace yourselves.
The mood gets rockier on Fly Away, as electric guitars join the fray. On The Boogie That Be, the tempo slows right down again as the Peas get on the dancefloor. The APL Song, which finds rapper Apl de Ap (Allen Pineda) singing about growing up in the Philippines, is probably the most interesting song on this record, although his requests for fans to listen up the chorus are unlikely to be heeded as it is sung in the language of his native country. Electric guitar and urban soundscapes accompany lyrics about how social problems in LA pale in comparison to those in the Philippines.
Like the Peas’ last record, which featured Macy Gray and Wyclef Jean among others, Elephunk packs some star punch. Papa Roach guest star on Anxiety, and successfully make the track sound like a nu-metal number, and teen idol Justin Timberlake joins in on the peace and love vibe of Where’s The Love, which finds the Peas rapping about the race and equality issues that make up their serious side.
With Elephunk, this alternative rap crew have proved again that they are just that, offering a different style of hip-hop to contrast with the gangsta style. Whoever digs that vibe, get your hands up.