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Reviewed by Jamey Codding
The primary complaint from all those old-school BEP fans is that, while the music featured on 1998’s Behind the Front and 2000’s Bridging the Gap had a strong rap and hip-hop flavor, Elephunk, and now Monkey Business, have migrated more toward the pop realm. Well, they’re right. But at the same time, the seeds for Elephunk and Monkey Business were unmistakably planted on the Peas’ first two albums. They’ve always been tough to categorize, mixing heavy doses of funk and reggae into their early work, and that experimentation has naturally progressed over time, leaving us with Monkey Business.
Eclectic, diversified and a hell of a lot of fun, the beats laid down on this disc could keep a club hopping till dawn breaks. A killer sample of surf-guitar king Dick Dale’s classic “Misirlou” kicks the album off in fifth gear, with a mariachi trumpet backing some typically effusive Peas lyrics that get right down to business: “Niggas wanna hate on us/Niggas be envious/And I know why they hatin’ on us/‘Cause our style’s so fabulous.” “Don’t Phunk With My Heart,” a declaration of fidelity that’ll be blasting throughout dance clubs all summer, is enjoyable enough, but a questionable choice as the album’s first single, considering all the other tracks there were to choose from. And while the cameo from Justin Timberlake on the funky “My Style” only adds fuel to the “sellout” fire, try listening to the song without bobbing your head and singing along with Britney’s ex on the chorus. Then there’s “Don’t Lie,” a song that deserves to be played with the volume cranked and the car windows wide open. And if you like “Don’t Lie,” you’ll love “Gone Going” which, like “Don’t Lie,” opens with some catchy acoustic guitar pluckings and boasts a perfect sample of Jack Johnson’s “Gone.”
The only misstep is the final cut, “Union,” this album’s “Where is the Love,” which includes some vocals from Sting. While the song’s heart is in the right place – “Let’s live in unison/Calling every citizen” – it feels forced and gimmicky, sentiments the sellout crowd would no doubt agree with. But even for the disillusioned, there’s the aforementioned “Like That,” which could’ve been plucked from either of the Peas’ first two albums. Featuring silky smooth guest rhymes from C-Lo, John Legend, Talib Kweli and, most notably, Q-Tip, “Like That” contends for the album’s best song, which suggests that the old-schoolers may have a point. Of course, this is as close as the Peas ever get to a straight rap song, so if you want a rap album, pick up Fitty Cent’s latest.
If, however, you’re looking for something that spans the music spectrum, that dares to go in one distinct direction on one song and then the completely opposite direction on the next, you’ll want to give Monkey Business your full attention. There’s nothing particularly innovative here, but what sets this latest Black Eyed Peas release apart is that, while there are other artists doing songs just like “Pump It, “Don’t Lie” and “Like That,” nobody’s doing it on one album. Does that mean the Black Eyed Peas have sold out? They’re obviously much richer today than they were before they made Elephunk. One of the definitions for the word “sellout” is “a betrayal,” and it’s safe to say that many former Peas fans will feel even more betrayed when they listen to Monkey Business. The rest of us will just keep bobbing our heads along with these sensational beats.