Two for the Future

To hip-hop's OutKast and Black Eyed Peas, the glass is half full.

Like many of Aquemini's tracks, "Liberation" has a message, but the men of OutKast know better than to simply hammer it home. "You can't just preach to people," Dre says. "It's almost a case of where if you want to give a little baby some medicine, you put it in some food or something. You've got to get their attention first--almost sneak it in. That way, they don't really know what they're getting, but they're getting it.

"It's not really a formula," he goes on. "We just go into the studio, and whatever we're feeling that day we put down, and it seems to come out right. But as an artist, I get bored. I don't want to just keep doing the same things over and over again. The people I grew up listening to who I really loved were innovators who brought something new to the table. They made a mark, and that's what I like. So when we are making a record, we always make an effort to do something fresh--something other."

This philosophy is shared by Black Eyed Peas, one of the most ethnically diverse combos in hip-hop. (Alan Pinetta) is of African-American and Filipino descent, Will.I.Am (William Adams) is an African-American who was raised in the mostly Hispanic enclave of East Los Angeles, and Taboo (Jamie Gomez) is Latino and Native American; he adopted his nickname from Tabooh Nawasha, a warrior who fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn. These lineages set the Peas apart from most of their current competitors, but Taboo doesn't believe that'll be true for much longer.

"This is the reality of what hip-hop has become," he says. "We're a direct mirror of the audience, and that shows how hip-hop has expanded. It's no longer just an urban thing, and it's no longer just an American thing, either. It's a universal thing. If you go to Japan, you'll have people who'll walk up to you and be like, 'Yo, what's up?'--and they've got dreadlocks and they're dark. You just know they've been sitting in a tanning booth." He laughs before adding, "And it's not just in Japan. Hip-hop is huge in Canada, in Australia--everywhere. It's no longer what it used to be, and that's why we feel we're the new face of hip-hop."

Like OutKast, the Peas began as a high-school group, although under another handle. In 1990 classmates Will.I.Am and formed Tribal Nation, a dance combo that they dubbed Atban Klann two years later when hip-hop elements began coming to the fore. In the beginning, says Will.I.Am, "there was really no concept. It was more about bringing back music to hip-hop and bringing back the artistry. Back then, a lot of the music was about materialism and money--it was business-oriented. But we had other ideas."

The pair signed to Ruthless Records in 1992 and two years later recorded an album whose release was delayed by a handful of factors, including the 1995 death of rapper Eazy E, Ruthless's driving force. Frustrated, Will.I.Am and fought for their freedom. By the end of the year they'd joined with Taboo (who'd been with a collective called Grassroots) to form Black Eyed Peas. Shortly thereafter, Interscope execs brought the trio into the fold.

Behind the Front, the flower of this deal, is a relaxed, swinging concoction. Between three skits that sound like outtakes from De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, the Peas offer up jazzy, easygoing grooves over largely upbeat words about unity in the community. "Movement" advises: "Hey you, listen to what I got to say/Let's get together and form a parade"; "Communication" describes their desire to "activate communication for the world/Shocking your mind with rhymes"; and "Joints & Jam" asserts, "We're about mass appeal, no segregation/Got black to Asian and Caucasian/ Sayin' that's the joint, that's the jam/Turn that shit up, play it again."

This last cut contains a couple of samples (from Paulhino DaCosta's "Love Till the End of Time" and A Tribe Called Quest's "One Two Shit") and borrows a hook from (no kidding) the Barry Gibb-penned theme to the film version of Grease. But the album turns on Will.I.Am's live theremin and assorted keyboards, as well as a supporting cast headed by guitarist Kevin Feyen, bassist Mike Fratantuno, drummer Terence Yoshiaka and jack-of-all-trades Brian Lapin. The music doesn't stray too far from the hip-hop verities, but it includes plenty of other aural flourishes.

"That happens because of the different forms of music we enjoy," Taboo says. "From alternative to Brazilian to hip-hop to old R&B, that's what we listen to. And we don't just listen to it only if somebody plays it. We actually go out and buy these types of things and support different forms of music because we love them. But just because we listen to it doesn't mean we'll make something that sounds just like it. For all of us, there's a direct channel coming to us about our music, and we're always in tune to that channel. I could listen to some salsa shit for a whole year and then go into the studio, and it's still not going to sound like salsa. It'll have some salsa influence to it, but it'll still sound like us."

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