During the first decade of the new millennium, The Black Eyed Peas were one of the most dominant forces in music. This was true even before they released 2009’s The END. Many of their early singles off Elephunk and Monkey Business had felt like greatest hits almost as soon as they arrived, proving the group to be both a musical and a cultural force, with many of their lyrics quickly becoming part of the common lexicon.
A lot happened in the four years following Monkey Business. Most notably, Fergie emerged as one of the most successful pop stars of the era when she released her solo album, The Dutchess, in 2006. With will.i.am producing, The Dutchess sounded like an extension of The Black Eyed Peas, helping to provide a stopgap in the four-year silence that followed Monkey Business.
By the time they were ready to return, however, the group who had owned the early 00s with their unstoppable set of singles had prepared an album that was both a comeback and a victory lap.
Listen to The END right now.
The END marked The Black Eyed Peas’ fifth album overall, but as their third with Fergie as a member, it felt like the conclusion of a trilogy. The group had always had hits, but The END, whose title stands for “The Energy Never Dies”, reached for something bigger. It was a celebration. If Elephunk was music for house parties, and Monkey Business a soundtrack for the club, then The END was built for arenas. It’s filled with synth anthems that helped usher in a new era of electronic-infused pop while further cementing hip-hop as a presence in the mainstream.
A glimpse into the future
will.i.am’s fixation with technology and the future takes centre stage on almost every song. He opens the album with ‘Boom Boom Pow’, bragging about “digital, next-level visuals”; later, on ‘Imma Be’ he’s dissing critics and plotting world domination. On tour for The END, shows would often feature an interlude during which he’d perform a DJ set while wearing a RoboCop-inspired uniform.
When The END arrived, on 3 June 2009, the gap between pop and dance music was almost non-existent. Both The Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga were responsible for leading this technological fusion, with BEP reaching the masses like never before thanks to ‘Boom Boom Pow’ and ‘I Gotta Feeling’, which took the group to the top of the Billboard chart for a record-breaking 26 consecutive weeks.
The early 00s were the heyday for dance-pop, leaving plenty of disposable stars in its wake, but The Black Eyed Peas always had a not-so-secret ace in their pocket: will.i.am’s production. The super-producer had racked up an impressive list of credits during this time, working with conscious hip-hoppers like Common and Talib Kweli, and big hitmakers including Flo Rida, Rihanna and even U2.
Like most of his productions, The END was stacked with rave breakbeats and anthemic hooks – his signature touch. You can also hear the influence of another hybrid record as will.i.am takes cues from the techno/R&B blueprint laid out by Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak.
“Electric static funk”
At this point in time, The Black Eyed Peas had become both hitmakers and self-referentialists, with Fergie using her flow from ‘My Humps’ on ‘Alive’, and will.i.am doing his version of Daft Punk on ‘Rock That Body’. On that same track, Fergie declares that everyone else is “2000 and late” – and she’s right. Thanks to a string of three hit singles, ‘Imma Be’, ‘I Gotta Feeling’ and ‘Boom Boom Pow’, The Black Eyed Peas were their own toughest competition. They became the first group in 19 years to score three Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers from one album.
The END was an exploration into “electric static funk”, as the band described it. Ever since founding members will.i.am, apl.de.ap and Taboo brought Fergie into the fold, BEP had been evolving their sound, trying to pin down the perfect combination of pop, hip-hop and dance music. The END was the logical conclusion to this chameleon-like approach – as if they’d cracked the code they’d be trying to solve for six years.
A defining moment
The album is also aspirational and arresting at times, as on ‘Meet Me Halfway’, one of its slower and more powerful moments. Then there’s the irrepressible energy of the smash hit ‘I Gotta Feeling’, one of the most infections earworms of all time. Years later, the song still boasts one of the longest ever runs at No.1.
Not only the band’s defining moment, The END was an era-defining moment. You could hear its impact for years to come, first in ‘Starships’-era Nicki Minaj, then LMFAO’s ‘Party Rock Anthem’, Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’ and Flo Rida’s ‘Club Can’t Handle Me’. Its DNA even turned up even in unexpected places like Lupe Fiasco’s ‘The Show Goes On’.
Clearly, the energy never died. Its title might have been shortened to The END, but for The Black Eyed Peas, the album represented a creative beginning.
The END can be bought here.