Carl Beech just bought me the latest Black Eyed Pea’s CD–The E-N-D–for my birthday. I must have said I like their music. They must be the best selling hip hop band in the world—amazing music/beat/words/electronic effects. Some of their lyrics are so cool and witty:–‘I’m so 2008, you’re so two thousand and late.’ I suppose, as a Christian, I can’t ‘recommend’ it. It’s full, obviously, of the values of the World but that’s where we have to live, and it has a smattering of strong language, but less than a lot of blokes hear all day at work. But it’s very interesting, the overall effect of the things they say.
One or two tracks (‘Alive’ and ‘Missing You’) are content-wise essentially ballads where people talk about love and somebody basically says ‘you‘re everything to me’ (not just a collection of humps and lady lumps, like in one of their previous hits). This at least suggests there’s supposed to be something in love, as well as lady lumps.
Then there’s ‘Meet Me Halfway’ where the girl says in effect ‘you’re everything to me, but there’s a problem, and I can only meet you halfway’. That seems a bit of a contradiction but sums up the mental double take in a lot of our relationships.
But a lot of their stuff seems openly and honestly just materialistic, just sensual and in some cases, apparently self-obsessed. They rap and sing about rapping and singing (‘Boom Boom Pow’ and ‘Electric City’) and their own performance (‘Showdown’).Is this the musical performance equivalent of disappearing up your own exhaust pipe?
They rap and sing about partyin’ all the time (‘Party All the Time’–what else?), money and fame (‘Imma Be’) and, not love but sexuality without love (‘Ring-A-Ling’, with the line, ‘if you don’t want sex with me, then why you keep textin’ me?’) and then about getting everything straight away (‘Now Generation’).
It’s all so laid blatantly out on the table, I thought maybe they’re being tongue in cheek and really saying how empty all this is–but then I don’t really think they are.
Then, there’s an idealistic track (‘One Tribe’), about how everybody should forget their differences and ‘all the evil that they feed yer’– implying racism, and, although they don’t say it, for most people, probably religion; and all live together in harmony as one people. Now why didn’t anybody think of that before? In the immortal words of the meerkat–seemples! Not.
And on the CD insert where they list hundreds of people to thank, two of the band put ‘God’ at the top.
But how does this all hang together? How can you say somebody is everything to you but only be prepared to meet them halfway? How can the ‘now generation’ who want everything for themselves now, ever hope to become ‘one people’. Only One Person is able to do that for people. And if they become one people, how can people who want to party all the time have a cat’s chance in hell of defeating the evil in this world? And which God are they thanking?
Am I taking this too seriously? But if it’s meant to hang together, surely it doesn’t? If they really believe in the ‘one people’ track, they’re sincere but aren’t they naïve? If they don’t, but they still perform it, isn’t it just cynical commercial marketing?
But if all this isn’t just empty, cynical words for a thoughtless audience’s empty entertainment, then it’s a fantastic statement of the spirit of the age–a desperate, tragic search in the middle of total cultural confusion–lostness. The most interesting bit of all for me, the most authentic voice, comes in ‘One People’ where he says, ‘Lord help me out ‘cause I’m tryin’ ter figure out what it’s all about’, and it sounds as though he means it.
But what great music! Think of how much more powerful and full a message the Good News about Jesus is and think what the impact would be if there were Christian hip hop bands who could tell it like the Black Eyed Peas. Anybody out there? Let me know.