Despite being one of the biggest groups ever Will.i.am did seem to have a problem with the lack of acceptance and embrace the Black Eyed Peas have received from the Black Community.
Will.i.am recently featured on Wyclef Jean’s podcast titled “Run That Back”. On the show he went on to say “In 2004, Black Eyed Peas we — we were just trying to get on,” he said. “When you think of — like, I’m a Black dude, but when you think of Black Eyed Peas, we got so big that...and it hurts, it still hurts a little bit that we’re not considered a Black group because we got that big”. He continued, “And when you think of Black Eyed Peas, you don’t think of — it’s no longer urban or Black culture, which is...it’s not good for the Black community that Black Eyed Peas is not looked at as a Black group because we’ve had international success.” (1)
Kim Hill (a former member of the Black Eyed Peas) spoke out against this statement by articulating views she had previously echoed in a New York Times piece she was a part of titled “I Was in The Black Eyed Peas. Then I Quit.” Kim Hill reiterated in a Instagram Live with her son that the departure and change in the direction of the Black Eyed Peas is what sparked her telling execs. that she was leaving. Demands such as telling her to dance suggestively on the male members of the group were too far removed from their conscious musical origins and elements such as this were too much for Kim Hill to take which led to her eventual departure. She stated “There was new management now, so it’s a whole different set of expectations and pressure. It just started to get clumsy and messy. You want me to grind on Will.i.am in a bathing suit?” Hill says in the video. “That was being asked of me, never by the guys. That was happening from an executive level. (2) She also added that this movement away from these origins are part of the reason they may not be accepted by the Black Community. She did however mention in her New York Times mini documentary that when the idea of a change in direction was floated, the members of the group that still resided in East LA (Will.i.am, Taboo and apl.de.ap) were more likely to give into the musical engine that was beginning to consume the group than the more comfortably stationed Kim Hill who was living in Hollywood at the time.
The Black Eyed Peas were birthed out of a group called A.T.B.A.N Klann (A Tribe Beyond a Nation) and this was a Hip-Hop Group that included Will 1X(now Will.i.am), apl.de.ap , Mooky Mook and DJ Motiv8. The name is derived from a Dance crew that Will, Apl, and Mookie were a part of called Tribal Nation Dance Crew. They were soon signed to Eazy’s Ruthless Records after Eazy’s manager's nephew (Terry Haller) had spotted Will.i.am at Ballystix club where he consistently won freestyle battles. Soon after, the group recorded their debut album, Grass Roots; it was shelved shortly before it was even released; Mookie Mook later left the group in 1995. And the duo of Will.i.am and apl.de.ap would stay with Ruthless until they were dropped from the label after Eazy-E's death in 1995. (3)
In 1995 will.i.am and apl.de.ap formed a new group named the Black Eyed Pods (later renamed as The Black Eyed Peas) with Taboo, and Kim Hill. And unlike the "gangsta rap" sound of LA hip hop the group performed with a live band and stayed true to the conscious musical aesthetic in both the appearance and style that was established by the two founders in their previous group A.T.B.A.N Klann. They soon gained a following and got to open for the likes of OutKast and Eminem. They kept this momentum up with the release of both Behind the Front (1998) and Bridging the Gap (2000) which prominently featured the talents of Kim Hill. She left the group after the latter album was released due to the aforementioned reasons.
The replacement of Kim Hill with Stacy 'Fergie' Ferguson saw the Black Eyed Peas give up their pursuit of their backpack-rapper identity.The stylistic shift saw the group depart from their conscious origins and move towards a more chart focused sound. Which was a mesh of Hip-Hop, Latin, Pop and Rock; essentially chasing the period's trends and looking at what stuck. This musical experimentation was most apparent in their first album post Kim Hill “Elephunk”. This was picked up by critics such as Entertainment Weekly who went on to state: "They try dancehall ('Hey Mama'), salsa ('Latin Girls'), even nu-metal ('Anxiety' with Papa Roach), but the biggest offense for a once smart-sounding rap collective is 'Where Is the Love?', the horrifyingly trite single. It's enough to make longtime fans wonder, 'Where are the Peas?'" (4). The shift towards Pop was finally completed with the album “THE E.N.D” which featured the chart destroying “Boom Boom Pow”, “Imma Be”, “I Gotta Feeling” “Meet Me Halfway” and “Rock That Body”. Due to the commercial success of these chart topping songs the album could be looked at as a success but the album also symbolizes the loss of heritage and the emptiness of the music the Black Eyed Peas were now producing as social conscious and thought provoking lyrics had now been replaced with party anthems laced with repetitive hooks.
The case of The Black Eyed Peas is an interesting one, it can be argued that they are both the victims and cause of their exclusion from Black Culture, as they did reap tremendous levels of success when they strayed away from their conscious origins but if their East LA upbringing and controversial Soul Train performance are anything to go by it can be seen that they tried to stick to their roots but ended up being just another act caught up in the music chain where striking against the system could have ended their careers before they really got going.