Black Eyed Peas: 'E.N.D.' Cover Story
As individuals, we're misfits," says Fergie, the sultry female singer of the Black Eyed Peas. "Together, we're like one big misfit. People are always questioning who the hell we are." It's the day after the group's futuristic May 6 performance on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Chilling out in a small, sparsely furnished room at Center Staging in Burbank, Calif., she and fellow members of the multiracial group-Will.i.am, Taboo and apl.de.ap-resemble a live version of a United Colors of Benetton ad.
Fergie is dressed in black-and-white Capri-length leggings set off by a hot pink shirt and a sharp pair of black ankle-strapped heels from her self-titled shoe line. Sitting next to her on the sofa is apl.de.ap in a lemon V-neck T-shirt, white-framed shades and his signature Mohawk. Opting instead for blue-green glasses, Taboo sports a black leather vest, an eye-catching cross on a silver chain and several impressive arm tattoos.
With his close-cropped hair hidden under a red plaid cap, Will.i.am sits astride a black chair in a striped shirt and gray jeans tucked into black combat boots. He's pondering the question Fergie just answered: Who are the Black Eyed Peas?
"When something is different, authentically unique, it's always going to be questioned," the Peas' mastermind says. "By default, people aren't going to understand us because there aren't that many like us."
Following the multiplatinum pop success of 2003's "Elephunk" and then 2005's "Monkey Business," the Black Eyed Peas stood accused by fans of selling out: blunting its cutting-edge, live band hip-hop in favor of lightweight pop crossover fare. As the June 9 release date for their fifth studio album, "The E.N.D." (will.i.am music/Interscope), approaches, some of the same criticism has cropped up. But what's not in question is the exploding popularity of "Boom Boom Pow"-the first No. 1 for this band of creative misfits.
After signing with Interscope, the trio released its critically acclaimed debut album, "Behind the Front," in 1998. Two years later came "Bridging the Gap" and the Macy Gray-assisted single "Request Line." Also featured on the album was the group's female singer Kim Hill, who left the group in 2000.
Three years later the Peas notched their first major breakthrough in 2003 with third album "Elephunk" and the anthem "Where Is the Love?" featuring Justin Timberlake. Providing backup accompaniment on the album was former Wild Orchid member Stacie "Fergie" Ferguson, who later became the fourth Black Eyed Pea. The foursome scored its biggest single at the time-the No. 3 Hot 100 hit "Don't Phunk With My Heart"-when fourth album "Monkey Business" was released in 2005.
Touring almost nonstop stateside and overseas between 2004 and 2007, the group spun off another hit ("My Humps") and picked up two Grammys for best rap performance by a duo or group ("Let's Get It Started" and "Don't Phunk With My Heart"). In between, Fergie released her 2006 multiplatinum solo debut, "The Dutchess," and got married. In addition to producing Fergie's debut, Will.i.am collaborated on projects by Sergio Mendes, Nelly Furtado and others as well as releasing his solo album. During that time, Taboo and apl.de.ap began recording their own solo albums, among other projects.
But now everyone is back in the pod and ready to keep going for as long as they can. Playfully ribbing Fergie about how long she'll be performing "Boom Boom Pow," Taboo hobbles around the room and jokes, "We'll be touring on the moon while she's singing, 'I'm so 2000 and 80 . . . all my kids come on.' "
As the room erupts in laughter, Will.i.am has a final word for the naysayers: "What we've gone through to get here has been a great journey-some unique-ass shit. We haven't changed conceptually from what the Peas were and wanted to be: mass appeal not segregation. And we've stayed true to that."