Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Mawazine 2019: Black Eyed Peas on 'Be Nice' and working with Arab artists

The popular hip-hop crew talk about their new single and how they hope to perform with more artists from the region

Black Eyed Peas perform during the World Music Festival Mawazine at the OLM Suissi venue in the Moroccan capital Rabat on June 25, 2019. AFP
Black Eyed Peas perform during the World Music Festival Mawazine at the OLM Suissi venue in the Moroccan capital Rabat on June 25, 2019. AFP

The Black Eyed Peas have a habit of revitalising tired phrases. Their various anthems, such as Where Is The Love?, I Gotta Feeling and Let’s Get It Started have become part of party vernacular (sorry, but Boom Boom Pow doesn’t make the cut).

And with their latest single, the catchy electro hip-hop track Be Nice, the group have taken up the challenge of making one of the most maligned expressions hip again. As far as bandleader, the rapper and producer will.i.am, is concerned, nice guys don’t finish last.

“The fact that it is not the coolest thing to say simply goes to show you the times we live in,” he says as he joins the band’s other members, Taboo and apl.de.ap, before their performance at Morocco’s Mawazine Festival.

“Why isn’t it cool to say ‘be nice’ to someone? We must live in some really dark times if being nice to one another is not a cool thing to do. We wanted to break that tradition and talk about how our hearts were raised by our mothers. They taught us how to be kind to one another. We wanted to keep that spirit alive.”

Aiding the cause is one of the coolest rappers in the game, Snoop Dogg. To suit the subject matter, for his cameo in ‘Be Nice’, he turns down his trademark bravado to deliver words laced with the sort of wisdom that comes from being a father and genre leader. His smooth, dulcet tones make easy work of the pulsating electro beats as he encourages listeners to “fight for each other, not one another / And when we talk, be nice to each other”.

This is in contrast to will.i.am’s pensive verses, which sound like Twitter posts. But that is probably the point. “I just wanna be happy / I don’t wanna feel nasty / I’m trying to turn my vibration around so I can feel fantastic,” is one example.

The song is part of a growing list of tracks, such as the group’s 2003 hit Where Is The Love?, in which they take on social issues. On their 2018 album, Masters of the Sun, The Black Eyed Peas tackled all sorts of subjects affecting US society.

A strong example of their willingness to take on the big topics was their 2018 single, the old-school hip-hop throwback, Street Livin’. Accompanied by a gritty black-and-white video, the track sheds light on immigration and police brutality. It is not an attempt for the band to sound “woke”, Taboo says. Instead, The Black Eyed Peas are trying to follow in the footsteps of their musical heroes.

“If you think about it, we had people such as Marvin Gaye, whose songs, like What’s Going On and Mercy, Mercy Me, were speaking about society at that time,” he says. “We are also trying to send a message that we’re living in some crazy times. We’re not political, but we are a voice, and we like to use our platform to get those messages out. And it always starts with words of love. We’ve always had that type of frequency.”

With a growing number of sports stars, such as American football player Colin Kaepernick and basketball player LeBron James, taking a stand against social injustices, does the band feel that their fellow artists are being too timid? For will.i.am, it’s not a simple answer. He says artists face a difficult challenge to get their message out because the industry has completely different priorities.

For Will.i.am, it's not a simple answer. He says the challenges artists face is in getting their message out through the prism of an industry which has totally different priorities.

“Unfortunately, our music industry is only geared towards making money and not making change,” he says. “So it would be an amazing time if music was used to make change as much as it is to make money, because there is no section of that in the industry. There’s every genre of music; there’s jazz, there’s rock, there’s hip-hop, there’s RnB; but there’s no genre for change. Somebody should try to start that. It is a good business model.”

Until then, his group is committed to releasing music that moves the hearts of listeners, as well as their bodies. Be Nice was one of a string of songs the group wanted to release this year, with another expected to feature Moroccan-­American rapper French Montana. That song will mark the group’s first collaboration with an artist from the Arab world and – a heads up to talent from the UAE – will.i.am is keen to team up with more artists from the region.

“We are always looking for collaborations. As far as folks who live here are concerned – female and male – we would love to collaborate with you. If you know anybody who wants to collaborate with The Black Eyed Peas, let us know,” he says.

Perhaps that opportunity may come sooner rather than later. The Black Eyed Peas plan to perform in the UAE as part of the Asian leg of their world tour, though, the schedule is still to be announced. When that happens, the country is in for a treat. The band’s Mawazine show, in which they performed in front of more than 30,000 people, was a joyful affair. They performed all of their big hits and gave plenty of opportunities for fans to showcase their breakdancing moves.

Will.i.am says the infectious and friendly vibe of their live shows extends to the group’s dealings offstage. It is the secret to their longevity, he says. “I remember when we were on our way to being successful, we would see other successful people, and we would frown like ‘wow, that person’s not cool with other people,’” he recalls. “We never wanted to be like that. Sometimes after a situation I ask apl.de.ap, ‘Yo, was I cool to that person?”

Apl.de.ap adds: “And do you know what I say? Be nice.”

Updated: July 1, 2019 07:30 PM

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