Black Eyed Peas


Interviews


I Want to Bankrupt Some Bookies

By Clark Collis

“I’m not too familiar with horses,” says the Black Eyed Peas’ frontman, will.i.am, as he drives across Los Angeles in his Hummer. “I know which end is the head and which is the ass. But that’s about it.”

It is an admission that raises the question of why the band has decided to spend the day — and $848 of Blender’s money — betting on horses at Santa Anita Park racetrack. Particularly as the rapper, born William Adams, has just got off a flight from Miami (“I was there 11 hours”), where he was collaborating with producer Timbaland on a track for the band’s upcoming CD, Monkey Business.

“It sounded like a good opportunity to dress up and have a day out,” explains will. “And it was always forbidden to gamble in my house. But if my homies are doing it, then I’ll join in. And I always end up being the lucky one.”

This good fortune is shared by the rest of the group, who we meet just inside the beautiful, sun-blasted course and who are collectively attired in a fashion Joan Rivers might describe as “Ghetto bling meets Seabiscuit.”

“I played here in a band when I was about 11,” recalls singer and former child actor Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson. “I had my dad bet on a horse called Pink Lady, because it reminded me of Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days. I won about $20.”

The band’s soft-spoken, Philippines-born MC, Allen Pineda (a.k.a. apl.de.ap), also admits to good fortune betting-wise, having once won $500 on a horse called Mile High Club. Meanwhile, the fourth Pea, Jaime “Taboo” Gomez, claims to have the luck of the Irish, despite being “a Mexican kid from East L.A.”

“This is my first time betting on horses, but I’m looking forward to it,” enthuses the rapper, who will not stop grinning all day. “I’ve always considered myself a lucky person. Then I met these guys and I became blessed.”

In truth, the Peas do have a lot to be thankful for. The massive success of their third album, 2003’s Elephunk, came just in time to save a band that was a whisker away from oblivion.

“There was a point where we felt like giving up,” says will.i.am, as the band settle themselves in the restaurant overlooking the track, to study their racing programs. “We were putting apl in rehab for speed. It was after September 11, and we were like, who gives a fuck about my ‘mad styles’? We said, let’s write some shit that we felt. So we wrote ‘Where Is the Love?’ and ‘Let’s Get Retarded.’ We turned it in to the record company and they didn’t like it. So, I said, ‘Fuck it, I’m done.’ Then, a year later, the company reheard it, and everything is history.”

Indeed, Elephunk would go on to sell more than two million copies and make the quartet rich. Despite this, they carefully divide their $848 down to the last dollar, a legacy of the decade will, apl and Taboo spent in impoverished obscurity. During those years, Fergie was having her own troubles: She became addicted to crystal meth and dropped to 90 lbs. After cleaning up, a different set of problems presented themselves when the singer joined the band for Elephunk.


Checkin' it with Apl.de.Ap from The Black Eyed Peas

Talk It Out with Jodi Leib
Detroit, MI - July 2003

Jodi: I'm on tour with the very special Apl.de.Ap from The Black Eyed Peas.
Apl: Whatz up, ya'll.
Jodi: How ya doin Apl?
Apl: Doing good. You know...just a little tired, but we're gonna keep this going.
Jodi: What motivates you, what's your passion, what drives your being?
Apl: What drives me is my family, cause I'm from Philippines, I'm adopted. My whole goal is to bring my family over here, so they can have a better living, cause it's hard in the Philippines to have this lifestyle.
Jodi: That's really special. And what do you hope they will accomplish?
Apl: My siblings will get a better education. My sister, I put her through Nursing School in the Philippines, but I want her to get a job over here, because, you know, the pay is much better, and, just get my other siblings into a better school so they can be whatever they want to be.
Jodi: You guys are the most Down-to-Earth group! Your heart is just so in the right place! I'm just amazed by it. How do you find your spirituality? Where do you come from to regroup and to be able to have such a strong identity?
Apl: I think for me it comes from where I'm from, like when I go back over to Philippines and I see how life is like over there, that's what grounds me. When I come back over here, it's like, damn, I've got opportunities that a lot of people don't have, you know? So I just try to take all that opportunity and work it, you know, cause you never know when it's going to end, you know?
Jodi: Yes! So, never give up. What are some words of wisdom you could offer your fans?
Apl: I'd say "The next day, try harder." That's what I have on my phone when I turn it on.
Jodi: Nice. It's true because there are so many obstacles in life. You could easily get bogged down by all the barriers that are set before us, but how do you break through? How do you gain the confidence to take it to the next level?
Apl: It's just as you go, and you keep on doing the same things, you're going to progress yourself. Then you start learning new things as you're doing it. You go through the motions and it becomes like a pattern. After a while you memorize it so good, you start coming up with new things. You know, that's how I do it, and I say my Serenity Prayer.
Jodi: I say that!
Apl: Yeah.
Jodi: And praying for the willingness.
Apl: Yeah, yeah. The willingness. You know, when I can't have something that I want, I'm just like...
Jodi: We can do it...Dear God...
Apl and Jodi together: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
Jodi: I made up one. I have my own.
Apl: Oh yeah?
Jodi: Yeah. Dear God, grant me the willingness to be open to new ideas and new people, grant me the serenity to like who I am, and the ability to have fun in life.
Apl: Nice. That's dope. Yeah, you gotta have fun in whatever you do, ya know. That's how it is. When you enjoy it, you do it better.
Jodi: Totally. Thank you so much Apl. You're so beautiful.

The Black Eyed Peas were on tour with Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. Please visit www.blackeyedpeas.com for more band information.

 

Black Eyed Peas interview

Evan Milton

I interview Fergie as the final results of the American elections are being tallied, but after contender John Kerry has conceded defeat to George W. Bush. The Black Eyed Peas are on tour; Fergie is in Iowa, that crucial swing-state of the presidential race. "So it's your fault?" I query. "I plead the Fifth," says the newest - and only female - member of the hip hop funk machine behind Elephunk, and you just know it's going to be a good interview.

First up, I want to know if it's true that BEP invite local breakdancers onto their stage during tours, and Fergie pleads another kind of Fifth. "B-Boys? Yeah," she says, "Sometimes we do, and sometimes we don't - it depends on the show and the venue - but we encourage b-boys and b-girls to come along in case it’s one of those nights".

"It's great; we go around the world and act like idiots on stage... it's like a big fraternity and I'm 'lil sis to all of that"


Is it true that - as is widely mentioned in interviews across the 'net - that she first sang with the BEP at an open session after Justin Timberlake took the mic? "That's completely false," she says, "I don't know where anyone heard that."

Here’s the real tale: "In 1998, I went to see the Black Eyed Peas show, and I met Will; after the show, we exchanged numbers. I was in a group at the time, but when I left the group, we hooked back up again - I wanted them (BEP) to do work on my solo project. They were working on Elephunk and they needed a female voice for 'Shut Up'. Our mutual friend Dante introduced us again. They just needed me for a background part, but then it ended up that they'd call me for all the female parts - I ended up doing all the girl parts and then we started to become a family and it just worked".

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Fergie, BP (Before Peas)

Very little is known - or written - about Fergie before she joined BEP. Stacey Ferguson was in a three-piece vocal harmony group, singing old-style soulful tunes a la The Supremes and En Vogue. The plan was to take the soul influence further, but as groups like The Spice Girls came out and made more and more money, there was pressure from record labels: "They geared us more towards a more pop infused sound, and that drew us further and further away from our vision," says Fergie. She was torn, but "stayed in it to be loyal to the girls" although, she confesses, "my heart was not in it". Eventually she took the plunge and moved to go solo, along with a great sense of release and freedom. "It took its toll on me," she says.

In the Elephunk credits, Fergie thanks her therapist. I ask why. She hesitates, but I note that if you write something like that in a multi-platinum selling CD, people are going to want to know why.

"Lots, trust me!" she retorts. "Being in the group I was in, I was forced to do things artistically. I just kept burying those feelings, and that tends to all bunch up inside - that's what happened to me. I needed help in dealing with me so that I could be good to other people, and honest to myself. I was always an actor - I was born into being a child actor - and I always made sure everyone else was OK. I was always burying my feelings. I needed to learn who I was, and that meant a lot of going back."

Boldly going where no woman…

What is it like being the female voice, the one who has to "do all the girl parts", in an established hip hop outfit?

"Oh, it's great; we go around the world and act like idiots on stage; we have mock fights on stage - guy vs girl - it's over-exaggerated. It's a lot of fun and I love being the girl in the group - the excitement of the guys going out on stage, it's like a big fraternity and I'm 'lil sis to all of that."

"Sometimes I do miss girl companionship; there are some things the guys don't understand - I enjoy the calls to my mom of sister a lot more, just to vent girl stuff."

But what about the hip hop fronting, and the tradition in rap lyrics of women being equated with booty?

Fergie pauses for a moment to consider, then answers, "I feel that hip hop and the music of rap is very much street-reporting. The rappers is the street reporter, saying what they see - some are socially conscious, some talk about what they see in the society and what's going on around them; some talk about going to clubs because [laughs] y'know, that's what you do. People talk about this and that, about being a gangster: song-writing is a basic outlet for your feelings, and I have no problem with poetic licence and exaggerating."

As for disempowering lyrics, she brushes aside the concern: "I don't surround myself with men who are going to disrespect me in any way; I choose people who will not belittle me as a woman. At the same time, if other people want to write songs or rap songs about, y'know, people with big body parts, then that's them, that's their song."

Riding the Elephunk

A full year after the album's release, songs off Elephunk are still charting (think summer 2003's "Where Is The Love" and summer 2004's "Hey Mama" - with "Let's Get Retarded" (re-christened "Let's Get It Started" for radio) and the epic "Shut Up" along the way. What's it like still performing these songs after more than a year?

"It's still acing; I'm still not sick of them. We get to travel the world and be idiots on stage - this is a fun band to be in. I feel so blessed; to have four singles like that - five actually, because in the Philippines we released 'The Apl Song'. To have the crowds appreciate you like that is nice; where they can't wait to see you: I was in a group before and people did not want to come and see us, we had to get out there and persuade them. To have people appreciate you, and all the hard work you do, especially for so long on one album, that is a blessing."

Of course, it falls to Fergie not only to keep up with Will.i.am, Apl.de.ap and Taboo, and "do all the girl parts", but also to shake that famous "Hey Mama", MTV Video Award winning, abdomen on throughout the stage show. Other rappers employ a bevy of dancers; Fergie has to hold the stage herself. How does that feel?

"You know what, I don’t mind taking that challenge. I've been working in this business since I was a little girl; I've always been a performer. It comes naturally to me, I've always sung, and always danced - this is the perfect position for me because I would have been doing all that anyway."

"You know what the really challenging part about it was? When I first joined the band we didn't rehearse, and I was just thrown up on stage with three guys who had been performing together for ten years. Then, I had to figure out where to fit in - and the way they dance is just unbelievable, so it was a little intimidating. Number three; I had never performed with a live band before, so I had to overcome a lot of fear. Metaphorically, I had to fall on my face a few times before getting it right."

Fergie recounts the simple mechanics of it - not being used to the acoustics on stage; struggling to hear the guitar and find her pitch; to hear herself in the on-stage mix and having to adapt to all of what she calls "the live aesthetics". Now, she says, she would never choose to perform without a live band: "Once in a while, out of love, I might do just a DJ gig, but once you have live, you can't go back".

Every place got a ghetto

The Black Eyed Peas opened the 2004 Brit Awards; their brand of hip hop, although certainly US-derived, is more global than many of their stateside contemporaries. What was it like representing to British and European audiences?

"Performing at the Brits was amazing. The UK has been very good to us - we recorded most of the new record (Monkey Business, due in 2005) in London. We have a lot of love for the UK."

"As far as differences goes, hip hop started in the South Bronx; now it's all over: Europe, Australia, Asia… Hip hop is everywhere now, people are being reporters on what's going on the streets, and it's a different country so the hip hop is different. I listen to Mike Skinner (The Streets) a lot, and he uses different slang; he uses it like it's in his world - just like Dizzee Rascal (2003's surprise UK Mercury winner)."

"We have been to the Philippines (Apl.de.ap's homeland) and the hip hop beat is different there - they are different lives talking, with influences from different root music - but it's all hip hop".

The boogie that be

Stacy Ferguson was on the verge of trying to start a solo career when she joined the Black Eyed Peas; she's an equal quarter of the group now, but how much does she have to do with creating the actual words and music she performs with BEP?

"This band has been together for a long time; I give my opinions on what I like and don't like, but it mostly starts with Will. The library in his head is so vast: he moulds me - I learn from him all the time. We're going back to old fashioned sounds, to the places where music comes from."

And what is Fergie listening to, what acts does she have her eye on?

"God, that's a hard question… I'm listening to some oldies, like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. I'm really into that now for the freestyle section of the show. That's my turn to interpret the music in my way, which is scatting. I listen to the greats to hear how they did it."

On the current scene, Fergie recommends Jill Scott and Kanye West - "he's done so much; hip hop derives from soul singing, and he knows that".

Monkey Business

Fergie is willing to reveal only a little about the forthcoming Black Eyed Peas album, Monkey Business: "It has a lot of energy. We wrote the record on the road and it's for the people who were in the pit night after night, the people jumping and the people moshing. The bpm is faster, but the lyrics are socially conscious - about the state of society; where we are now, as opposed to where we were - and where we could be."

Talking tours, putting your energy into giving to the fans, night after night, she admits that the life is hard on a relationship. "'The state of the road is no place to start a family', like that line from Kanye West. I recently had a break up with my ex-boyfriend due to distance and our schedules. I put my work first - I was not going to quit because of relationship problems, and that takes its toll. I'm going on a tangent here, but relationship problems are definitely a theme in the new record."

"Plus, there are club songs," she laughs, "Because we love going out dancing."

So do your South African fans, Fergie, so do we.

 


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