RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
One of the bands that will be performing in this weekend's Live 8 concert in Philadelphia is the Black Eyed Peas, four break-dancers and singers from here in Los Angeles known for their high-energy party music and socially conscious lyrics. The Black Eyed Peas have a new CD, and they're on tour in North America. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports that they've learned to stop worrying about their pop star status.
ELIZABETH BLAIR reporting:
When the Black Eyed Peas' new CD was in the works, Will Adams, who goes by Will.I.Am, was listening to Bollywood records. He played them for Stacey Ferguson, or Fergie, and asked her to try and emulate the voices.
Ms. STACEY FERGUSON (Black Eyed Peas): You know, these Bollywood women, they have these ranges and these voices that can go octaves that I can never even dream of imagining to hit.
Mr. WILLIAM ADAMS (Black Eyed Peas): Yeah.
Ms. FERGUSON: You know, it's kind of very nasal, and it's...
Mr. ADAMS: It's also the mike as well, too...
Ms. FERGUSON: Yes.
Mr. ADAMS: ...because in Indonesia, I've seen the mike they were using, and it sounded just like my Bollywood records. Like, `Wow, that's how they did it?' And then I talked to the girl, and her voice was regular. I heard her singing live, and it was a regular projection, but it's the mike that makes it sound like that.
Ms. FERGUSON: What mike was it?
Mr. ADAMS: It's a cheap mike.
(Soundbite of laughter; music)
Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) No, no, no, no, don't funk with my heart.
BLAIR: So with a little inspiration from Bollywood, some sampling of a Lisa Lisa song, Will.I.Am came up with this tune for the Black Eyed Peas' first single off their new CD.
(Soundbite of music)
BLACK EYED PEAS: (Singing) I wonder if I take you home, would you still be in love, baby, in love, baby? Girl, you know, you've got me, got me, with your pistol, shot me, shot me, and I'm here helplessly in love and nothing can stop me.
BLAIR: Already, this song is in heavy rotation on pop radio. But pop radio isn't necessarily where the Black Eyed Peas thought they'd end up. Original members Will.I.Am and Allan Pineda, or Apple, best friends since childhood, started as break-dancers in Los Angeles. Their live shows developed a cult following. They signed to Ruthless Records in 1992, a label best known for gangster rap. Eventually they became the Black Eyed Peas, added a new member, Jamie "Taboo" Gomez, and moved to the Interscope label. They collaborated with such artists as A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def and Macy Gray.
(Soundbite of music)
BLACK EYED PEAS: (Singing) ...disco, and we gonna keep it going like Crisco, 'cuz the deejay grab the record by the fistful, by the crateful and we're grateful when you hear the stuff of records get a tasteful. Last night, the DJ saved my life. 'Cuz of the collection of the records he saved to the direction of the record we swayed, and all night through the session we stayed. 'Cuz you know you got the feeling, all right...
BLAIR: Their first two CDs didn't sell well, so the Black Eyed Peas made some changes. They moved to a more pop-friendly sound, added a blonde singer named Fergie, and released "Elephunk," a CD that sold more than seven million copies, fueled by a song inspired by 9/11 called "Where Is The Love?"
(Soundbite of "Where Is The Love?")
BLACK EYED PEAS: (Singing) ...KKK. But if you only have love from your own race, then you only leave space to discriminate, and to discriminate only generates hate, and when you hate, then you're bound to get irate. Yeah. Madness is what you demonstrate, and that's exactly how anger works and operates. Man, you gotta have love just to set it straight, take control of your mind and meditate, let your soul gravitate to the love y'all, y'all. People killin', people dyin', children hurtin', hear them cryin'. Can you practice what you preach and would you turn the other cheek? Father, Father, Father, help us. Send us guidance from above, 'cause people got me, got me questionin', where is the love? Ooh, where is the love?
BLAIR: Will.I.Am says he's proud of the reception this song got.
Mr. ADAMS: We really got a message through. And when we say, `Where's the love?' I'm not talking about where's the sympathy? Love is a frequency, and it's missing in the world today, that frequency.
BLAIR: This kind of love talk isn't really the norm in the current hard-core hip-hop scene, and the Black Eyed Peas don't get a lot of airplay on urban radio. Then there's the addition of Fergie.
Mr. FAHIYM RATCLIFFE (The Source): They would catch some flak for Fergie being in the group, mainly centered around Fergie, you know, being white.
BLAIR: Fahiym Ratcliffe, editor in chief of the hip-hop magazine The Source, is talking about some online dissing of Fergie. Even Will.I.Am says he was worried that adding her might cost them some longtime fans. Ratcliffe says it's a sensitive issue.
Mr. ADAMS: You know, the whole discourse involving black music and white artists is still an ongoing thing. It's been going on since Elvis, and Fergie's just--you know, it's a microcosm of that issue. Critics and some fans alike feel that, you know, why does it have to be a white artist to make somebody pay more attention to their music?
Ms. FERGUSON: I was very hurt.
BLAIR: Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson.
Ms. FERGUSON: I was going, `OK, do these people know who I am? Do they know what I've been through?' No, they don't. And I've had to prove myself show by show.
BLAIR: Fergie's come a long way, says The Source's Fahiym Ratcliffe. Meanwhile, the Black Eyed Peas are constantly working with other artists, like singer/songwriter Jack Johnson. He and Will.I.Am co-wrote a song about an artist named Johnny, who loses his integrity and his fans as he becomes more famous.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. JACK JOHNSON and BLACK EYED PEAS: (Singing) ...from the heart. Sooner or later, he's just gonna fall apart, cuz his fans can't relate to his newfound art. He ain't doing what he did from the start, and that's putting in some feeling and thought. He decided to live his life shallow, passion is love for material, and it's gone. Gone, going, gone, everything gone, give a damn. Gone be the birds when they don't want to sing. Gone people, up awkward with their things. Gone.
Mr. ADAMS: Johnny's just a fictitious character of anybody who started off with substance and then gets caught up into the material world. You know, they got somebody taking care of this and somebody taking care of that, and they forget how to do anything, and their songs just become pointless. And that's a big fear of mine.
BLAIR: Whatever happens, for now, Will.I.Am is observing the trappings of fame up close. The Black Eyed Peas' new CD is number four on the Billboard charts. Tomorrow, they'll perform for free at Live 8 in Philadelphia. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. JOHNSON and BLACK EYED PEAS: (Singing) All that money that you got gonna be gone. Yeah. That fear that you wrought gonna be gone.
MONTAGNE: Songs from "Monkey Business" are at npr.org.
From NPR News, this is MORNING EDITION.
MONTAGNE: I'm Renee Montagne with Steve Inskeep.
Mr. JOHNSON and BLACK EYED PEAS: (Singing) ...give a damn. Gone be the birds when they don't want to sing. Gone people, up awkward...