The Black Eyed Peas Albums Ranked

I used to really hate the Black Eyed Peas. It was something about that peak period in 2009 to 2011 or so, the time of “I Gotta Feeling” and mass media domination, that really rankled me. Of course, part of the problem was that those big hits were so damn catchy, even if I wanted to escape them. At some point, however, I just surrendered to will.i.am, apl.de.ap, Taboo, and at that time, Fergie. And indeed, even when I was at my most fed up with the hip hop/pop group, I held their earlier hits, tied to a younger childhood, in high regard. Recently, I returned to those eras of commercial success, in addition to their earlier alt leanings and recent course corrections, and found that I don’t hate the highly commercialized Black Eyed Peas after all, and especially not their other work. In fact, I like them, even if they can still be grating at times. Ranked here are the Black Eyed Peas’ nine albums released in the 24 years since 1998.

Favorite track: “The Best One Yet (The Boy)”

Although I just said I don’t hate the era of the Black Eyed Peas’ commercial domination, there’s no denying that it presented the nadir of their work. THE BEGINNING quickly followed on the heels of THE E.N.D., which was full of hits like the aforementioned “I Gotta Feeling.” THE BEGINNING had its share of Top 40 hits like “The Time (Dirty Bit)” and “Just Can’t Get Enough,” but on the whole, the deterioration of the autotuned sound of THE E.N.D. defines its follow up. The Black Eyed Peas have almost always traded in a pretty mindless, fun brand of hip hop and pop music, but there’s something about the vapidity of THE BEGINNING that’s hard to always stomach. Its biggest hits, as well as my top track “The Best One Yet (The Boy),” are nevertheless still dance-instigating tunes that I enjoy listening to. THE BEGINNING was the last Black Eyed Peas album with Fergie and it’s not quite a fitting send-off; she definitely appears on it less often than any of the other records with her. All of these elements congeal to mark THE BEGINNING as the Black Eyed Peas’ worst album yet.

Favorite track: “Simply the Best”

The Black Eyed Peas have been on a general upswing in the period following their lengthy hiatus after the release of THE BEGINNING. Fergie has been out for some time now, but new member J. Rey Soul competently fills that role with a powerful and welcome voice to complement the dudes. The past few years the Black Eyed Peas have also defined themselves through the trend of Latin pop crossover. It’s a mostly welcome style from BEP, but there is a lingering sense that the music, as exemplified by the second effort in this vein, ELEVATION, is facile or superficial. I mean, it’s pop music. That’s kind of the point. But the leveraging of the sounds heard on ELEVATION, the latest BEP album at the time of this writing and the impetus for this piece, indicate a second cycle of backsliding for the group. This is in relative terms, however, as I think it is a fun dance record, full of repetitive choruses and pounding beats that are not without hedonistic merit. There just seems to be something missing from ELEVATION, a soulfulness that the Black Eyed Peas have integrated into their best work.

Favorite track: “Action”

TRANSLATION, the Black Eyed Peas’ first full-length foray into Latin pop, is closer to the mark in terms of that soulfulness. However, it too gives an impression of superficiality. TRANSLATION is not quite a co-opting of the en vogue sound, but it does feel calculated, if pulled off proficiently enough. Nevertheless, it sounds more vital and rich than its follow up ELEVATION. I’m not quite sure what to attribute that to. Perhaps there’s a facet of novelty or freshness to the songwriting and production before a second attempt at capturing the same magic. Whatever the reason, TRANSLATION offers up the greater amount of out-and-out excitement, including songs that aren’t as smooth in their modulation. For example, “Action” has a great rise and fall in tone during its chorus, complete with will.i.am’s brash autotuned vocals. The “Latin” part of Latin pop is stronger on TRANSLATION as well, with horn sounds and beats that make for the album’s stronger appeal in the Black Eyed Peas’ “‘20s” so far.

Favorite track: “Rap Song”

The Black Eyed Peas’ first two albums fall a bit more neatly into what has been called an “alt hip hop” mode. When BEP first emerged, they were often compared to A Tribe Called Quest. That comparison was somewhat warranted because the inspiration was clearly present, although Tribe is lightyears ahead of the Peas in any era. Of course, there was a lot of attention paid to pop hooks and such; it’s not like the Black Eyed Peas were practicing some gritty stuff. But they were out of step with the gangsta style, bringing a lighter vibe and an often cheesy sentimentality and “positivity.” Still, it all fed into pretty good songs. BRIDGING THE GAP, the group’s second album and their last before Fergie joined the group, carries some of the Black Eyed Peas’ earliest influences while bringing an even lighter pop/R&B flair. Kim Hill, who had appeared throughout the group’s debut, makes just one feature here, as she left during its recording. But another Macy Gray appearance (she was also on the debut) drives home the flavor the Black Eyed Peas were aiming for with the album. On the whole, they achieved it, but BRIDGING THE GAP does ultimately feel more fleeting and less impactful than its predecessor or the out-and-out pop hooks of its follow ups.

Favorite track: “Yes or No”

We’ve yet to get a Vol. 2, but MASTERS OF THE SUN VOL. 1 was the Black Eyed Peas’ return from a lengthy hiatus. It had been just one month shy of eight years since their last album, THE BEGINNING, was released when this record came out and made a statement for the return of the core trio. MASTERS OF THE SUN comes closest in sound to BEHIND THE FRONT since that first album’s release, but they obviously learned lessons after their pop domination. MASTERS OF THE SUN is an aggressive, looming bit of hip hop production and certainly the Black Eyed Peas’ most political work. But it’s lightened by a poppy songwriting instinct, driven by will.i.am, that seems impossible to divorce from the group. To be clear, I don’t necessarily want it to be. MASTERS OF THE SUN is a great comeback album, delving into familiar yet fresh territory that made the case that the Black Eyed Peas could still be electrifying after their lowest point and subsequent absence.

Favorite track: “Clap Your Hands”

BEHIND THE FRONT, the Black Eyed Peas’ debut, is defined by an offbeat sound that singles it out from the rest of their work. There may be too much of the game show skit throughout the record (and not every sound blends into the experience seamlessly), but the eclectic approach of BEHIND THE FRONT is still stimulating and, somewhat surprisingly, rich. The repetition that defines the pop and dance tunes of later Black Eyed Peas is still present on the album, but it more accurately enters a funk pocket rather than mindlessly parroting a central conceit. It’s often satisfying, sometimes grating, but on the whole, BEHIND THE FRONT is a great debut that distinguishes itself from later work while holding the promise of the Black Eyed Peas’ best.

Favorite track: “Meet Me Halfway”

I really did not expect THE E.N.D. to end up this high on the list. Although I had reconciled some of my old revulsion for the Black Eyed Peas, and specifically this era of the group, I still did not think this record would greatly resonate with me. And while I have to acknowledge there is some element of superficiality to the album, what’s so wrong about wanting to turn off my brain and enjoy the pop confection that is THE E.N.D.? The reason for my reversal from my stance on, say, THE BEGINNING, which is sonically a very similar album, is hard to pin down. Ultimately, I think will.i.am is a very talented songwriter and producer. And he was more in control of his powers on THE E.N.D. then its quick follow up, a situation that has kind of been mirrored by the one-two punch of TRANSLATION and ELEVATION most recently. In any event, sure, it is still hard for me to unironically enjoy “I Gotta Feeling” due to its ubiquity, even today to some extent. But THE E.N.D. is just full of big dumb catchy hits and deeper cuts that had much the same potential to be be big dumb catchy hits; it’s a great party record but also an enlivening listen for any situation.

Favorite track: “Fly Away”

ELEPHUNK was the Black Eyed Peas’ first album with Fergie and their commercial breakthrough. And today, it still stands as nearly their best record. If THE E.N.D. is full of big dumb catchy hits, ELEPHUNK is full of big dumb catchy hits…with, appropriately, some funk. It’s just full of memorable tunes, not the least reason for which is the blend of styles and live and electronic instrumentation. THE E.N.D. was pop confection by way of digital tools, and it is somewhat sterile in relation to ELEPHUNK. They both get me moving, but the vibrations of ELEPHUNK stay with me for longer. “Fly Away” is simply a satisfying, breezy song that has enough of a drive to keep it alive, while hits like “Labor Day (It’s a Holiday)” and “Let’s Get It Started” (of course, retitled from its previously offensive name) bring the high-profile energy to this album in the Black Eyed Peas’ catalog. But those big hits come earlier in the record, and its strength is its ability to maintain quality and energy into the deeper cuts of the back half (minus “Anxiety,” featuring Papa Roach). ELEPHUNK leaves a distinct impression in the pop landscape of the early 2000s, one of warmth and fun that still resonates today thanks in part, sure, to nostalgia, but also to an incredible improvement in songwriting craft.

Favorite track: “Don’t Lie”

MONKEY BUSINESS lies at the perfect middle point of the Black Eyed Peas’ pop world domination. Released in between ELEPHUNK and THE E.N.D., it sold even better than the former, in connection to its even overtly poppier and shinier production. But the Peas didn’t entirely lose the instrumentation and funk of ELEPHUNK, as songs like “Dum Diddly,” “They Don’t Want Music” (featuring James Brown just a year before he died), and “Bebot” move with a verve that belies some of the total smooth cheese to be found on songs like “Don’t Lie.” And yet, the catchy chorus led by Fergie on that last song is just so damn powerful. That’s the power of the Black Eyed Peas for me: their ability to transcend prejudices for inane pop music by making it so damn irresistible. Of course, MONKEY BUSINESS also contains huge hits like “Pump It” and “My Humps,” iconic tracks all on their own. But the whole of the record somehow congeals into something greater than the sum of its parts. I have to quote Robert Christgau from his contemporary notice because I think it sums up my feelings on the Black Eyed Peas as a whole perfectly: “What all pop might be — so much brighter and kinder than it is.” Ultimately, MONKEY BUSINESS is the brightest and kindest of the group’s work, a brilliant and lasting exercise in making a listener feel happy.

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