Translation is an unimaginative record of lazy appropriation and weak production.
To put it as eloquently as possible: the Black Eyed Peas are stupid. That’s not a qualitative assessment — the group has consistently produced stuck song bangers over the years, and it isn’t backhanded to say that their brand of plastic party pop is perhaps the definitive sound for a decade of Greek life Saturday nights. But it is a reflection of their conspicuously depthless identity. Lest this begin too critically, let’s establish the undeniable earworm talents of will.i.am as a producer, the Fergie’s belting swagger, and…whatever those two other guys do. For over a decade, the quartet produced inconsistent albums littered with guilty-pleasure singles, tracks that pounded you into submission and urged you onto the dancefloor even as their sonic simplicity was resoundingly obvious. It didn’t matter whether the tracks were built on the bouncy 1-2 beat and comic flexing of “My Humps” or the pure electronic, ecstacizing urgency and nostalgic sampling of “The Time (Dirty Bit)” — their unifying factor was an embrace of shallow hedonism and buoyant revelry.
All of that to say, a couple things make a lot of sense with the now Fergie-less Black Eyed Peas’s newest album, Translation: (a) the group continues their sonic evolution (or maybe this is a detour?), from their original trip-pop and then cotton candy EDM to, here, something approximating Latin trap and reggaetron; and (b) while the fellas clearly felt that Taboo’s Mexican heritage offered some sort of coverage, their exceedingly vapid track record makes this latest effort feel like cheap counterfeiting at best and gross appropriation of one of music’s hottest genres at worst. It isn’t like the Black Eyed Peas have ever aspired to much more than common-denominator infectiousness, but it’s a problem that both the production and lyrics are so lazy here. The former offers only the basest interpretation of Latin texture, will.i.am’s distinctive, unevolved bass sounds and rhythms still dominate, and the sampling (which includes an unforgivable interpolation of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”) feels less like his work than Flo Rida’s. The latter utilizes a lot of vaguely offensive Spanglish and cultural fetishizing to muster brain-ticklers like “I wanna girl that’s a heater / Caliente, off the meter” (“GIRL LIKE ME”) and “Mami got the fire / and I got the gasolina” (“Mamacita”). This isn’t to say that Translation doesn’t have moments — El Alfa’s reliable speed-spitting energizes “NO MAÑANA,” Becky G shows out on “DURO HARD” and semi-official member and ostensible Fergie replacement J. Rey Soul is often a welcome respite from the album’s oppressing blandness. To their credit, the Peas have assembled a roster of Latin heavyweights here, also including J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Shakira. Decisions like this soften the listener a bit; it all feels too dimwitted to be truly offensive. But by producing something ultimately so unimaginative, the Black Eyed Peas do a disservice to the genre they are supposedly seeking to celebrate.
Published as part of Pop Rocks | Q2 2020 Issue – Part 2.