It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a dominant Black Eyed Peas, but with their second release in three years, it looks like they’re trying their best to change that. The pop-infused, hip-hop trio was at one point arguably the most dominant group on the billboard charts. In 2009, with their album, The E.N.D., they held onto both the number one and number two tracks, with “I Gotta Feeling” being number one for twenty-six weeks. That being said, their follow-up, The Beginning (2010), was much less successful, and ironically, spawned the end of the group for quite a while. Coming out of their hiatus, fan-favorite Fergie decided to part ways with the group, and in 2018, they were left somewhat on their own, ridding them of a lot of their popularity, it seemed. In fact, I was unaware the release even happened, until I was glancing at their Spotify while listening to this record. But in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, they decided to drop what is now their eighth studio album. So how does it compare to their older sound?
Cover for the Black Eyed Peas album, The E.N.D.
Their new release, Translation (2020), marks a huge shift in tone for the group. Their comeback record was pretty straightforward hip-hop, and lacked any sort of surprise or nuance, but this is on a completely different level. It’s hard to tell whether this was an active decision to gain more listeners, or simply a personal preference, but Translation is grounded in Latin pop and even takes influence from trap as well. With features from foreign artists like Shakira and Maluma, they make it clear what direction they’re going in. But where certain artists have shown to thrive in this new environment (for example, Travis Scott’s newest feature with Rosalía), the Black Eyed Peas fall on their face with a lack of originality or energy.
The album kicks itself off with a quick sample from “Rhythm of the Night” on the track “RITMO (Bad Boys For Life),” and it could not be a more fitting intro. Sampling isn’t an issue; in fact, some great beats and tracks utilize sampling; but with the way this specific song is structured, at certain points, it sounds more like a Soundcloud beat than anything. Often times, it’s just one person pseudo-rapping over the one sample, layering a basic beat over it. Lyrically, this thing is also underwhelming, with basic references acting as low-hanging fruit for the taking. Lines like “we buildin’ like LEGOs / Feel on fire, you dealin’ with fuego,” are simple, and fill time, but provide nothing else.
“Coincidentally” the next track, “FEEL THE BEAT” features yet another sample from a 1985 pop song, “Can You Feel the Beat.” This one, luckily, doesn’t center itself completely around it, but is still a little underwhelming. This also challenges the first track in terms of how bad the lyrics are, with lines like “Girl, your booty like pastel, cake / I’ma kill the booty cartel, boom-boom / Girl, you always be my angel / Rock the halo, yup, you my bad gal, ayy.” Some of these lack a coherent rhyming scheme, as well as coherence altogether.
Black Eyed Peas’ new record, Translation.
The next couple of tracks, “MAMACITA,” and “GIRL LIKE ME” are both passable Latin pop tracks, often carried by their features (most notably Shakira on the latter track), but aren’t anything special. The fifth track on the list, “VIDA LOCA,” is only memorable for one reason: its pretty awful production. The first thing that should be noted is that the whole track is layered over a distorted sample of the chorus from the song, “Can’t Touch This.” Also, they were apparently a fan of adding random sound effects, because roughly one minute in and two minutes in, there are random lasers firing off in the background. It isn’t fitting at all, and distracts from the rest of the track.
The closing track, “NEWS TODAY,” is an attempt at a touching track about the state of the world right now, with specific references to things like Donald Trump. It isn’t a bad track, but it doesn’t provide much in the context of the rest of the record. It feels out of place; more fitting for a single, or another project in the future.
The other nine tracks are nothing but a repeat of the trends and tones set in the first five; mostly being notable Latin artists featured over an underwhelming beat, with random noises layered over it. This record has more shouted “brrrrrats” and “ratatats” than any other record I’m personally aware of, and sadly, it does not make up for the lack of content in the rest of it.
No one should expect a masterpiece out of the Black Eyed Peas at this point, but this is still unexpected. As a whole, it’s an attempt at copy-pasting the most popular trends in Latin music and modern hip-hop, but with production that still sounds like it’s from 2003. While there are several pieces reminiscent of trap music today, it doesn’t have the hard-hitting nature, due to its more laid-back approach. This makes it unfitting even for a party environment, which is historically where their music was meant to be played. A chill day at a beach, maybe, but even then, there are much better choices. Their expansion into new and uncharted territory for them is impressive and should be recognized, but unless they put their own spin on it, I don’t see it being worth a listen. The only thing worthy of a compliment is the overall flow of the record. Each track seamlessly transitions into the next; with zero breaks, which does allow the listener to feel engaged the whole time, and is actually relatively difficult to accomplish. But aside from that, it’s standard Latin pop with a touch of old from the twenty-five-year-old group. I’m thinking a 3 on this one.