The Black Eyed Peas

Monkey Business

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Review

Hip-hop artists with commercial aspirations need never appear pandering to their audience, since a tough, defiant stance -- aka keeping it real -- is exactly what will draw in most crossover listeners anyway. Nevertheless, the Black Eyed Peas quickly embraced the pop world after the surprising success of third album Elephunk, and only continued their repositioning as a mainstream act with 2005's Monkey Business. That focus is immediately clear on the opener, "Pump It Up," where they gladly welcome listeners on a track whose sample -- Dick Dale's "Misirlou," already ubiquitous before it appeared in Pulp Fiction -- has to replace "Walk This Way" or "I'll Be Missing You" (more on Sting later) as the most conspicuous case of an unmissable rock riff being used on a rap track. The group moves on to motivate its hip-hop base by reaching for every trick in the grab bag of contemporary urban music. These attempts are either serviceable or wildly unsuccessful. "Disco Club" is one of the serviceable tracks, an apt re-creation of Cassidy's "Hotel." Wildly unsuccessful is the group's utilization of its newest member, Fergie, to function as an imitator of the hyper-sexual Kelis/Ciara archetype on "My Humps," which makes for one of the most embarrassing rap performances of the new millennium (sample lyric: "My hump (9x)/My lovely little lumps"). Unlike Elephunk, the Justin Timberlake feature here ("My Style") is placed early in the program, and it's bolstered by a Timbaland production, which eases the strain of an otherwise featherweight jam. Most of the songs on Monkey Business are the same type of party rap singalong that Black Eyed Peas made their name with on Elephunk. But other than "Disco Club," the only one that works as anything but background party music is "Feel It," a rare production by the group's apl.de.ap (will.i.am handles most of the rest). At the very tail end of the disc, there's one brief glance at Black Eyed Peas' history as a socially conscious group -- "Union," featuring Sting and Branford Marsalis, which floats the usual bromides about peace and equality (and swipes the sound and speak of Bob Marley in the process). Monkey Business could easily sell just as well, or better, than Elephunk, but what the group made sound effortless in the past sounds a little strained here. ~ John Bush, Rovi