Monkey Business is a great party record. At the very least, The Black Eyed Peas can be counted on for complex and engaging hip-hop music, a mix of rap, soul, jazz, and funk that will constantly surprise and delight. The album’s lead single, “Don’t Phunk with My Heart”, is certainly a standout in this regard, as is the album’s opener, “Pump It”, which positively rocks, relying on a sample of the theme from Pulp Fiction. “My Style”, “My Humps”, and “They Don’t Want Music” (featuring vocals from none other than one Mr. James Brown) are all guaranteed to get a party started; they feature an ingenious mix of creative beats, subtle full-band backing, and multi-layered vocals (most notably BEP’s female contingent, Fergie, who often gives the group its most distinctive sounds). These dance tracks are rich and full, and rarely flag in their rhythm and mood — a perfect party mix.
“Pump It” particularly stands out; in fact, I’m surprised that A&M released “Don’t Phunk with My Heart” as the first single, since “Pump It” continually impresses and grooves and better melds raps with beats, while “Don’t Phunk” can get a bit repetitious and clunky. The Pulp Fiction theme (Dick Dale’s “Misirlou”) is utilized to excellent effect in “Pump It”. It’s cut up and rearranged, and the mix of intense rapping and intercutting backup vocals is a continual feast for the ears, especially when listening on headphones. The call and response of “Pump it! / LOUDER! / Pump It! / LOUDER!” is thrilling, especially when paired with the screeching guitars of “Misirlou” and the active and percolating beats paired with the track.
So why only a rating of 5? “Don’t Phunk with My Heart”, while boasting an infectious rhythm track and an incredibly catchy vocal track from Fergie (if you haven’t yet had “Oh no no no / don’t phunk with my heart” stuck in your head yet, you soon will, trust me), suffers from the two major problems that plague The Black Eyed Peas on this record: unimpressive rapping and, surprisingly for this erstwhile socially conscious hip-hop troupe, a distinct lack of substance. Take, for example, one of the verses from “Don’t Phunk”: “Cuz I bring you that comfort / I ain’t only here cuz I want your / body I want your mind too / interesting is what I find you / and I’m interested in the long haul / come on girl… yeeh-haw!” “Comfort” is rhymed with “want your” (actually, it’s “com-fert” and “want yer”), which just seems lazy. All throughout the album, the rhymes are forced (as is the syntax, as in “interesting is what I find you”, which verges close to Yoda-speak) and ride awkwardly on the waves of the pulsing and danceable beats.
For a band that has made its mark by making positive music about important issues, the only issues being explored in any depth on Monkey Business are, as in “Don’t Phunk”, a fairly sophomoric conception of love and desire, and just how awesome The Black Eyed Peas are. On track after track, The Black Eyed Peas boast about their prowess to get people dancing better than anyone else. In so doing, The Black Eyed Peas come of as so… unoriginal. There are some hints at their more serious lyrical tendencies, but these (the coda to “Audio Delete at Low Fidelity” and the entirety of “Union”) are buried at the end of the album, long after my brain had fallen asleep. I suppose the degree to which you’ll enjoy this record depends on your expectations from this group. If you’re looking for complex hip-hop of high artistic quality that is viscerally exciting, you’d be better served by OutKast, or some of early material from The Black Eyed Peas. If, on the other hand, you’re in the market for dance music, although admittedly excellently produced, but which can’t sustain any substantial intellectual investment, then Monkey Business should be right up your alley.