Happy 20th Anniversary to Black Eyed Peas’ debut album Behind The Front, originally released June 30, 1998.
Before the Black Eyed Peas were the Black Eyed Peas they were the Black Eyed Peas (bear with me here), releasing their infectious alt-hip-hop debut Behind The Front on June 30, 1998. Widely known for their Fergie-era dance pop hits of “Where Is The Love?” and “I Gotta Feeling,” the band were originally one of the freshest sounding groups emerging out of hip-hop in the late ‘90s. Their two pre-megahit Elephunk albums are where the purest form of Black Eyed Peas can be found.
This is especially true in their glorious debut album Behind The Front which mixes old school funk and jazz samples, while bringing back the fun foundations of hip-hop in an era when most rhymes were lacking positivity.
Following a skit-heavy format borrowed from De La Soul’s breakthrough 1989 debut LP 3 Feet High and Rising album, Behind The Front features a playful game show setup that clearly places the album in a whimsical, carefree space. And the music follows suit.
Set against smooth ‘70s era funk and R&B grooves, songs like album opener “Fallin’ Up,” “The Way U Make Me Feel,” and “What It Is” bring the party vibe to the fore, all bathed in shimmering sunlight.
With sharp, snapping beats and bright instrumentation (both played and sampled) the album washes over you with blue skies and a positive outlook. There’s a warmth and brightness to the music that was usually lacking from the music of the era. Tracks like “Movement” and “Head Bobs” still bring the hard beats your body needs with phat booming bass and bright short guitar strums with customary boasting in the raps.
There’s a fun naiveté in the rhymes spouted by will.i.am, Taboo and apl.de.ap. You get the feeling that these ambitious artists were dedicated to honing their skills and finding their voice with each passing verse. This sense of discovery also plays into the lightness in the album. Even on heavier songs like “Karma” and “Say Goodbye,” the rhymes and rhythms still remain accessible and suggest a social consciousness at play amidst all the barking.
While the album traverses many musical stylings, the only real misstep is on “Be Free” where BEP drift into the more electro dance-pop that would dominate the latter half (and more commercial phase) of their career.
Without a doubt the standout of the album is “Joints & Jam,” built on a playful sampling of “Love Till the End of Time” by Paulinho da Costa and “Grease” by Frankie Valli. It’s the perfect encapsulation of what Black Eyed Peas are all about (and should have stayed focused on) with tight grooves, infectious raps and a light, playful all-inclusive feel.
Behind The Front is where the true Black Eyed Peas rests. Together with their follow-up release, Bridging The Gap (2000), their inaugural effort offers the portrait of a group of hip-hop artists staying true to their ethos and sound. The albums may not be the smash sellers that Elephunk turned out to be, but it’s hard to deny that these albums are the soul of Black Eyed Peas before it was sold in the chase for commercial success.
For me, with the more commercially calculated Elephunk release, Black Eyed Peas ended and the branded THE Black Eyed Peas and the will.i.am musical conglomerate moved into full force. And hey, they captured massive global success as a result. But for mine, when I want to listen to some cool hip-hop, it’s these Black Eyed Peas albums I head for, not those that followed.