The Black Eyed Peas ¬ will.i.am, apl.de.ap, Taboo and newcomer Fergie ¬ named the album Elephunk to conjure up a big, deep funk sound. Produced in its entirety by will.i.am and apl, the album boasts a mix of live instruments and traditional hip-hop samples and beats. It also mixes the group's breathless verbal acrobatics with a very conscious view of the world.
BEP's music has always been firmly entrenched in hip-hop but also with an eye to other musical forms. Elephunk, more than previous albums, seems to transcend the simple genre categorization, something will.i.am admits was intentional, both lyrically and musically. "This is a hip-hop record but we didn't go into this with hip-hop on our mind," says will.i.am. "We were just thinking of good songs, good music. We didn't want to say anything typical, like 'My style is this, and my rhymes are like that.' A couple might have slipped in but we were really tired of saying things like that."
Elephunk was recorded in three different spurts over the last two years, beginning in 2001. "We would record about eight songs each time," remembers will.i.am. "Then each time we went back, I felt I'd changed and grown as a producer. So we'd do eight more songs, and those eight would be better than the previous eight. It kept going until we were done."
will.i.am's rhymes are clever and irreverent but it's his work as a producer on Elephunk that he's most proud of. Songs like "Where Is The Love," with Justin Timberlake, the quickstepping fast-rap of "Hands Up," and the Louis Armstrong growl of "Smells Like Funk," demonstrate not just a sophisticated ear for new sounds but a head for interesting arrangements and tight songwriting. will.i.am's talent lies in his ability to mold live instruments, samples and drum machines into a uniform sound. He's always taken a musically broad perspective and on this album, it shows more than ever.
"My volition as a producer has definitely grown," he says. "I think my understanding of music has grown, I've discovered new ways of manifesting my thoughts into reality, and I know my equipment better."
Elephunk also welcomes a new member into the BEP fold ¬ Los Angeles native Fergie. The singer met will.i.am at BEP shows around town and was invited to join in on a recording session. In the studio, one song turned to three turned to five turned to an invitation to join the group. Says Fergie about her experience, "This group is just totally open to new ideas and directions."
Some of those new directions on Elephunk include songs like "Anxiety," which matches The Black Eyed Peas with popular platinum rock band Papa Roach, whom they met and bonded with on tour. The group's are really similar says will.i.am. "The energy between us was thick. When we started talking to them, it was a real conversation, like we were 60 and just hangin' out at a bus stop."
The song itself relates the tension of the world today with personal struggles the members of the different groups have gone through into one, hard-hitting rhythmic jam. "These last couple of years haven't been easy," says will.i.am. "Is it guilt? Stress? Uncertainty over what's going to happen in the next five years? Is it rap? Hip-hop? The fact that everyone is clubbin' and gun totin' and we're thought of as just some fashionable motherfuckers? It's a whole bunch of stuff going on."
Overall, will.i.am couldn't be happier with the way the album's turned out, and he feels people will be open to the new directions The Black Eyed Peas are going in. "The audience is smarter than they've ever been," he says. "Maybe ten years ago, they were run-of-the-mill, but these kids today aren't the same. They've got it together."